Frat Boy Culture: Life under Institutional Racism, Part II

Though working at a conservative, denominational university could never have been a very good fit for someone like me, I must admit that I miss some of the piousness of a religious institution. A strange confession, surely, but it was a nice reprieve from what I call the frat-boy culture of academia.   I began to really notice frat-boy culture in graduate school, though that culture plagued my undergraduate years as well. As an undergrad, I just assumed frat-boy culture was what folk would someday grow out of. No such luck.

I was, quite honestly, floored by the nature of sexual activity in graduate school where everyone was sleeping with everyone, married or single. When you are the one drop of chocolate in the flymilk, you know better than to think you have enough privilege and power to participate in this culture… though I have certainly seen more than a few black men get fully entrenched (grad school has a way of making them forget that they are black, but they usually get THAT reminder soon enough). Here we were in graduate school and a man could sleep with 3, 4, 5, 6 different women in his program/college and not even think twice about it… AND even get a few of them pregnant! Professional conferences are no different. It’s all fray-boy culture. You can see why a religious university, for all of its problems, was a nice, short breather in between all of that. I never once suspected my chair, directors, dean, etc to have slept with every young woman/man who walked past them and I am the type of person who once I SUSPECT it, I know that that ish has gone down. It’s not to say that power and whiteness are not everywhere exerted and celebrated in other ways on such religious campuses, but it is not inserted THAT way.

inferiority complexI am NOT talking about upholding respectability politics here, which really just becomes a buy-in of black inferiority.  Critiquing and rejecting respectability politics does not mean we lose the critique of frat-boy culture and its role in maintaining power and inequality. Notice here how I am critiquing male dominance and not women who use their sexuality to manipulate and vie for power (think Kim Kardashian, Mimi Faust, or the “video hoe”). It is just TOO played out to keep castigating individual women or, on the flip side, to call them sexually revolutionary or powerful (all the while, of course, ignoring that race determines which women will be most denigrated for these sexual choices). Insomuch as white fraternities have been marked with the most economic and political power in U.S. history of higher education and beyond (go to any campus and see who has the biggest and nicest frat houses…or who has them at all), then I connect frat-boy culture with whiteness and patriarchy.

frats on FOXFrat-boy culture is about power that gets controlled through sexual domination. For sure, religious universities are still controlling sexuality (with the Bible), which explains why whiteness and power were not ruptured in any way on a campus where the men kept it in their pants. But when you are in a closed-door meeting with a white man and woman who have surely had (maybe still have) sexual relations, let me tell you: THAT shit is palatable. You are navigating a whole other kind of terrain when they vie to maintain their whiteness and position over you. Like I said, I KNOW frat-boy culture so I can spot this in a minute. That’s the most powerful position you can be in though. When you are in the academy and workplace, you need to be able to read the hell outta EVERY aspect whiteness and power… sexuality is always a marker. That’s how frat-boy culture and inequality work.

Black Language Matters: “If You Don’t Like My Peaches, Then Don’t Shake My Tree”

peachesAs soon as I hear someone say it, I bust out laughing: “If you don’t like my peaches, then don’t shake my tree.”   I love the self-assuredness and, well, the bit of threat and warning that come with these words. I consider this a very nice way of saying: YOU BETTA BACK UP! I AIN’T HAVIN IT!

I have always heard these kinds of expressions from working class/working poor black folk (these lines were ubiquitous in the Blues in the 1920s, what we call floating verses from the black oral tradition, but these lines still float now). Many still make the sad mistake of relegating that to some kind of “folk wisdom,” which is just a white, western trick of pretending to value you but really marginalizing you and calling your wisdom subpar instead. There are many things that you can learn from this philosophy that shape how you understand and do your daily living:

1) don’t mess with something you have no business (or talent in) trying to shake up;

2) if you know those peaches have nothing in common with you, your tastes, your likes, your life, then move on… otherwise, it will be assumed that you WANT to get it started;

3) when that shit falls on your head—and it WILL— that is the consequence that you shoulda KNOWED you had coming.

