Friday, May 21, 2010


There's a list of 50 (?) things students "must do" before they leave this university. One of them is to climb 46 Adirondack Mountain Peaks. Those who complete the task (and there are not many) receive the title. They're "46ers." I've never climbed a literal mountain in my life, but I'd argue that I deserve the title as well. My time at this university has been like climbing one high mountain after the other. Long, hard climbs. The descents were worse. I never climbed down the peaks. Sometimes I slipped, but sometimes I was pushed. Descents were painful, wounding. No broken bones, but what a broken heart! Each time, even though I thought I wouldn't, I recovered. Battle scars healed after a bit. Slights and betrayals forgiven. Ready to move ahead and get to work.

This time it's different. The events of this last semester ruined my relationship to this place. I lost respect for it. The funny thing is that absolutely nothing happened to me. Perhaps my response is cumulative, and spring semester just pushed me over the edge of that last peak. The ethical and moral questions, the degradations, manipulations and humiliations of the semester were just inconceivable to me. So the consequence is (not that it matters) that, for the very first time, I have lost all regard for the institution. All regard. I've considered leaving this place hundreds of times. I've applied for other jobs in other places, but each time I considered leaving, I wondered if I could. I'd remember the best moments of my time here and announce: "This is my place." I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere in my adult life. I have worked here longer than I have worked any where in my life. My mother died here. I've been loyal, and there are times when I have loved this place. Now, I feel nothing, empty. I'm not angry or upset. I'm not wounded or hurt. My life is actually easier now that I hold no administrative responsibility. But the depth of the injustice is just too much for me to accept. Furthermore, I'm deeply disappointed in the players.

Detached is the word. From the place, and from many of the people. Detached. The remarkable aspect of it all is that the events and outcomes freed me. I can pass the torch. Stop carrying the load. Be me and breathe. I throw off the shackles of tokenism and move forward. But I've got to do it elsewhere. Here isn't the place. Truth be told, I just don't want to be here anymore.

And so, I look toward the future. Another job and maybe even another place. And I'm ready to go right now--this very minute. I've done my time. 20 years hard labor. Parole sounds better and better each day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


On June 2, 2010 (today), some of my colleagues suffered an "involuntary separation" from the university. In other words, they will be fired. One of my dear friends earns the whopping salary of $24,000. She's been here 3 times the number of years I have. I am, of course, untouchable in this situation. As one of my faculty colleagues suggested, I've earned the "right" of having a "job for life." I have tenure. I have pondered this situation for many months now, and I just can't make it right. And yes, I know many people have suffered tremendous losses during this recession. This, however, is personal. This institution tells my staff colleagues that they do not matter as much as I; their jobs are less valuable and less essential to the institutional operation.

My good "Christian" friends will tell me that God has "smiled on me." I'm "protected by the grace of God." That really makes no sense. No reason, as I have said before, for God to smile on me unless, of course, it also believes in the system of tenure and promotion. Other friends won't care; others will tell me that this is the way in which the world works. My heart hurts. I'm sorry. I hate a system that allows and sustains this kind of inequity. And that brings me to politics and political leanings--religious upbringing and values as well, but those are far too complicated to explain here (though I tried in an earlier post).

I am certain that I don't subscribe to capitalism. I don't think any of my historical heroes did or would have. I believe that all governments are corrupt. I abhor the fact of socioeconomic injustice. I don't believe that there must be a lower class. I don't believe that it's just or moral for some people to have millions of dollars while others don't have food to eat. I don't believe that I am more valuable or worthy than another person because of my education. I don't believe that I deserve more rights and privileges than any other human being. I would like to imagine a world without competition--one in which all people made roughly the same wages; all people had universal health care; no one was hungry. I would like for all people to enjoy the benefits and pleasures of citizenship.

I'm not against "big government" as I think the term is often defined. Yes, I believe the government should provide for its citizens: jobs, education, clean water and food, health care. Yes, I believe that the government is responsible for upholding the laws of the land. Despite Rand Paul's comments of late, I'm VERY glad that the government ended Jim Crow. And no, I don't believe that private business owners in the USA have the right to exclude citizens on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. No gents' clubs, racist and anti-Semitic country clubs. I don't mind paying big taxes for social welfare--the good of the whole. As a matter of fact, I think it's my moral obligation to do so.

