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The Power of Performance

I received the email below this afternoon, and am re-posting it with permission from Dr. McCune. In it, he emphasizes that activism surrounding Trayvon Martin’s murder must not be conflated with misogyny. 

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On Wednesday, The Department of Women’s Studies and American Studies–along with African-American Studies and TRIOTA–hosted approximately 100 students, faculty, and staff from across campus to discuss the meaning of the Trayvon Martin tragedy and its aftermath. Together, a UMD Theatre Ensemble,  Dr. Jo Paoletti, Dr. Damion Thomas, Fareed Hayat, JD (The People’s Law Firm), Dr. Sheri Parks, Gabriel Peoples, Dr. Jo Richardson, and myself gave rousing remarks that facilitated a larger discussion–which was complex, rich, emotional, powerful, and even tense at points. Students asked rich questions and gave personal and political responses which kept the event grounded in the material aspects of racial profiling, racial injustice, and the complex workings of race and gender, sexuality, and class. This was a successful event and as the organizer, I am grateful to all who supported and participated. The event was taped by the College of ARHU videographer and will be available soon for pedagogical uses and our departmental archives.

After the event, there was a Vigil held at Nyumburu Cultural Center. THIS is where the power of performance was most on display. The national “1000 Campus Vigil for Trayvon” collective was invited to campus to organize the vigil. With the vigil, also came a collective of men from various religious and political backgrounds to speak to the significance of this tragedy. Unfortunately, there was a range of bodies, but not a range of perspectives.  I stood–with several colleagues and students–at this makeshift campus rally, where men from the Nation of Islam, New Black Panther Party, and other entities lamented the loss of Trayvon Martin as the loss of another black man from the household. One man suggested that such losses, left young boys to be raised by their mothers, teaching them how to be more like women than men. As if no alternative outcomes were available; or, to say that being like mommy was somehow marked more problematic than being like daddy. I looked over at one of my students almost in tears and seeing others ready to walk away.  Feeling as if I was swimming in a sea of something akin to black masculine truculence, I HAD TO DO SOMETHING!!

I moved from within the crowd toward the front of the “rally,” where I saw Dr. Ron Ziegler who is the Director of the Nyumburu Cultural Center. I asked him, “what are you going to do to salvage what was just said to our young women, to these young people?” He gestured for me to speak to the guy who had spewed such rhetorical venom. Before I could say “umm,” he had gestured for him to come over. Quickly, I postured–knowing that my queer affect may be read as unworthy of his respect, attention, etc. Like clockwork, I turned on my performance of masculine bravado–learned largely while in the field talking to traditionally masculine men who practiced sexual discretion– and asked him if I could speak. “Yeah brotha, whats your name?” I reply, “Professor McCune.” And of course, he would then introduce me as “Professor McCOON.” The name I love to hate.

As I walked up to the mic I knew that I would have to call on the baptist preacher in me–as that rhetorical style would be the only one that these men were going to listen to. You know the style… the same voice that probably instilled these “nuclear” family politics and secured this framework that policing black women’s bodies was the only way to have black (male)community progress. So I began to affirm their anger and angst, echoing “It is true that Trayvon Martin is dead today because his body was being read as black and male and deemed suspicious; It is true that justice has not been served.” And from there, I departed from where they may have thought I was going to go….

The rest of this intervention was surprisingly recorded, by a student who happened to be in the audience. 

Indeed, Lorde’s famous words speak precisely to this experience, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

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GO DR. MCCUNE!! What a powerful intervention in an overly common script in black radical communities. 

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