Because, you see, that peach tree (and the person who uses this expression) is rooted and strong enough to NOT care nuthin about you and bend back on everything you try and touch.

There are so many contexts in which you can use this expression, it just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside, but for today, I would like to discuss one specific context that is related to the maintenance of institutional racism in colleges and universities where I have worked: white women who (attempt to ) correct my language.  At each and every institution that I have ever taught, a white woman has, in some way, sat me down to explain to me the inappropriateness of my language and/or my “allowances” with students of color, an occurrence always more pronounced at public universities than at private universities.  There is always some kind of overture where they explain academic discourse and academic writing to me.  Now, don’t me wrong, if you have some good advice for me on how to publish more than I already have, I’ll listen with deep seriousness.  However, in each case that I describe, the speaker did not have a Ph.D., OR had never published any academic writing (and by this, I am talking in terms of an R1 discourse so I mean research articles, not poems or novels), OR had not published anything rigorous or significant on this side of the 21st century.  If I did need some advice, these wouldn’t be the folk who I would go to, so now why on earth would these fools, who so obviously KNOW they do not like my peaches, think they should and could shake this tree?  Credentials and experience in academic publishing, online or print, clearly aren’t how these people construct their knowledge of academic writing. Biological whiteness and occupation at a university seem to be their sole practice of academic language and since I disrupt that, they seem to think they can come colonize the way the peaches grow in this orchard.  Except, of course, it just don’t work that way.

rappersdHere’s just one example. In 2005, when I was finishing graduate school, a white female professor overseeing a professional development project I was part of, told me that she thought I was using too much Hip Hop/youth language in what I do.  She wrote me an email detailing my “slippages.” Yes, you heard that correctly. She called herself an expert because her 17-year old white son was an avid consumer of Hip Hop so she knew that language.  Yes, you heard that correctly. And, yes, she got her feelings hurt. For a little chronology here, I’ll just say that I was 34 years old at the time when I received her email. For some more chronology: 1) I was eight years old when The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” came out in 1979; 2) that was 10 years before this white professor even met the sperm that become her wanna-be-hip, white, suburban son; 3) that was 26 years before this woman’s son discovered Hip Hop by listening to Jay-Z.  As to whether or not I use Hip Hop language to semanticize my life is open to debate since this is not deliberate or conscious, but like I said, The Sugarhill Gang was my Sesame Street; Native Tongues gave my morning college lectures so, yeah, they are the soundtrack to which I hear words and I am proud of it.  All this is to say, I haven’t been copying white kids in white suburbia; they have always copied us and I let this woman know as much in my email reply back to her.  I also gave her a detailed analysis of the many things she had gotten wrong in the articles she had published, years before, about black culture and black language, since the white editors and white reviewers of this journal let her get way too sloppy, an obvious fact since she was thinking, years later, that her doofus, white, privileged son was the center of Hip Hop.  To this day, I look her up, every now and again, just to make sure she hasn’t published something out-of-pocket about black people in case I need to get at her ass again.  She hasn’t.  Like my family and communities taught me long ago: if you don’t like my peaches, then don’t shake my tree.

I do find it curious that white women in the academy have been the ones who embolden themselves so constantly to correct my language.  When white men come at me, they always do so with a white woman on their side.  None of this is a surprise.  Every wave of feminism has witnessed black women pointing out to white women how their notions of gender equality are constructed for the maintenance of white supremacy.  Nothing new there.

peach-treesSince none of these women are people who I would ever call my friends, people who I would choose to hang out with, or people who I even want to have much conversation with, it is curious that they seek me out— I have never initiated any of these conversations. I mind my business, do my work, do it well, keep to myself, keep it movin, and only talk to the handful of friends who I like and trust, those folk who understand and theorize oppression.  These initiated discussions are an obvious and deliberate attempt at colonization and, each time, that I respond back, I get rendered as the angry, oversensitive black woman…or the mean, black girl.  The colonized are always rendered as subhuman, stupid (too stupid to know what REAL oppression is, at that), and violent when they resist/speak back to their colonization.  It is inconceivable to power that we might have an analysis of THAT power.  That’s how institutional racism in universities works, what we might call the daily microaggressions necessary to maintain racist culture, and there are always clear actors who deliberately maintain it.  It ain’t a mystery, it ain’t subtle, and it ain’t difficult to pinpoint.

