Violent: extremely powerful or forceful and capable of causing damage
Edit: to assemble (something, such as a moving picture or tape recording) by cutting and rearranging
Academia—the academy—is extractive. A couple months ago on a Zoom call with a prominent pedagogy journal, an editor told me my original piece was great, and then proceeded to list all the edits I would need to make in order for my piece to be published. I was taken aback as this white editor told me what needed to be said and claimed in a piece on Black political teaching. I made the edits because I wanted to be part of this journal (primarily for the CV credits and the other opportunities that could potentially open up for me). When the meeting was finished, I vaguely recognized my original piece. As Tang and Andriamanalina (2020) wrote in their article, I Cut Off My Hand and Gave It to You, and You Gave It Back to Me With Three Fingers: The Disembodiment of Indigenous Writers and Writers of Color in U.S. Doctoral Programs, “this intellectual violence [when BIPOC writers are told to divorce themselves from their writing] may extend into an ‘erasure’ of identity and embodied history” (p. 144). This moment with the editor felt like cutting away pieces of my racial academic identity. For BIPOC scholars to exist freely and fully as themselves and wield their knowledge inside prestigious academic institutions takes great determination and resilience. We must be like the bristlecone pine: finding ways to survive in and weather environments that present unfriendly conditions. We must find creative ways to subvert the education system that would be fine with seeing us go extinct (Givens, 2021). Just as bristlecone pines stretch across time as some of the oldest living organisms on Earth, as BIPOC scholars, the knowledge from our ancestors stretches and beats time—it makes a home anywhere, surviving any conditions.
My role with SPARK, as a BIPOC editor working with BIPOC authors, presented me with an opportunity to help fellow scholars break into this world and repair the many paper cuts of damage that have been done to us through various journal submission and revision processes. The way I experienced the particular editing session described above, and many others before, was like being a piece of meat on a butcher table with Western episteme as the big sharp steel knife. In contrast, the question I asked when editing SPARK was: what is the best way to let an author’s vision thrive? I wanted authors’ experience working with me to be as nonviolent as possible. Nonviolent editing is a way to rethink violence and enact a non-racist approach to the process of editing. In the plenary address at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Inoue (National Council of Teachers of English, 2019) spoke about how language is used as a weapon. Inoue made a call for violence as a way to address the racism within academic writing programs. Thinking about this violence, I posit that nonviolent editing is, in fact, a violent act: by refusing to chop up an author’s piece, their writing can be the violent tool needed to fight the white language supremacy (WLS) we face as BIPOC writers and scholars.
Academic journals are built off of WLS, which the Conference on College Composition and Communication (2021) defines as: “assist[ing] white supremacy by using language to control reality and resources by defining and evaluating people, places, things, reading, writing, rhetoric, pedagogies, and processes in multiple ways that damage our students and our democracy” (para. 4). WLS causes bias about what language is deemed appropriate or suitable for respected journals. This bias creates barriers for BIPOC scholars that force them to adapt to using white supremacist language, or as Inoue (2016) calls it, “whitely dispositions” (p. 139). At work, these barriers keep us (BIPOC writers) out of respected academic spaces. As a SPARK editor, I wanted to create an inclusive space to counter these forms of epistemic violence that are hostile to BIPOC writers and their embodied ways of knowing and producing knowledge. It was important that I work collaboratively with authors, no matter what stage of writing they were in, to help them achieve their vision.
The academic writing world can feel dreadfully isolating at times. Recognizing this isolation, nonviolent editing attempts to help alleviate anxiety and stress authors might feel during the writing process as they mold their work to the vision and mission of the journal. In the initial stage of writing and editing, editors and writers enter into a relationship: we become mutually conjoined as we meld our visions together. This relationship is reliant on how well the editor is able to communicate with the author. Listening became my greatest tool to aid SPARK writers. Before the official editing process began, I reached out to authors asking them what they thought about their piece and how it worked to accomplish the goals and fit into the theme of SPARK. Even before these questions of “fit,” however, as a nonviolent editor it was critical for me to listen to authors and understand what they were looking to accomplish with their piece.
After the initial conversation—in which editors welcome authors and invite their work into the journal—a nonviolent editor reads each work for comment and feedback purposes. (Note: before the initial conversation editors would have briefly familiarized themselves with the author’s writing, but not yet gone in depth.) This first reading is when I begin to engage with the author’s work in a more intimate manner. The relationship between author and editor is still being built, which is why it is important that I focus solely on the content of the piece and not the language in which it is written. Editors must think back to what the author is trying to accomplish with their piece and consider how content-specific questions could aid in the delivery of their message. These content-specific questions bridge the goal of the author and the mission of the journal.
