“We Will Be Better for It”: Critical Hope from Women of Color in Digital Spaces

02 October 2018 Written by   Cruz Medina

Since the 2016 presidential election, many scholars have looked for signs of critical hope in the work of traditional journalism, academic publications, and public writing in digital spaces. CNN reported exit polls in which 52 percent of white women voted for Trump during the 2016 election (“Election 2016: Exit Polls” 2016) and the argument that the country needs to ‘listen to women of color’ began to circulate in digital writing by folks advocating for intersectional feminism as a part of the larger coordinated movement with the women’s marches (Fleshman 2018; @KeishaPolonio 2018; Zipp 2018).

I describe the positive potential to effect change embodied by the growing number of voices online as “critical hope” because these voices can be effective when audiences support and amplify their messages. Although my hope and aim here is to amplify the great contributions by Women of Color (WoC) in the digital collection I coedited, Racial Shorthand: Coded Discrimination Contested in Social Media, my current research on citation practices within the field of rhetoric and composition keeps me critical. Inclusive citation practices will only come through the concerted efforts of editors, publishers, and researchers to diversify what is published and cited.

I am proud that four of the seven chapters in Racial Shorthand are authored or coauthored by women of color (WoC). These chapters analyze misrepresentations of race and gender, offer insights on #BlackLivesMatter, and explain how translation is interconnected with technology for Latinx immigrant populations.

Now, it might sound obvious that people of color (PoC) would have the most to say on the topics of multimodal productions by PoC and misrepresentations online. However, PoC continue to be published and cited at disproportionately lower rates than white scholars (Ahmed 2012; Banks 2015; Chakravartty et al. 2018; Delgado 1984; VIDA 2017).

[Keisha Polonio/Twitter]

After surveying and interviewing members of the National Council of Teachers of English/College Composition and Communication Conference (NCTE/CCCC) Latinx Caucus for my current research project, I found that a majority of interviewees felt as though the main opportunities for PoC to publish came through special issues of journals or edited collections. One person described the publication process as “mystical” and another commented that it seemed as though a scholar of color had to publish a book before getting an article accepted in top-tier journals in the field.

My interest in publishing and citation practices is also motivated by a Google Document (GDoc) I circulated within the NCTE/CCCC Latinx Caucus. I first circulated the document in 2014 via the caucus listserv, and it began as a digital archive of citations contributed by members of the caucus. In an article in the fall 2017 issue of Composition Studies, I explain that the document “create[s] a collaborative archive for members to consult when embarking on new projects and to raise awareness of shared research interests” (Medina 2017, 223). In June 2017, an analysis of the caucus document showed some 160 citations by approximately 30 or so different scholars, primarily from the last ten years or so (Medina 2017, 223). As of January 2018, the total count was 253 citations from 40 members of the Latinx Caucus.

My research assistant, Perla Luna, and I continue to collect citations from members within the Latinx Caucus, with a recent count closer to 500 citations. The majority of these 500 citations have largely been recorded in edited collections and special issues of journals, which means that even those publishing in top-tier journals on the topic of Latinx students have failed to cite research by Latinx scholars on Latinx topics. One interviewee admitted they’ve done this because they were unaware of Latinx scholarship.

Some of the initial analysis of these citations supports concerns about underrepresentation by PoC in rhetoric and composition journals. As a result of this research I recommend editors make more conscious efforts to reach out to scholars of color to ensure the diversity of perspectives in the scholarship produced within and for the field. Identified by members of the NCTE/CCCC Latinx Caucus, a few editors—such as Steven Parks of NCTE’s Studies in Writing and Rhetoric series, Laura Miccichi of Composition Studies, and Elise Verzosa Hurley of Rhetoric Review—are already attending to issues of diversity in publishing by actively reaching out to caucuses within NCTE/CCCC about submitting to their publications or discussing proposals.

In addition, new online journals have created platforms for scholars of color, such as Constellations: A Cultural Rhetorics Publishing Space and The Journal of Multimodal Rhetoric, as well as the forthcoming Latinx Writing and Rhetoric Studies. These journals are significant because they not only have created spaces for new voices but also include WoC as editors (Malea Powell, Christina Cedillo, and Iris Ruiz, respectively), with PoC as members of the editorial board. In addition to being editor-in-chief of Constellations, American Indian scholar Malea Powell has been selected as the next editor of College Composition and Communication journal, where Powell looks to “mak[e] space for diverse voices in disciplinary scholarship” (“Malea Powell” 2018).

In addition to our collection Racial Shorthand, Computers and Composition Digital Press has also supported the work of Venezuelan scholar Alexandra Hidalgo with the publication of her digital book Cámara Retórica: A Feminist Filmmaking Methodology for Rhetoric and Composition (2017). These digital platforms are helping with the representation of diverse voices, especially WoC.

The influence and centrality of women of color in Racial Shorthand is not limited to the contributors. Chicana poet and scholar Natalie Martinez inspired my chapter, “Digital Latinx Storytelling: Testimonio as Multimodal Resistance”, with the captivating video she composed that I include as an example of digital testimonio. One of my graduate school mentors, Adela Licona, informed my early understanding on the testimonio genre when she suggested that I read Telling to Live, a collection of testimonios by the Latina Feminist Collaborative (Del Alba et al. 2001). And I believe that my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Medina, represents one of the most influential WoC in my life, which is perhaps why I used her voice from archival family videos in the book trailer as a kind of found narration. In the trailer, her offhand comments about my family’s use of technology 30 years ago provide insights into the traditions of PoC using technology in ways that have been ignored.