At the end of the day, we can’t be faded though by white women with such limited ideological lenses and vocabularies that they need to label black women angry instead of analytical, loud instead of logical, mean instead of methodical, sensitive instead of smart. There’s only one message to send here: If you don’t like these peaches, then don’t shake my tree.

Still Reading Men and Nations!

“The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles” by Faith Ringgold (1996) In this lithograph, Madam C. J. Walker, Sojourner Truth, Ida Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ella Baker hold out their quilt. Vincent van Gogh, well known for his paintings of sunflowers, stands to the right. Willia Marie, a fictional character at the bottom left, entertains the women in conversation.

I remain amazed that Black History Month oftentimes still celebrates decontextualized people and events.  If the context were the substance, however, we would be promoting new thinking and radical action.  Hardly seems a coincidence that we have one model and not the other. Today I find myself thinking about Sojourner Truth and the ways that my students have talked about learning from her.  This is a post that I wrote last spring that reminds me today of what Black History compels us to really do and understand.             _________________

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In my first academic job as an assistant professor, I was not allowed to choose what classes I wanted to teach, what times or days I would teach, or ever permitted to create a new course. There was a level of toxicity that began already in the first semester. Because the other newly hired assistant professor and myself taught at a critical point in the program where assessment data was vital, the chair and her two flunkies senior administrators once sat we two newbies down under the pretense of a “meeting.”  It was just my first two months at this job and here we were, literally yelled at like misbehaving children: we needed to learn to do what we were told was the gist.  The senior faculty, of course, were left alone. I started to get real heated and, at one point, started rising up from my chair.  I don’t know what I was planning to do but as far as I was concerned, I was a grownass woman so sitting there obediently listening to an incompetent chair and her flunkies senior administrators (the chair made 100K more than I did) so violently weasel her way into getting two, new assistant professors just out of graduate school to do HER work for her was just… TOO… MUCH (she called this feminist collaboration).  I was a brand-new assistant professor but I wasn’t THAT kinda brand-new.  The tirade, however, abruptly ended when my fellow junior colleague started crying (as I have already described, white women’s tears always fulfill this function.)  That was my very first semester as an assistant professor and that ain’t even the half; each semester only worsened, putting the H-O-T in hot mess.  Needless to say, there has never been a single moment in my professional life where I have missed or thought fondly about this department or its leadership, a department that is pretty much defunct now.  I do, however, deeply miss the sistafriends I made at that college.

SOJOURNERAs soon as that “meeting” started, I noticed the peculiar way the chair and her flunkies senior administrators were looking at one another.  I knew from jump that this meeting had been pre-planned and that something real foul was afoot.  I am also someone who loves language and discourse; though I am not always quick enough on my feet to interject rapidly and cleverly, I will often commit a conversation to memory and this “meeting” was one of those times.  Who talked first, second, and then the turn-takings were so memorably awkward and poorly performed that I just KNEW this “meeting” had been pre-orchestrated under the chair’s tutelage (she was good cop; the other two were bad cop).  In fact, in these past nine years as a professor, I have learned this to be a common  form of discourse maneuvering in academia with white administrators.  When I suggested to my fellow-misbehaved-colleague that this was a premeditated homocide, she didn’t fully believe me.  It was many months into the schoolyear before she realized just how unethical this chair was.  Like with this moment, I have remained perplexed by my many colleagues, especially those of color, who can’t seem to gauge the petty politics, backstabbing, scheming, lying, theft, and violence that is being waged against them behind closed doors until it is much, much too late.  In direct contrast, when I described the turn-taking of that chair’s “meeting” to my sistafriends at that college, they pointed out even more slippages that I didn’t catch.  You see, these are women who read men and nations.

