el día 21 de febrero de 2018
I am writing this from the comfort of my own gray, rather worn out coach in beautiful Harlem, NY. The sun engulfs the “mini forest” neighboring my condo and shines through as Beyoncé sings about forgiveness in the background; the dishwasher rumbles and my phone buzzes, reminding me that I am not alone. Last night, I collaborated with a pair for brilliant Black woman to plan a twitter chat. At some moment mid-way through our planning session, Kisha says, “ why can’t writing always feel like this? Why don’t we collaborate more”. Kisha was referring to the multiple ways that our country invites us to work in isolation and promotes a deep appreciation for those who work diligently, passionately, and creatively...alone. Kisha, Arlene, and I had decided that we would collectively construct the guidelines for our twitter chat using google doc- that is, we would all add, edit, and respond simultaneously. Kisha would start a sentence and I would finish it. Arlene would find herself stuck and Kisha would jump in to lend a helping hand. Kisha raised a good point--why is collaboration not valued? Why is it that folks defend the Academy of Music’s choice to award Beck the Grammy for Album of the Year, stating that he deserved to win because he created a beautiful album all on his own? In sharp contrast, Beyoncé collaboratively created her self-titled album with various other musicians. The academy tacitly expressed that 1 Beck is greater than 100 equally as talented musicians. Hell nah!
Again, individual creation is valued more than collaborative creation.
However, in certain communities, namely the African-American community, collaboration is not only valued, it is expected. In fact, the phrase “ it takes a village to raise a child” many would argue was born in the African-American community. Since they relied on the participation of others in the rearing of their children, were these parents not good parents? Are parents who seemingly need no help better than those who seek out help? Do we not need each other? Isn’t everything socially constructed? Which means that everything is collectively constructed, right? Are we not the UNITED states of America? But for some reason, there’s still this value placed on individual work. We expect students to write their own papers, artists to write their own songs, and teachers to create their own lesson plans. Why? I mean, this all could be so much easier if we just let other people help, especially if we truly wanted to co-exist. Is being able to effectively collaborate with others who have different lived experiences not a skill? I would argue that group projects are much more difficult than individual efforts. It takes much more skill to construct with others than it does to create in isolation. Yet, group creations receive less praise, and are oft-regarded as inferior…..Why can’t we write papers with others? Why can’t we create art with others? Why can’t we co-teach with other educators? Not only is it easier, but it invites us to think about the limits our social identities place on our understanding of certain phenomena. In other words, my approach to many things is limited by my unique background, rendering my creations limited, as well. But what if I collaborated with others? For example, what if I collaborated with Kisha and Arlene- two self-identified women of color- to create our twitter chat? Now, they are able to complicate my understanding of Black women and in turn I provide them with a more nuanced understand of the Black gay male experience. Our conversations last night around gender and sexual identity were so rich and could not have happened alone...I am so grateful to them for checking my male privilege and I know they appreciate me pushing back on problematic assumptions they might make about the LGBTQ community. Collaboration. Teachers need to collaborate with students. men need to collaborate with women. Black folks need to collaborate with white people; similarly, men need to collaborate with men, women with women, students with students, teachers with teachers, black folks with black folks , and white people with white people. Obviously, these are basic ass examples- it’s all much more complex than this- but I think you get the idea. Fuck individual work.