Join Shannon @ Two Events Next Week

Shannon facilitates community discussions on the limits and possibilities of identity politics in the contemporary American moment:

Tuesday, October 27

Tuesday, November 17

Tuesday, December 1

All events are 7-9 pm at the Minnesota Humanities Center, 987 Ivy Ave E, St. Paul, MN 55106.

You do not need to attend all discussions in order to participate; you may attend as many as you are able. Or, join us on Twitter at #uncoveringpublic.

To find out more information, please click here, or read below.

Registration is appreciated, in order to plan for a successful event.


What assumptions shape our public spaces? How is it that some perspectives are rendered invisible in public, while others are reinforced? And how do the (often unstated) assumptions of public life limit our collective ability to address important issues? In a series of three discussions, participants will be invited to engage in conversations about the state of public life in the United States. A short presentation will serve as the foundation for an open and challenging discussion the requires a broad range of perspectives.

Identity Politics in the American Present

Dates: Tuesday, October 27, November 17, and December 1, 2015
Time: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Location: Minnesota Humanities Center, 987 Ivy Ave E, St. Paul, MN 55106
Cost: $5 per session

Please join the discussion on our Twitter Town Hall.

What are the limits and possibilities of connecting through personal identities in 21st century America? What do we mean when we say, the “black vote,” or the “black community,” or “black culture,” and how do these identities serve or trouble notions of community and democracy? Is there still a place for engaging around identity when so many of us express so many identities at once (gay, middle-class, female, Latino, etc.)? In what ways can organizing around identity limit equitable democratic and social participation—particularly for those who have historically been left out? And, on the contrary, how might “identity politics” encourage greater participation or deeper engagement?

In a series of public discussions, Shannon Gibney will facilitate conversations about the state of identity politics in the United States. In each session, a short presentation will serve as the foundation for an open and challenging discussion that requires a broad range of perspectives. These dialogues will center on the following topics and questions:

Session One: Defining Terms—Identity, Culture, and Power

What do we mean by the term “identity politics,” and what role does it play in American life today? How do “identity politics” inform our political and cultural lives? Why are some identities in America, and organizing around them, seen as “political,” and others as simply “normal”? And is it always useful to link political affiliations to the race, gender, sex of one’s body? In this session, Gibney will facilitate a discussion on definitions that establish the peculiar dynamics of “identity politics” as practiced in the United States.

Session Two: Identity Politics in the Present
What are the main issues in identity politics right now? How do we understand these cultural tensions as they are played out in our personal, interpersonal, and institutional lives? What are the stakes in organizing ourselves around a politics of the body in this contemporary moment? Gibney will present a real-life case study illustrating the contentiousness and possibilities of identity politics in our era, and ask participants to reflect on their utility and limits.

Session Three: Beyond Identity Politics?
In America under President Obama, plenty of people have suggested that we are now living in a “post-racial” era. At a time when racial disparities in health, housing, employment, incarceration, and education remain stubbornly high—particularly in Minnesota—what does it mean to suggest that identity may not be a nimble enough category to organize around? Are there perhaps other categories of politics—those beyond the body, for example—that might ultimately lead us to a more multi-vocal, robust society? In this final session, Gibney will invite participants to question the limits of identity politics as they have been practiced thus far, and to envision alternate and/or additional strategies for establishing connectedness.

Shannon Gibney lives, writes, and teaches in Minneapolis. Her creative and critical work has been published in a variety of venues, including in the anthologies Parenting as Adoptees, and The Black Imagination: Science Fiction, Futurism, and the Speculative. Her young adult novel See No Colorwas published by Carolrhoda/Lerner Books in November 2015, and she is currently at work on a novel about African Americans who colonized Liberia in the 19th century.

Questions: Kirk MacKinnon Morrow, 651-772-4252,

This event is funded in part with support from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created by a vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008 and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Please join Shannon and others for a discussion on “Trigger Warnings” in the higher ed classroom:

Thursday, October 29, at 4 pm

Crosby Seminar Room, 2nd Floor East Side, 240 Northrop, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Free and open to the public.