SoujnerThese women of color on my first campus as a tenure track professor were phenomenal and though I knew they were dope when I was there, I never fully realized that having a set of sistafriends on your campus to lift your head is a RARITY!  Notice that I said: women of color who are sistafriends.  That is NOT the same as having women of color on campus.  I am not talking about the kinds of women of color who come talk to you in closed offices but never speak up in public settings, a strategy often learned early on because it is so handsomely rewarded in graduate school.  These women might say they keep quiet because no one is listening to them but, more often, they choke their words to not lose favor with those in power, not ruffle white feathers, not take any risks, or not lose their token status (and many times go home to wealthy, breadwinning, and/or white husbands).  They are, in sum, passing for white. I ain’t talking about THEM women of color.

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I am talking about the sistas who read their environments openly, those who will read the institution out loud with you, the sistafriends who read institutional racism AND patriarchy.  Talking up institutional racism does not always come with talking up patriarchy and misogyny and I mean something more than talking about public spectacles from the likes of male rappers (these are easy targets).  I am talking about the women who also criticize the day-to-day workings of men in our workplaces— white men and men of color.  My sistafriends at my first college didn’t just co-sign misogynistic black male colleagues who were actin the fool (dropping their “seed” anywhere, meeting with female students “after class”, texting/ calling/ closing-the-door with female students, etc); nor did we leave our feminism at the door and blindly support the campus’s white patriarchs and their violence like the white women on campus did.  Like I said, I have learned the value and rarity of these kinds of sistas in these past years.  You see, these were women who read men AND nations.  They are the legacy of someone like Sojourner Truth.

sojourner-truth-poster3”I don’t read such small stuff as letters, I read men and nations” are the famous words of Sojourner Truth, the famous African American suffragist and abolitionist.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton described Truth making this statement to her in a 1867 visit.  I have pushed myself to think deeply about this phrase because it is one that my students continually re-mix throughout a semester— always noticing how the black women who we have studied were reading their social environments!  “Reading” someone is, of course, a popular African American verbal expression and usually means telling somebody about themselves after an extensive, head-to-toe assessment of who and what they really are.  I imagine this is part of the reason students of African descent gravitate to this expression— they already recognize it.  Remembering Truth, however, means we must take this expression much further. Reading men AND nations is about the ability to analyze and navigate white supremacy (nation) AND patriarchy (men).  I can’t think of a better way to describe what my circle of sistafriends was doing at my former college than with Truth’s statement: a present-day iteration of a historical reality and necessity.

graveMy students’ reverberating references to Sojourner Truth also compel me to be a different kind of teacher-researcher.  Part of me is responding to a tendency of mostly white teachers to describe mostly white students who reference a litany of white authors and novels in the course of classroom discussions.  This gets marked as intelligent and well-read and I do certainly agree.  However, within the scope of these parameters, I have never heard any black student be referenced in the same way for knowledge of black cultural history and persons (and what passes as KNOWLEDGE of people of African descent, even at the graduate level, is often so dismal that I am utterly embarrassed for all parties involved).  At best, when undergraduate students of African descent reference black cultural histories, these are treated as personal connections, not literate connections (as if white students describing white authors is NOT also about personal connection). Alternatively, black students might be seen as activating their “prior knowledge” which is admirable and tolerated but that is not the same as regarding these moments as sophisticated analyses.  So I push myself to see recurring themes and issues related to black female cultural figures as articulated by students of African descent as literate connections and sophisticated analyses: to, in sum, treat black students’ ruminations as seriously as white students’ get treated.

Today, when I celebrate, recognize, or honor someone like Sojourner Truth, I must remember to do more than study her life.  We should all be pushing ourselves to analyze the world the way that she did.  That would, indeed, be a different kind of Black History Month!

