What Will We Do When School Starts?

Ferguson 2A few weeks ago, I was on campus meeting with some students.  A conference was taking place at my college (which is located in the heart of Manhattan, New York). As is typical of area NYC colleges, you need to scan your identification card, where security is sitting nearby, to get into campus buildings. The security officers at my college happen to be our very own college students, mostly black and Latino men paying their way through college with this job, and are quite delightful. Because I was working with a small group of students, two of whom were not from my current college, I needed to inform campus security of the names of my visitors.  As I was waiting to talk with the security officer, a young African American man and rising senior at the college, I watched intently as he navigated the crowd coming into the building.  He was, simply put, quite genius.  The officer, as I am sure you can imagine, had many tasks: new first year students and their parents were finalizing financial aid and identification cards, all of whom need to be signed in; the conference attendees, obviously enthralled by the local neighborhood, had to be closely watched since they represented a continual thoroughfare through the gates; and then there were the current IDed students swiping through the gates.  I was particularly curious because most of the parents coming into the building spoke very little English and needed to be directed to their location. The young man quickly scanned their paperwork, animatedly offered a series of complex gestures showing them where to go, and then quickly ran to the side of the desk to make sure they were going in the right direction (accompanied by head nods and more hand gestures when the parents looked back at him). Needless to say, I was fascinated by this young man’s total immersion into and dexterity with this discourse community at the main entrance to the college.  In a brief (and very brief) lull, I managed to give the young man the names of the students who were coming to visit me.  He was very short and businesslike and then went back to his extra-linguistic traffic direction.  Perhaps, it was my fascination and my ethnographic mesmerization that made me slow on the uptake because I just wasn’t quick enough to respond to the next series of events.

i am a manAs I was talking to the African American male student working at the security desk at the main door, one of the conference attendees walked though gates opened from a previous entry.   The security officer reminded the attendee that he needed to show his conference badge before he entered.  While the officer was busy with more people coming through the gates, the attendee walked by me and loudly stated: “I showed you my badge, dude, but you were too busy flirting with the girl.”  I didn’t catch it right away. First of all, there were no surfer dudes anywhere to be found at this entrance and none in Midtown Manhattan by my count on that day— so there was no way to fit this absurd linguistic construct into the discourse community that I had been so closely watching.  It took me a few seconds to even realize that this foolish white man was talking to the security officer. There were also no young women nearby and I hadn’t seen the officer even talking to any “girl,” much less flirting with her, so it took me even longer to realize that this foolish little white man was TALKING ABOUT ME.  And since I am just not paid enough at this college to sit silently and passively and take this kind of white abuse, I decided to go look for this foolish white man and share my own words with him. I blame it on my ethnographic fog because I couldn’t find this fool anywhere.  In hindsight, I should have gone into the conference sessions but I didn’t think of that at the time.  What I did do, however, was write a letter to the conference organizer/conference chair explaining exactly what I am saying here.  To that, I also added the following:

I need to make two things very clear for you here:

1)   I am a 43 year-old tenured professor. I have not been a GIRL for a very, very long time. Furthermore, it is not socially acceptable for a man of my own age group to reference me as a girl. Those issues were resolved many social movements ago. And since your attendee, a white male, chose to call a black woman a girl and, by corollary, based on who she was talking to, a young African American man a “boy,” you should also know that it is no longer socially acceptable to speak of African American adults in this way. Those issues were resolved many social movements ago also.

2)   Because the security officer was helping me as a college professor at the university, I resent that I was sexualized by your attendee’s suggestion that I was someone who was being flirted with. More importantly, I am incensed that your attendee feels authorized to hyper-sexualize a young African American man, regarding him as a predator, while he is doing his job and simply talking with a black female college professor. I find this experience simply reprehensible.

I closed my letter with the following:

I would hope that as a group committed to equity in higher education that you might begin to see that today was not one of your shining moments and certainly not a step towards democracy, as your conference title suggests. 