My friend, one who came here because I wooed her with a "wonderful opportunity," lost her job today. It's really the second time she's gotten the shaft. The first was with the elimination of the job for which she came. Once that job was eliminated, she kindly agreed to accept another. Some weeks ago, she was assured she wouldn't lose her job. Much to her surprise, the call came early this morning. And what am I to say? Sorry? Too bad? Oh, this is the way the world works? Maybe it is, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I suspect an integral part of aging is looking at young people and making generalizations about them. We idealize the "good old days" and talk about the "way it was when we were kids." Okay, I'm guilty. I love children, but I love them far less than I used to. Despite all the ways in which I can look back on my childhood and take stock of inadequate parenting, I'm particularly critical of parenting in contemporary, middle-class America. Though I don't have children, I certainly see enough children and young adults to make some observations. The first is that most parents shouldn't be parents. I wonder about the motivation for replication. In other words, the why of the compulsion for biological reproduction? I have a dear friend who has two daughters, both adopted. I was stunned many years ago when she, perfectly able to carry and bear children, decided that she neither wanted to be pregnant nor to have a biological child. She figured there are hundreds of thousands of children in the world who need homes, and thus, there was no reason for pregnancy. I kinda thought she was nuts, but I realize that I'm nuts. What she did makes perfect sense to me now. She is a parent--as much a parent as any other parent I know, and two kids who were in an orphanage now have loving parents.

Lots of people have children because they need them. There is a way in which being a parent fulfills a primal need to love and be loved, to feel special, bonded and complete. Parenting ranks among the most idealized occupations ever, and I don't think many folks sit down and look at themselves critically before deciding to have a child. How many people really ponder, prior to having a baby, their fitness for parenting; their reasons for parenting? How many folks take parenting classes or go to counseling to figure out their suitability for parenting? So this is what we get in far too many cases: Parents who are completely unable to separate themselves from their children; parents who suffocate their children with their own neediness; parents who refuse to let their children develop their own sense of self; parents who believe that discipline and good manners somehow harm children's "self-esteem." Parents who are "helicopters." Parents who try to shield their children from the inevitable vagaries of living life in this world. So how do you instill or encourage self-esteem when you don't have it? And how do young people who have always been sheltered learn to live in the world? Sometimes you gotta skin your knee. It's gonna bleed. You may not have a band-aid in the house, but you're likely to survive.

My students often tell me that their parents, particularly their mother, are their best friends. I find that concerning and not quite the way they ought to be characterizing the relationship between parent and child. Boundaries are fuzzy. Kids are confused. And as the intensive, middle-class, child-centered parents continue to parent, the rates of depression, mental illness and other maladies among children and youth soar. In general, I ponder the consequences of growing up believing that you are the center of the universe, the entire universe. What are the consequences of material excess? What are the consequences of a relative lack of discipline? And I'm absolutely against spanking or hitting children, but even toddlers know when their behavior is unacceptable. Who hasn't seen the sly glance of a toddler who knows she's doing something of which her parents don't approve? Is "time out" now also too damaging to the fragile self-esteem of kids?

I would not have been a good parent. I know that now. I didn't know that when I thought I wanted to have two children. I didn't have good models and many parents didn't. I loved my parents, my mother in particular, dearly, but my mother wasn't able to teach me how to be a good mother. I know that I thought I needed a child to fill the various voids in me. I know I would have tried to compensate for all of the ways in which I felt myself to be both emotionally and materially deprived. I'm too judgmental to be a parent. At the time I would have been parent to a young child, I would have been so completely emotionally inadequate that I would have failed miserably at parenting. The good news is that many children survive inadequate parenting, emotionally crippled parents. The bad news is that many children don't.

And then there are the parents, mothers in particular, feminists who are immediately transformed into mothers--just mothers. Defined by mothering. Defined by motherhood. Acquiring, in a moment's notice, the authority to take on the most incredibly awesome responsibility in the universe. The toughest job in the world gets the least training and attention. Parenting is something we just do. Make a baby; be a parent. SNAP!