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Self-Determined…and OF COLOR

colored water fountain 1I once had to mediate a complaint against a teacher who failed a student’s paper because it was plagiarized.  The student had lifted entire segments of each page from websites and the professor had a policy against this on his syllabus.  The student insisted that the professor was actually implementing his policy only with her because he disagreed with her political beliefs.  That’s a difficult thing to prove so she was out there on a limb with that one.  Because she was contesting her final grade (she was insisting on an A and that a B+ was the lowest grade she could ever accept) and not the plagiarism, I had to read the plagiarized paper and her corpus of work (most often lifted from other sources).  Her writing was stunningly weak, riddled with the most anti-black racism I have ever read from a college student, and strangely misinformed all at the same time.  In one section of a paper, the student wrote a rather lengthy diatribe against affirmative action and used, as her evidence, that Columbia University’s undergraduate student population is 40% “black”…”Colored” is what she called them.  She argued that Columbia had accepted all of these unqualified “Colored (i.e., black)” students over the white valedictorian of her class who was denied admission.  I was confused, to say the least, and thought she meant a different Columbia than the ivy league institution housed in New York City.  Columbia’s students are 40% black?  When the hell did that happen and why ain’t I workin there? Thass that hotness right there. I did get excited for a minute when I read her words but then realized that I was being foolish for listening to such a foolish student.  That just ain’t what Columbia has EVER looked like!  She did have a (cut-and-pasted) section from Columbia’s website in her writing.  The charts, graphs, and language did, in fact, show that Columbia was reporting 40% of its undergraduate student population to be OF COLOR (the majority population in that number is Asian).  I was astounded that the student clearly did not understand and had never really seen the term “of color” before.  She seemed to think it was referencing those old Colored Vs. White drinking fountains where “Colored” meant black.  Her white male professor looks like the first person who actually confronted her ideas and writing ability and she saw him as a race traitor of the John Brown variety, insistent on lynching him!  It would be funny if it weren’t so damn tragic.  There are no surprises here though.  This was a Christian, conservative white female at a Christian, conservative white-run college who had attended a Christian, conservative white high school. Imagine my surprise though to hear the exact same language from SOPHOMORE students of color at a “minority-serving” public college who attended predominantly Black and Latin@ public schools!  They too had never heard the term “of color.”  The same white political continuum operates in how they have been educated.

Contrary to what many of my colleagues believe, the challenges that I experience with students have nothing to do with grammar, skills, or any another lower-order concerns. Like last week: my students were assigned a lecture by Robin D.G. Kelley called “Becoming Engaged Intellectuals”  (I treat the lecture like any reading assignment where students must transact with the text in the same way):

Here is Robin Kelley, a brilliant and acclaimed historian, talking to a group of students of color at an elite state university about being young people of color while my sophomore college students have mostly never heard of nor called themselves people of color before.  I find myself growing more and more impatient with college faculty and systems who cannot seem to (or do not want to) grasp that young people of color need to have a sense of themselves in order to write themselves into being.

Colored OnlyLike always, I had students say things like they don’t think they are or can ever be intellectuals because English is not their first language or because they have an accent.  These are actual quotes from last week’s class.  And, of course, I have students, young black women, who unpack a discussion after class rather than in class because they don’t think they have a voice that people will hear… they will just be cast as that loud black girl in the corner again.  That’s a quote too.  Despite my early onset of racial battle fatigue, I realize that I need to sharpen my critique on the privileging of decontextualized grammar instruction.  I don’t centralize grammar instruction in my course so for many folk, this means that I do not teach it all.   If I thought grammar would alleviate the social and educational injustices that my people face (or even impact the students of color who I have described here), I would do it all day long.  But at what point in my people’s history did a grammar lesson ever resolve systemic oppression, institutional racism, and education inequality?  I mean, really, who thinks this simplistically? If all black folk needed was a grammar lesson for equality and social mobility in education, don’t you think we woulda BIN done that?  There is a real vile disrespect happening in this construct.