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 3.51.13 PMIn my exasperation, I gave up looking for the foolish white man and went back to talk with the student.  Very tellingly, the security officer did not even hear or notice the attendee’s comments because he was busy helping many other visitors.  I didn’t relay the story to him because I didn’t  think the white man’s comments were worthy of a young black man’s ears and spirit.  I did, however, talk to the man about what I was witnessing: a disgustingly rude and disrespectful behavior from many people entering the building.  This was the first time that he actually dropped the distant professionalism and began talking to me.  I found out that he is a senior, hopes to be a lawyer, and that the disrespect he experiences at that front door is a routine occurrence for him at the entrance of this college.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old ManI have thought about that young man’s comments every day since Michael Brown was murdered and the Gestapo-styled response that the police department thinks is appropriate for black protest in Ferguson, Missouri.  When I asked him what kinds of conversations he has in his classes about these issues, he simply responded: “What conversation? It’s all lecture.  We don’t get engaged.” I wonder how and if students will exit our college doors with the kind of self-efficacy that it will take to counter what that young man LITERALLY routinely experiences at the entrance doors and these regular messages he receives that he is a predator not worthy of living.  I am wondering why the “Black Prophetic Tradition” of a Fannie Lou Hamer isn’t seen as a necessary part of a sociology curriculum.  I am wondering why the “Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” of an Audre Lorde isn’t seen as a necessary part of a communications curriculum.  I am wondering why immersion in Counter-Storytelling, Counter-Pain, and Counter-Epistemologies isn’t seen as a necessary part of a literacy curriculum.  It seems to me that the hidden message/hidden curriculum (though it is no so hidden) is that this young black man is simply supposed to grin and bear the kind of treatment by the likes of that foolish little white man who had no discursive sophistication and even less ability to co-recognize the fullness of the humanity right in front of him.

School starts back for us in two weeks.  I hope that young man finds at least one class that is actually relevant to the times in which we live.  I plan to keep searching down the school hallways for racist perpetrators and recognize the brilliance of the young black people around me who so many others choose to not see.

The Savagery of U.S. Monolingualism, Part I of 2

MultilingualismI often encounter African American college students (and to a lesser extent, AfroCaribbean students, at least those who genuflect to what they call “British culture”) who speak with great pride about only speaking/writing what they call “Proper English,” never speaking a word of Ebonics which is often erroneously interchangeable with “street slang.” These students often cite this ability as the reason for their stellar, academic performance in school.  Despite the fact that we are not at a national, competitive university, these students often think they are at Hahvahd, all because their teachers have emboldened and praised them for their acquisition of a standardized English (if you saw their writing’s content and style, even this, however, is questionable).  Besides the anti-black nature of this sentiment (if black people speak it, it must be wrong) and the utter inability of any of these students to offer any accurate definition of what Ebonics is, the ideology of American empire is fiercely evident.  Only in the United States can you be considered educated or intelligent because you only speak/read/write one, standardized, school variety of a language.   Continue reading

The Flies & Barnyards of the Rich & Shameless: Gentrification in BK

gentrifyGentrification takes on new meanings when you live in Brooklyn/New York. The all-encompassing, rapid, commercial take-over is astounding. I moved into my Brooklyn home in 1998 after living in an apartment for five years. I was a public high school teacher with a savings account from the Municipal Bank, got a home loan through FHA, and moved into what we called back then, an “FHA neighborhood.” My down payment on my house cost less than the broker’s fee+lease agreement for most Brooklyn apartments back then. “FHA” meant that I got a fixer-upper in a neighborhood where I was once robbed by a crackhead— or rather, accosted, since the crackhead didn’t get anything off of me (as quiet as it’s kept in this world that treats crackheads like scary monsters, they are actually physically weak so, in other words, it doesn’t take too much to whup one’s ass which is exactly what I did). The crackheads that weren’t jacking wallets and purses were hookin on the street corner. Those days are long, long gone now though. A new 14-story high-rise dots every five blocks on the avenues.  A typical 2-bedroom apartment (maybe 800 square feet) will run you $3500.00 right now.  Needless to say, ain’t no crackheads in these parts today!