Perhaps I adore infants because they haven't yet become... I love the feel and smell of them; the way they sleep, and the cooing sounds. I take it back. I love children; I mostly don't like parents. Some unsolicited advice:

Your child is not the center of MY universe. I don't want to witness the incredible numbers of rude behaviors that you find cute and charming. And yeah, I'm kinda shocked when they shout at you, spit on you, hit you, call you a liar, scream just because they can or, worse yet, because they're unhappy with you. I'm shocked when they make unreasonable demands to which you capitulate. I'm shocked by the ways in which parents indulge inappropriate behaviors and change plans because Jojo is misbehaving.

I know some folks who are exceptional parents--not many, but some. They love their children fiercely, but they have not let their children consume them. There is a healthy disinterest (not the best word, but I can't think of another). An undisciplined child is an unhappy child, and a child that no one wants to be around, except you, of course.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


It's a nagging and recurring fear, a remnant of some time I can't remember but do. It's a remembering of a moment in another's life, but I can't shake it. I don't get it. We keep an open home 'cause it's kinda outside of town. Seems far, but it's not. We can see Gunnison's steeple. It's darker than dark at night, and when I stand at my kitchen window, I, for reasons that I simply can't fathom, think about the physician who was killed while standing at his kitchen window in the dark of night. Killed, according to the killer, because he performed abortions. I wonder what that has to do with my life and my fear. I think perhaps the incident reminds me of my own particular discomfort in this place, and this may be the manifestation of that long ago life in Mississippi.

This part of the world often looks and feels like the rural South. Pick-up trucks with guns, hunters, chewing tobacco. There are no drawls, but there are the shared sentiments. A couple of weeks ago, one of my students reported that her sports team was at a local restaurant in Madrid. She and her friends were stunned as a local noted that he saw "a nigger driving around." The man expressed his discomfort and alerted his fellow citizens. This is where we live. Athough it often appears that we are wrapped in the comfort of middle-class progressive politics, we are not. It is that man I see at my window; that man scares me with his possibilities and potential. He reminds me of that not so long ago letter: "Dear Mrs. Bass, You are a nigger ape from Africa...You are trying to turn St. Lawrence into a nigger school......." The rest, the prayer he (and I believe it is a he) prayed is too frightening to quote. Maybe the connection between this person and the killer is the sentiment, the mindless hatred of another human being just because.

There is the relative absence of black people that scares me. We're conspicuous, lacking anonymity, known. I'm a "troublemaker." Too vocal. Too black. And why don't I just go back to where I came from if I don't like it up here? That's not the point. If this were Mississippi or any other town in the rural South, I would not live here. An all white town in the rural South is that way because it wants to be. It has to work hard to achieve that goal in the South, and it ain't no place I wanna be. That reality and that remembering and the sentiment expressed in that letter fuels my "unreasonable" fear of standing in front of my kitchen window in the dark, dark night.

When I expressed my feelings to a couple "friends" a while back, they simply looked at me. It's so easy to ignore another's pain and fear. It's so easy to suggest that one is "irrational" or, worse yet, "paranoid." My grandfather was almost killed by the KKK. My cousin, a school principal in the newly integrated Mississippi, kept a rifle in the corner of his living room AND a pistol in the drawer of his office at school. Cross burned in the yard. Threats. The present reality is that racial hate groups are growing in this country. Hate crimes are on the increase. The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks this stuff. I've got to stop reading its publications. Perhaps I'll feel less like a target and more like a "regular" person.

So when I scream about radical factions in the nation or the ways in which the "teaparties" inflame and incite hatred or rail against the waves of right-wing conservatism, it ain't solely about politics. It's about fear for my personal safety and well-being, and, again, I use "my" to represent the individual and the collective. Is the fear a reflection of my generation? My experiences? My relative isolation? Is it simply the result of living under a microscope in a fishbowl? Do I long for a life without scrutiny in that racial/ethnic kinda way? I just don't know, but I do know that living here is hard. And it gets harder. I miss and long for deep connection and even more than that, deep understanding. I miss relationships that are not professional. Conversations that have nothing to do with SLU or the closing of the P&C. I long for those people who don't give a damn about PhDs or my last article or tenure or being full professor. People who live in a world where none of this matters. I long for a place with choices, and where walking into a room or restaurant won't draw curious and sometimes hostile stares. There are such places--places where I can stand in front of my kitchen window and fear less because I'm not the sole black person who lives on this road or in this town. I don't want to go to a basement in the Hermon Public Library to see my doctor. I don't want to "break new ground" or be "the first." Anonymity. Just one in a bunch. I do not want to grow old here. I want the freedom to stand at my window and not think. I want to be free to enjoy my happiness without the burden of recognition. Free to be me without fear..........