I am reminded these days that I must offer a discursive paradigm that communicates the historical weight of my students’ experiences, the dignity of their persons, and the political presence of the minds that no one has really allowed them to tap into.  I need a critical discourse, no matter an audience’s limited capacities, of the linguistic needs of students who have internalized the kinds of racism that I am describing in this post, an internalization that has everything to do with how you understand and actualize yourself as a writer.  I won’t relegate them to a separate water fountain by dumbing down my analysis of the spaces that marginalize them or only give them grammar instruction.  Haven’t we already had enough Jim Crow classrooms and drank from enough Jim Crow water fountains??

I spent my weekend reading more than 60 essay drafts and another 60 website sketches/plans.   By the time I got to J’s, I had really lost it and found myself emotional: a mixture of sadness and anger that I have not felt in quite a while…which always means I’m about to put clowns in CHECK!  J is an AfroLatina who is perhaps one of the best storytellers I have ever encountered and yet she won’t speak in class because her anxiety about her “accent” paralyzes her.  I. Mean. Physically. Paralyzes. Her. I should have used my course website to build more sound and multiple speaking voices there so she could HEAR herself and not just see herself.  I know that now…I also know that the fierceness with which I will go AFTER and AT all the perpetuators of such debilitating spaces for students like J has been renewed.

Defining Neoliberalism from Black Feminist Ethics

In my first year writing (FYW) classroom this fall, I want to offer students a workable, go-to definition of neoliberalism. I don’t expect students to read political economy or write research papers on that.  This is not the best way to teach and interrogate neoliberalism in FYW. Instead, I want to treat neoliberalism rhetorically.  We are all neoliberal subjects so a writer’s stance on neoliberalism is always evident, whether or not you use the word, whether or not you fully comprehend the meaning, whether or not you are explicitly discussing economic issues. I am not so keen on using what passes as scholarship in my field as an offering to my students either though.

feminism-4I haven’t made any final decisions yet, it’s still all coming together. I tend to get side-tracked when I do syllabus planning. I start taking notes for other projects or I make notes of new realizations.  This moment is no different.  Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought is what I keep thinking about right now– the moment when I first met the text when I was an undergraduate student in the early 1990s.  Every black female scholar/black feminist who knows the book seems to have a chapter, section, or set of sentences that impacts her most.  Or, alternatively, she has a critique of something that doesn’t quite work or doesn’t work for the 21st century.  I can’t say why, but Collins’s ideas about black feminism’s ethic of personal accountability offered a whole new way of thinking when I was an undergraduate: “people are expected to be accountable for their knowledge claims.”  Maybe I was just stank and needed a justificatory system for why I couldn’t stand a whole bunch of the folk around me.  Something just clicked when Collins framed her black female students’ ideas as black feminist consciousness.  For Collins, there was a consistent critique from her black female undergraduate students where their value of an academic was related to that person’s character, that person’s treatment of the people around them, that person’s moral decisions in day-to-day life.  You can’t just mouth the words.  It was not a popular sentiment amongst heterosexual/heterosexist black men on campus who seemed insistent that what they did behind closed doors in their bedrooms had nothing to do with their politics of black life and culture.  I wasn’t tryna hear that.  If you beat the hell outta your wife/girlfriend/jump-off, then your version of black liberation is not one that can liberate me.  I knew that at 20 years old and still have very little patience for the ways men want to discursively neutralize/control the misogyny they actively promote. I am not trying to suggest that there is or should be no help for such abusers, I don’t believe that, but if you think that you are entitled to the violence and deception that you instigate in your bedroom, then you aren’t looking for/capable of help.

