It 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.
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.
In 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.