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I have consistently and persistently been neither friend nor fan of Oprah. I know this is a heretical statement in the minds of many women, in particular. My language is appropriate because many women, and fewer men, believe that Oprah is a goddess. She's so "in touch" with her feelings. Oprah is "so honest" and "generous." Just think of all the money and gifts she gives away. I'm watching her show as I write. I haven't viewed for a long time. Today's discussion is an old one for Oprah. The topic is weight, and Oprah has had yet another "epiphany" about weight. I can't count how many epiphanies Oprah has had about her weight since she's been a celebrity. As to the giving, what's the big deal? Do you know how much money Oprah has? She ranks among the wealthiest people in the entire world. The schools she builds; she cars and gifts she gives are simply drops of pennies in her huge bucket of money. Oprah often speaks irresponsibly. When she suggests that something is "wrong" with people who are poor or suffering; her "power of positive thinking" has devastating effects on the people who actually believe that stuff. In truth, Oprah's money could do a lot more than it does. The culture suffers from Oprah saturation. She chooses the books we read; Oprah sanctions our choices for President of the United States. She's the woman in the know. But what does Oprah know, and how does she know it? dear. Credentials. Oprah makes people millionaires: Oz, Dr. Phil are two great examples. And, of course, there is best friend Gayle, who, by the way, is not a lesbian. Neither is Oprah. Oprah didn't begin this way. She began honestly. Her shows were honest; they increasingly became more sensational, and now she's turned to actually believing she is who so many of us think she is. Oprah has become an industry; she's a picture on the cover of the magazine that bears her name. I know I'm in a minority, but I'm so glad that God told Oprah to retire from her television program. That direct communication from God releases many American women from Oprah's psychoanalysis and Oprah's guilt-tripping. Perhaps women will learn that Oprah will not lead them from bondage. As I sit and watch Oprah weep because she has "gained the weight again," I realize that it must be tough to be Oprah. We expect perfection from our gods, and from time to time, Oprah fails. She's brilliant enough, however, to make her failings not simply failings, but shining examples for us all. Her conclusion today is that her "thin" self deserves the love and praise and accolades, and that speaking of her "fat" is her shaming self. With all her money and fame and connections, Oprah is a very, very sad woman who has capitalized on the sadness and insecurities of others who are just like her. I've had enough. Another women has been "moved" to tears because she "hates herself" because "I'm fat." What a world! Is there anything Oprah doesn't know? Is there any area in which Oprah has no expertise? She's a hoax, a sham, and the joke's on you. I say farewell and good riddance to Oprah.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


In Iowa this weekend for a special occasion. It's a symposium in honor of a dear friend and former colleague, Huston Diehl. She's a gem. Rare. Uncommon in so many ways, another example of the woman I want to be. Huston has a rare and virulent cancer with which she has lived for many years. In this, too, Huston lives always with dignity and grace. We've celebrated Huston's scholarship and pedagogy; her person. We, in our inadequate ways, told her what her life means to us. It was a collective lovefest for an incredible and brilliant person, teacher and scholar. I had the privilege of talking about her memoir, Dream Not of Other Worlds. It's an account of a 21 year old, white, middle-class Huston who lands her first teaching job at a segregated school in Louisa County, West Virginia. Read it. It will touch your soul. One of the speakers talked about successfully teaching Dream Not of Other Worlds in a college first year program. I'm going to give it a try. If you remember how I began this blog--ranting about "liberal" white women, in particular, Huston's memoir offers a glimpse of a white woman of a different sort. Committed, dedicated, searching, honest, HUMAN. Unapologetic, but remarkably and uncannily "knowing" with regard to race, human nature, social justice. Acutely and intuitively able to "get it" without self-congratulation. Able to see the big picture. Prophetic in vision and voice. She has touched my life in ways that she will never know, and I'm honored to have been a part of this occasion. Dream Not of Other Worlds................Huston Diehl, much respect and much love always.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


When Mama died, not so very long ago, writing was the last thing I wanted to do. The depth of my sadness overwhelmed me, and in desperation to find solace and an expression of my grief, these words came to me:

I want to don sackcloth and ashes, run down coal-hot cobblestone streets
with bare feet—stoic and without a whimper. I want to watch eyebrows rise when I silently tear my sackcloth, wishing all the while for a wardrobe change.