Alexis Pauline

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

It is easy enough to see how this black feminist ethic of personal accountability works in relation to sexual abuse and violence against women.  However, that ethic extends to other places too, especially in my own field where the racism that I see scholars inflicting should be treated as criminal.  When a white woman mails to her only black student a book with the N-Bomb in the title after not assigning a single black author in her class (but openly dissing Gilyard’s work and calling Smitherman’s work irrelevant) and then casting that black male student as a predator when he displays his offense, I will never be interested in her  publications on anti-racism.  And I have nothing positive to say about the white people who co-sign her and treat her version of anti-racism as viable to anyone or anything but their own ongoing white privilege.  I think of myself as fair-minded here: I have equal disdain for the people of color around her.  Like I have already said on this blog, my culture gives me special words for such folk of color.  When a non-white male (but phenotypically white) chair of a department sides with racist white students who violently attack the only black female assistant professor who asks her students to talk about racism, I am not interested in anything he ever has to say about diversity, administration, or the teaching of writing.  I won’t implement or listen to the practices of those who find him insightful either.  When a non-white woman (but phenotypically AND culturally white) brutally disrespects a black male scholar in his home and elsewhere but is always bowed down, on her knees, to white men, I do not want to hear a word of what she has to say about political economies, feminism, or decolonization.  I refuse to trust this woman’s colleagues and co-authors who have silently stood by and casually watched such anti-black violence while labeling themselves radical.  I got questions about the white scholars who are so politically comforted by the work of all these anti-black tokens too. I learned from Collins a long time ago as an undergraduate that oppressed people are also often invested in oppressive systems (we like to forget THAT part of intersectionality) which makes it very telling when white racists like these token-kind so much. I am not suggesting that any of these cases represent people who can’t change but in order for that to happen, they need to cop to what they have deliberately and consciously done, instigated, lied about, stolen, and attacked.  When, instead, you are strutting around conferences, colleges, and journals like an arrogant George Zimmerman, full of confidence and non-remorse for having gotten away with the murder of another black person, I have no regard for you, your scholarship, your lifestyle. I am not being hyberbolic here, I am describing very real and VERY recent incidents.  And I do not mean false alarm when I suggest that the scholarship from such actors in my field is akin to George Zimmerman, in his current political state of mind, writing a book about the end of racial profiling.  Black people can’t afford to take THAT seriously if they plan to stay alive.  If we are really going to proclaim “We are Trayvon Martin,” then we have much more than police and Stand Your Ground to challenge.  Concrete experience— rather than the  stand-alone sanctity of the rational, (Western)logical thesis— is a central criterion of meaning, consciousness, and intellectual radicalism. This stance is part of my black feminist consciousness.

I am reminded of how such black feminist consciousness works as I craft my syllabus, one that will never include scholars like I have described who act solely in the service of white violence.  Some of the most egregious forms of violence against black communities have happened because of and at the hands of university scholars: the well-known instances of the Tuskegee Experiment and the impoverished Henrietta Lacks with her multimillion HeLa Cells should be proof enough.  The scholars in those contexts, however, did not see themselves as doing anything wrong.  They did not see themselves as unethical… it took history to teach us this.  History will remember the scholars who I have described in the same ways where, just like now, people will someday look back and wonder how these folk could do such things and why folk said nothing about it.  I won’t need the distance of history though.  I do not have any hesitation about the kinds of people who will never be introduced to my college students and the kinds of people who will never influence my pedagogy.  I may not know which scholars I am using to discuss neoliberalism yet but I certainly know who I am NOT using.  And I certainly know the people in my field who maintain plantation-style racist violence, despite everyone’s dangerous self-delusions that they are offering black people freedom.  Black Feminist Consciousness means knowing and doing better than that, in the classroom and out.

It Ends How It Starts…

isley_brothers-choosey_lover-choosey_lover_instrumental-1It ended the same way it started… that’s another one of those expressions that I grew up hearing.  There was no way that my mother, aunties, and older cousins would ever let any woman get away with saying, for instance, that a relationship ended because a man changed from the first moment you met.  There is no True Side or Dark Side that emerges in the later stages of a relationship.   Just so that it’s clear that I don’t associate doggishness with men only, I’ll offer advice based on a personal observation instigated by a woman.  If you are the aggressively-pursued mister/mistress to a married woman, maintain “contact” while she is married, and then get back with her years later when she is still legally married but newly separated (but still creepin with her not-yet-ex-spouse and many others while her school-age son is in full tow), you can’t get mad when she brings all kinda lovers into your home and hearth.  When the Isley Brothers crooned “Choosey Lover,” they didn’t have your lil honey EVER in mind and that evidence was always right there.  I ain’t knocking the woman (no, this story ain’t about a sista— we wouldn’t get away with this and still keep our job/title/status as college professors) since men don’t lose dignity or respect for such lifestyles, I am just saying that you can’t ever expect monogamy in such an open system.  The problems at the end were the same problems at the very beginning.