Podcasts have also taught me a lot about how the oral and aural modes ask audiences to listen. When I taught with Chicana feminist Ana Castillo at Bread Loaf New Mexico in 2016, I was extremely appreciative to hear her insights on feminism, racial inequality, and mental health in our dialogue on the podcast This Rhetorical Life, co-executive-produced by Puerto Rican scholar Karrieann Soto (Medina 2016). In the podcast, based out of Syracuse University, Castillo offers insights into current struggles by reminding audiences that many of these struggles have been ongoing, though not always recognized.

[Screenshot from: http://thisrhetoricallife.syr.edu/episode-33-cruz-medina-interviews-ana-castillo/]

I recognize that as a straight, cisgendered, male Chicano, it’s not my place to speak for WoC, so I am especially appreciative of collaborators such as Aja Y. Martinez (Martinez and Medina 2015; Martinez, Medina, and Howerton 2018) and editorial mentors Miriam Williams (Williams and Pimentel 2014) and Angela Haas (Haas and Eble 2018). My research interests in issues such as diversity in publication and citation practices only reaffirm my belief in and advocacy of intersectionalism because discrimination continues to be an equal opportunity offender across race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I find hope in WoC, such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Senator Kamala Harris, and 28-year-old Bronx Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. None are afraid to speak up on issues such as immigration and corruption, while ignoring calls for respectability politics that will not redeem the country from emboldened white supremacists and policies that separate children from their parents. I continue to have hope for the future of research, our academic fields, and national politics as more folks listen to, trust, and are led by women of color.

Cruz Medina is assistant professor of rhetoric and composition in the English department at Santa Clara University. His research interests include digital writing and multicultural rhetoric, focusing on issues of social justice, race, and pedagogy. He is the author of Reclaiming Poch@ Pop: Examining the Rhetoric of Cultural Deficiency (Palgrave 2015) and coeditor, with Octavio Pimentel, of Racial Shorthand: Coded Discrimination Contested in Social Media, an online collection with CCDP.



Ahmed, Sara. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Banks, Adam. 2015. “2015 CCCC Chair's Address.” College Composition and Communication 67, no. 2: 423–31.

Chakravartty, Paula, et al. 2018. “#CommunicationSoWhite.” Journal of Communication 68, no. 2: 254–66.

Del Alba Acevedo, Luz, et al., eds. 2001. Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Delgado, Richard. 1984. “The Imperial Scholar: Reflections on a Review of Civil Rights Literature.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 132, no. 3: 561–78.

“Election 2016: Exit Polls.” 2016. CNN: Politics. 23 Nov. 2016. www.cnn.com/election/2016/results/exit-polls. Accessed 13 Jul 2018.

Fleshman, Karen. 2018. “White Women: We Must Follow Women of Color.” Medium, 21 Jan 2018. medium.com/@karenfleshman/white-women-we-must-follow-women-of-color-cf6a1b94377e . Accessed 13 Jul 2018.

Haas, Angela M., and Michelle F. Eble, eds. 2018. Key Theoretical Frameworks: Teaching Technical Communications in the Twenty-First Century. Logan: Utah State University Press.

Hidalgo, Alexandra. 2017. Cámara Retórica: A Feminist Filmmaking Methodology. Logan: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press.

@KeishaPolonio. 2018. “We need to trust women of color. We need to listen to women of color. We need to be lead by women of color… bc we will be better for it. @melyC03 #ugcrucible.” Twitter, 27 May 2018, 8:45 a.m. twitter.com/KeishaPolonio/status/1000764843526410242.

“Malea Powell Named Editor of College Composition and Communication.” 2018. Research @ MSU. http://research.msu.edu/malea-powell-named-editor-of-college-composition-and-communication/. Accessed 13 Jul 2018.

Martinez, Aja Y., and Cruz Medina. 2015. “Contexts of Lived Realities in SB 1070 Arizona.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society 4 no. 2. http://www.presenttensejournal.org/volume-4/contexts-of-lived-realities-in-sb-1070-arizona-a-response-to-asenas-and-johnsons-economic-globalization-and-the-given-situation/.

Martinez, Aja Y., Cruz Medina, and Gloria J. Howerton. 2018. “Comment and Response: A Response to Kim Hensley Owens’s ‘In Lak’ech, the Chicano Clap, and Fear: A Partial Rhetorical Autopsy of Tucson’s Now-Illegal Ethnic Studies Classes.’” College English 80, no. 6: 539–45.

Medina, Cruz. 2016. ---. “Interview with Ana Castillo.” This Rhetorical Life. Writing and Cultural Rhetorics, Syracuse University 26 Nov. 2016. http://thisrhetoricallife.syr.edu/episode-33-cruz-medina-interviews-ana-castillo/.

Medina, Cruz. 2017. “Identity, Decolonialism, and Digital Archives.” Composition Studies 45, no. 2: 222–25.

VIDA. 2017. “The 2016 VIDA Count, the Big Picture Gets Bigger: Commitment to Intersectionality.” VIDA Women in Literary Arts. 17 Oct. 2017. http://www.vidaweb.org/the-2016-vida-count/#Introduction. Accessed 13 Jul 2018.

Williams, Miriam F., and Octavio Pimentel, eds. 2014. Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing.

Zipp, Michele. 2018. “The Power of Listening to Women of Color.” The Daily Banter. 31 Jan. 2018. https://thedailybanter.com/issues/2018/01/31/intersectional-feminism-women-of-color/ Accessed 13 Jul 2018.

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