Trigger warnings are designed to prevent unaware encounters with topics that might elicit strong and damaging emotional responses in some people. Some call them a bandaid; others raise issues of academic freedom. This discussion will focus on how we can reframe and move beyond these debates to address how we can create a community in which all our members feel secure and respected, while also being able to examine difficult and controversial issues. Continuing the conversation started by a panel on trigger warnings last fall in the department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, this event is cosponsored by the Office of the Provost as part of ongoing Campus Climate work, which will include a series of forums on Academic Freedom over the coming year.

Angela M. Carter, Graduate Instructor & Ph.D Candidate in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, UMN
Shannon Gibney, Faculty in English, MCTC
Roozbeh Shirazi, Comparative and International Development Education, UMN

Moderated by Jigna Desai, Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and Asian American Studies, UMN

This event is cosponsored by the Race, Indigeneity, Gender, and Sexuality (RIGS) Initiative.

Click here to visit the event webpage.

10.29.15 Trigger Warnings 2


On Trying to Love My Neighborhood…And Not Succeeding

Or the Perils of Hyper-visibility and Black Parenting

My family and I just got back from the vigil and community celebration against violence at Powderhorn Park, maybe four blocks from our small, stucco house in South Minneapolis. There has been an unfortunate increase in violent incidents against women and children in our area recently, so people decided to organize a musical, puppet-rich, flame-throwing, hot apple cider-drinking, firepit burning get-together to validate everything we love about our hood, which is chuck full of progressive art farmer types, and the like. It’s the end of the semester, and I am even more exhausted than my students (if that’s even possible), and it is cold to the bone out there, but I thought it would be important for us all to go — for Ballah to get to know the hood even better, for Boisey to revel in his winter-babydom, and for all of us to show solidarity through the recent spate of difficulties here. Instead, I ended up wishing we had stayed at home.

We were standing around a fire pit, warming ourselves, when a large dancing bear, of Amie Cesaire proportions, approached us. Ballah and I immiediately thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity to take a photo with said bear and said baby, so we brought the boy, who was wrapped in two layers of clothing, a thick down coat his grandmother had given him, a thick blanket over his legs, and a hat that his Auntie JR had sewed him that he kept on throwing off, to the bear. Well, Boisey is a squirmy fellow, and he wasn’t really feeling all of this being managed and moved around, so the thick coat was floating up his stomach, and the blanket fell to the ground. After we had finally snapped the photo, this older white lady tells Ballah, “Why are your baby’s stomach and legs uncovered?” Ballah was leaning in, trying to hear her, as the horns were playing loudly around us, and he is still picking up peoples’ accents here. But I heard this woman loud and clear. The lady repeated herself again, and said, “This seems like negligent parenting to me.” Ballah hadn’t heard her, but I did, and struggled to contain my anger, and with the best way to respond. “Why would you say that?” I asked her. “Well, his stomach and legs are exposed,” she said. “That’s not what I mean,” I said. “Why would you say something about negligent parenting? Why wouldn’t you just say, ‘I’m not sure if you noticed, but your child’s stomach and legs aren’t covered.'” She shrugged for a moment, and then responded, “I guess because I’m judgemental.” “You might want to do something about that,” I told her, and then we walked away.

Don’t get me wrong, I still would definitely be pissed if this were an isolated incident. And I am well aware that my friends of all ethnic and racial persuasions sometimes get hounded and judged by the general public, and ornery white people in particular, but there is a kind of accumulated experience along these lines for my family these past few weeks that feels disturbingly like targeting. This, coupled with the hard data I am aware of, documenting the hyper-visibility, vigialnce, and surveilance of parents of color — particularly Black and Native families in this state — which partially leads to our increased incidence of out-of-home placement, termination of parental rights, and general exposure to the child welfare system, makes me particularly sensitive to these kinds of occurances.

