Yesterday, I was teaching the introduction to Greg Tate’s Everything But the Burden to my English 101 class. The book is a complex discussion of, as the sub-title states, what white America has taken from Black culture. In his intro, Tate uses Marx and Engels concept of the “commodity-fetish” to discuss the ways that Americans develop fascinations with particular aspects of culture. For him, many things associated with black culture – music, clothing, art, etc – become larger than life and at the same time less than human when people start to commodify them and market them.
It took a while for the students to understand the concept, a complex one granted, but once they got it the conversation got lively. We ranged from Ipods to Air Jordans, Tiger Woods to Flavor Flav. They started to get really excited. We looked at images of Black Americana on Ebay and talked about the way we commodify anything we like. It was a good afternoon.
I walked away from that class proud of myself for not underestimating my students and especially proud of them for staying with me as I explained a difficult concept – and one that I still don’t fully grasp myself – and for embracing the idea and engaging with it in a meaningful way. Those are the teaching moments I treasure.