There are many places that give wonderful social, economic analyses of the calculated displacement of brown and black peoples in 21st century Brooklyn/New York (older, white residents still desperately try to hold on to rent-controlled apartments and get treated so much more sympathetically by NY media venues). That’s not what I want to talk about though. I want to talk about the thing that no one mentions in terms of gentrification in Brooklyn and all of these so-called improvements: the everyday aesthetic demise. Continue reading

The Price(s) We Have Paid: Happy Juneteenth!

tpMy father and his closest friend, a man I call an uncle, discovered an easy way to save money: always wet your toilet paper and paper towels.  Apparently, once these rolls dry after you have wet them, they no longer roll as easily because ripples have been created.  This will slow down your roll, LITERALLY, if you take too much toilet paper when you are on the throne, for instance.  People use less paper products, the fewer paper products you need to buy, the more money you save: it’s all a vicious cycle.  I hover back and forth between two adjectives for this practice… CHEAP…and… RIDICULOUS.  It does, however, offer me endless opportunities for shit-talking with my father.  I could tell any array of such stories to convey how frugal my father is, but I hope this lumpy toilet paper saga will suffice.

Unlike some of my peers, I was never the type of child to be embarrassed by my father’s frugality, not even them $2 grocery store sneakers.  I think a lot of people could use the character building that comes from building a real sense of worth rather than buying labels as the sole sign of worth. Given the high price African Americans have had to pay for every advancement we have achieved (think back on the parents who sent their children into the terrordome of Central High School in 1957 Little Rock, Arkansas as just one example), paying yet another high price for something as insignificant as a clothing label seems, at best, redundant for us. Continue reading

Mean Well, But Do So Poorly

european-colonialism-in-the-middle-eastI was sitting in my office one evening, getting some work done before I left for the day.  A student happened to pass by my door and stopped to talk about my office artwork and decoration.  I had never met or seen this student before.  He rightly assumed that I did work related to African American and African Diasporan cultures.  I was curious about his interests and became even more curious when I heard he wanted to teach English overseas, especially in the Middle East.

I began to tell this young man about a friend of mine, a rather radical Black studies scholar, who is currently teaching in the Middle East.  The young man grew excited by this example and began to talk excitedly about his dreams of teaching The Great Gatsby to people in Palestine.  It was difficult for me to listen to much of what he had to say after that, all about his civilizing mission, all about how he could get Palestinians to understand themselves better with his hit list of white male authors.   Continue reading

Digital Labor, Race & Gender in the Academy

agendaFor each class that I taught this year, I created a class agenda that guided what we would do.  The agenda is meant as a guide rather than a script to keep me moving towards the goals and promises I have made on my course syllabus which is usually 12-15 pages long.  Each agenda for each day of my class is posted to the course website.

In addition to this website/blog, I have:

  1. a professional ePortfolio that archives all of my teaching, research, and service since I secured tenure two years ago now
  2. a wordpress site for my English 101 course (Public Writing, Rhetoric, and the 21st Century)
  3. a wordpress site for a class that I taught last year and hope to build as ongoing archive of black women’s rhetoric
  4. a weebly site for my English 201 course, Digital Rhetorics (with a companion weebly demo site as a skeleton for the websites that students create)
  5. two demo sites on digication as a skeleton for the ePortfolios that students create
  6. a website on digication for a series of workshops that I did for sophomores and transfer students designing digital resumes (with a companion weebly demo site as a skeleton for the websites that students create)
  7. a website on digication that explains the CSS of the platform
  8. a forthcoming website on digication for an honors seminar in writing and rhetoric that I will teach next year
  9. a website (not fully public yet) on digication for an online journal of first year students’ digital projects and essays (launched in fall 2013)
  10. a forthcoming online, undergraduate journal
  11. the beginning stages of a scribd account, youtube channel, and soundcloud account in order to upload media to my websites in different ways (I plan to create some apps and screencasts this summer also)

Continue reading

Congratulations, Andrene!

andrene congrats

Click here for Andrene’s ePortfolio, PRETTY FOR A BLACK GIRL (created in her first-semester “Freshman English” course)!

Thank you also to the Africana Studies Department’s willingness to embrace what Abdul Alkalimat, in his definition of eBlack Studies, has called “a new conception of mapping our existence in cyberspace.”  We are proud of you, Andrene!