I was similarly less than pleased when I got home from work yesterday, and asked Ballah how he and Boisey’s first ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) class was. Ballah replied that while the class itself was good, he had not exactly had a warm reception. He had walked with Boisey to Wilder Family Center, maybe a 10-minute walk, mostly through Powderhorn Park. By the time they arrived, it was snowing, so Ballah had Boisey (who was a huge ball of blue snowsuit from Auntie Kath) tucked safely inside his coat. He saw several (white) women eyeing him suspiciously as he walked up. After a few minutes, one finally approached him and asked him what he was doing there. “I’m here for the program,” he said, even though the women were still suspicious. “You can find my name and my son’s on your roster.” At which point one of the women looked on her sheet and indeed found their names. “Oh thank goodness,” said one woman. “We were going to call the cops on you, because we thought you were stealing a baby.”

Yes. For real.

Ballah has been busy making the monumental and ongoing adjustment of acculturating from a poor, monoracial Black society in the Global South, to a rich, multiiracial, white-identified society in the Global North for a little over two months now, and I had been warning him that this day — or one much like it — would come, so I think he was somewhat prepared…But then again, you can never really be prepared for people not believing that you could be as valid of a parent as they are, simply because you are a young, Black male. “What I don’t understand is why you would assume something like that. Someone stealing a baby? Wouldn’t you just ask, before making up a story like that?” Sadly, no.

So, while I still love my neighborhood for all its arty, community garden, Fair Trade goodness, I am disappointed — and yes, angry — by all the recent violence, both physical and psychological, that continues to be inflicted on families every day.

Calling up a Tsunami

My colleagues and I gave this presentation at a recent conference, and also at our faculty development day at MCTC. We’re going to continue taking it on the road, to get the word out.

— Shannon


MnCUEW (Minnesota Colleges and Universities English and Writing) Conference
April 3-4, 2009


Calling up a Tsunami: Arresting White Privilege with Critical Literacy and Arts Activism in the Basic Writing Classroom


Participants: Kathleen DeVore, Valerie Deus, and Shannon Gibney

Urban Basic Writing classrooms are increasingly predominantly students of color, while English faculties remain largely if not exclusively white.  This should serve to heighten our awareness of BW as work that does not address cognitive deficits, but cultural divides within Higher Ed. and the broader community.  Our work is not mere error correction to the standard, but cultural brokerage – making the cultures and genres valued in academic discourse intelligible to those coming from far outside that culture: usually people from across racial, ethnic, and class cultural divides from their BW teachers.


This panel of BW instructors from one urban Two Year College in a large Midwestern city have been exploring the use of critical literacy, which Shor defines as: “Critical literacy begins in questioning power relations, discourses, and identities in a world not yet finished, just, or humane” (What is Critical Literacy, 1999). Exposing some of the “power lines” in academic discourse allows us to work through with students the systemic privileging of dominant discourse, which they then can begin to strategically adopt, while continuing to hold tight to home discourses that have and will continue to sustain them. 


Despite a stated “commitment to diversity” and a student population that is nearly 50% students of color, our college (and arguably most colleges and universities in this country) operates within an unconscious middle-class and white bias. We are therefore interested in exploring the relationship between that unacknowledged bias and the disciplinary boundary in basic writing courses between “creative” or “personal” writing and more traditional composition. How does this boundary defeat the goals of critical literacy, which arguably begins when students are empowered to tell their own stories in their own creative and critical language?
Finally, it is growing clear to panel members that urban artists of color and arts activists more generally are central to this work — both in connecting to discourses already engaged in critical practices and in reaching into institutions much less racially and culturally homogeneous than higher education. In many communities color around the country – and certainly in the Twin Cities – arts are a primary vehicle for community building and social justice work. Our task as educators in the Basic Writing classroom therefore becomes about mobilizing that power both inside and beyond the classroom, so that students can tell the truth of their lives (and therefore, their community’s lives) through creative and critical language. In this way, linguistic skills/power cannot only describe students worlds, but can actually remake them. Panelists will explore their challenges and successes that we have had with this approach.


One sentence description: This session will explore strategies for engaging basic writing communities of color through critical literacy and arts activism.