We do not focus on language at this point because, while writing is often more multicultural today than it was a decade ago, ideas like codeswitching and specific cultural language practices are often unrecognized as such by many non-BIPOC editors. For example, consider TransAtlantic lyricism in comparison to white Western construction of language and its uses: we must ignore that TransAtlantic scholars write like the ocean, breaking form and morphing their surroundings to fit their bodies (as seen when reading the piece by Hannah Jo King, Poems in Black Water Ecologies). As editors, our focus is on the story authors are trying to tell—the content of the piece. Nonviolent editing/editors use this content-specific questioning as a way into the next stage: cajoling the language to amplify the words of the author.
After a trusting relationship between editor and author has progressed, we begin to talk about the author’s language and how readers will receive the story. This process of nonviolent editing is the amplification stage. The concept of amplification is inspired by the X-Men/Marvel universe’s mutantdom and a specific type of power set; power augmentators––like Fabian Cortez and Hope Summers––can manipulate the powers of other mutants, making them stronger or weaker. An editor, nonviolent or not, also possesses this augmentation power. When we manipulate an author’s words we either weaken their message or make them glow like fireflies at night. The nonviolent editor pays respect to the chosen language of the author by looking for spaces and places in which their words can pop and capture the reader. We help writers’ words be heard in their originally intended voice.
Not all editing sessions go according to plan—marrying two visions is a challenge and disagreements will be had. The sessions must be approached with honest and empathetic listening and advice-giving. It is hard for writers to alter their original vision, and altering will happen. The tug and pull of the editing process as editors attempt to amplify an author’s words can be difficult when an author won’t budge. These moments are when it is important to come back to a conversational space where both author and editor are willing to listen in a vulnerable fashion. Nonviolent editors acknowledge the wants and feelings the author has about how their work and attempts to repair previous violences encountered. This form of editing is a collaborative one. In tandem the author and I discuss how their work will best be heard by the audience such that readers from an array of backgrounds can connect with and understand the author’s subversive tactics to repair prior damages.
SPARK was built in opposition to the violence of academic journals and editors that extract BIPOC knowledge—this is a journal to help authors through their writing journey. Practicing nonviolent editing allowed me to approach authors in community, and thus acknowledge the stress they may have felt in the writing process as we collaborated. The process of nonviolent editing allows editors to commune with, to nourish, and to love the language of the author, from initial selection to final copy.
The goal of nonviolent editing and the work of the nonviolent editor is to help authors subvert the mainstream academic system so more spaces can be carved out for BIPOC scholars to publish work. Subversion isn’t always the end goal. As a nonviolent editor, my immediate goal is also to help authors finalize pieces that they feel have stayed true to their original intentions while seamlessly sliding into the theme of the journal. Lastly, it should be noted that how I’ve laid out nonviolent editing above is only one set of guidelines intended to break away from the hegemonic and Westernized practices of editing so ingrained in academia today. These guidelines might be adopted, altered, or built upon; they are not intended to be prescriptive. Perhaps the main takeaway is this: the best response to violent editing practices is to start expanding the array of practices that exist in the current academic climate. What I’ve offered here is a means of beginning this discussion.
Conference on College Composition and Communication. (2021, June). CCCC statement on white language supremacy. https://cccc.ncte.org/cccc/white-language-supremacy
Givens, J. R. (2021). Fugitive pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the art of Black teaching. Harvard University Press.
Inoue, A. B. (2016). Friday plenary address: Racism in writing programs and the CWPA. WPA: Writing program administration, 40(1), 134–154.
National Council of Teachers of English. (2019, April 4). Asao B. Inoue, #4C19 chair’s address [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brPGTewcDYY&t=167s
Tang, J. K., & Andriamanalina, N. (2020). I cut off my hand and gave it to you, and you gave it back to me with three fingers: The disembodiment of Indigenous writers and writers of color in U.S. doctoral programs. In S. Madden, M. Eodice, K. T. Edwards, & A. Lockett (Eds.), Learning from the lived experiences of graduate student writers (pp. 139-155). Utah State University Press.
Thanks for your article! There’s a tradition in communication studies that goes back to the 1960s about nonviolent communication, which has its roots in anti-war activism and connects to the practices of listening and empathizing you address. The Center for Nonviolent Communication (https://www.cnvc.org/) maintains the legacy of this work. it carries some psychological freight with it, as Marshall Rosenberg was trained as psychologist, but it’s ripe for reconsideration with an anti-racist lens.
Dan, thanks for this link. When putting this piece together and thinking about non-violent editing I wasn’t aware of the center for non-violent communication. I’m curious, does the center respond to non-western forms of language and writing and how they would honor authors’ mother tongues?
This type of editing may benefit from linking it to Chicana feminist editorial praxis. See Annemarie perez on this topic.
Thank you Karen, I’m just now seeing your comment…I’m looking into Annemarie’s work now!