41z0dk6KxjL._AA160_For my own part, I have been in the early stages of a relationship where Partner-Potentials (PPs) hurry me off the phone in order to go for breakfast, drinks, coffee, or conversation with “friends,” without nary a worry about whether or not I was receiving the support, attention, or nurture that I needed.  That PP is, plain and simple, a playa, so I treat them accordingly.  If a PP like that cheats on you later, you most certainly cannot be surprised.  That’s just what playas do so you can’t expect otherwise.  Let’s not make it so extreme and let’s say this isn’t really a playa, just a smooth operator, so there is nothing “sexual” or flirtatious between your PP and all of these “friends,” present and past, who are obviously more valuable than you since you got hurried off.  If you actually believe in such “innocence,” it still ain’t gon work.  When hanging at lounges, bars, coffee shops, etc— all these bourgeois-chic performances— is the priority then financial stability, actual completion of a goal, and the ability to be dedicated to something real or to a relationship will not be soon forthcoming.  I’m not saying that I don’t like to go out, because I really do, but, as a grown woman, I just do not know exes, shops, or new “friends” that are so interesting that I would compromise my priorities for them. None of that happens overnight or all-of-a-sudden… evidence is always there. And once you witness one dumb decision, you can rest assured that many more will follow: dumb decisions never act alone.  You don’t need to stick around to wait and see how this will end; your answers are already there.

There ain’t never no surprises.  Every lie, trifling-ness, infidelity, dumb decision, and unethical act left its trace very early on. As my mother and othermothers always insisted: my job is to keep my eyes wide open and read everything that happens in the very beginning.  Professionally, I just can’t think of better advice.

wpa-logo-gray2In professional settings, I may not be able to necessarily get up and leave right away like I have with PPs, but I benefit from the clear reading of my environment early on.  It’s one thing to understand institutional racism while reading it in a book; it is quite another to be able to read it in your everyday environment. That’s a whole other kind of reading. In a previous administrative experience, I started preparing and planning for workshops, the semester calendar, orientation, and a host of other things as soon as July 1 dropped.  My first paycheck, however, did not drop until September 15.  I knew right away that my job was largely bureaucratic, anti-intellectual, apolitical tedium, and I saw that months before my name was even registered on payroll.  It was also clear in that instance that no one would protect me or care about my time and research requirements as someone without tenure.  In retrospect, I would tell all other black faculty to refuse such summer work.  So many of our people need us in various community centers and initiatives so if you want to do some charity work, do it with people that look like you rather than for institutions that exploit you.  Like I said, it ends how it starts: I was alone and on my own from day one and that never changed.  I walked out without needing to say good-bye, but fully embracing the GOOD in good-bye.

Before classes began, on the day when I met all of the faculty who I would be working with, one newly-minted white male Ph.D. (and stunningly sub mediocre teacher and researcher) asked me to meet with him after the meeting.  In our meeting, he proceeded to tell me all of the things that I needed to do.  It should go without saying that my credentials— then, now, and forever— trumped his many times over but that surely didn’t stop the higher-ranking white male administrator from telling him that he should request this meeting with me and direct me.  Like I said, classes hadn’t even started. I didn’t even have the chance to unpack a single box and get settled in my office yet.   The singular authority of white males, the host of surveillance and messenger tactics, and the decoupling of rigor and research with teaching, were right there in the beginning.  It never got worse from that… it didn’t need to.  The vulgarity was consistent and there from jump.

I am thinking a lot about my mother and the women in my family and their constant warnings to always read the very beginnings. When incompetent white men below your pay grade have been explicitly authorized by other white men to have authority over you, you need to be real clear about the kind of place you are in and you need to get real clear about that real fast. I am thankful that my mother and othermothers always highlighted the importance of such clarity.