I want to look like the old church sisters, who wore their finest black spun-cotton stockings and freshly pressed black dress suit, complete with jacket and straight skirt or the long black dress with starched white collar and long sleeves. I wouldn’t forget the shoes, severe and laced, heels lifting the mourner just slightly off the ground. These were the recognizable signs of mourning—the visible signs of pain and loss.
When Mama died I needed a sign or symbol that set me apart from everyone else. I once thought of wearing a sign: “Did you know my mother died?” Seemed far more relevant than asking what Jesus would do.

Monday, May 3, 2010


A generalization, but not really. My folks do love Jesus, or so they say. Now before you get started, let me offer my credentials. I come from a family of preachers--two grandfathers, a brother, an uncle, and my mother was, among other things, a hospital chaplain. I grew up in the Black Church. No, I am not Baptist. I grew up in the Christian, formerly Colored, Methodist Episcopal Church. The Black Church represents home to me in a way that nothing else does. I hear the sounds, the low moans of the sisters and brothers as we begin the "wurrship." The music: anthems, spirituals, Dr. Watts, lining, call and response. The formulaic prayers: "Giving honor to God who is the Head of my life..." The swaying in the pews. First Sunday communion.I love the women in all their finery, big hats--dressing up for God, paying respects to "the Lord,'s House." Watch Night. Testimonies. Shouting. Church suppers. Easter "pieces." There are ways in which the Black Church is the only home I know, and there is a HUGE hole in me because I live in a place where that experience, as I know it, is simply not possible.

Having said that, I'm not sure I'd be able to attend a church if one were here. The theology is often troubling, conservative, painful. Literal interpretations of scripture, as if such a thing is possible, often makes for strange bedfellows. Right wing fundamentalist white "Christians," and black "bible believing" Christians have a lot in common. All believe the bible is "divinely inspired." (As an aside, I believe my blog is also "divinely inspired."). All quote scripture when they want to point out the ways in which other people are "wrong." Homosexuality is a big sin, as is abortion. Other more common sins (those which Christians commit with great regularity) are tolerated. Lying, for example. Envy, jealousy, little acts of cheating. Innocuous sins. Those sins "normal" people commit. As if scripture don't suggest that sin is sin--no big or little, just sin. If the bible is divinely inspired, then how do you interpret words from the "divine"?

What troubles me most is the reduction of the complexity of that entity we call GOD. We've made God a cliche:

"He don't put no more on us than we can bear"
"The Lord makes a way out of no way"
"Well, it's God's will."

How y'all know? How can you make God comprehensible to the human mind? If we speak and think of God as an entity that functions exactly as humans do, why do we need it? What's the point? If God is some big white dude somewhere in the atmosphere that's decided who's gonna die at 10:51 p.m. or who's gonna be struck with some dread disease or what war we're gonna fight, or worse yet, who is "the enemy," why I need that? If it seeks retribution just like we do, why do we need it? If it judges harshly and punishes, what's the point?

I make no claims to being a Christian. I don't know what I am, but I do know that I live by a set of principles that demands that I recognize my flaws and faults first; that allows me to embrace those who, like me, are remarkably imperfect and struggling to find a way. I believe that loving others, even those who try me or hate me, is one of the things that I feel compelled to do. I know that I think about the ways in which my life of excess and consumerism is just wrong; that I have way more stuff than I need. I do not believe that I deserve this life. I do not believe that I am here because of "the grace of God," for I believe that if God has grace, there is no reason that it is mine and not the homeless person's or the hungry child's or the immigrant who dies fleeing poverty and in search of a better life. I do not believe that God would create borders, claim that only certain humans are allowed to live in certain parts of the big world it created. If God is God, it ain't smiling on me. Y'all might be, but it ain't. "God's grace" if it exists would be available to every living thing. Humans distribute goods because of "merit." We believe people "deserve" what they have. I do not.

In my opinion, and I mean no disrespect, I see the greatest reflection of love, God's love, if you will, in my dogs. I don't believe that humans are capable of unconditional love. No matter how we try, all human love comes with conditions. The love of my animals does not. They do not judge me. They make incredible expressions of caring. They let me be me. They demand no reciprocity. They don't care where I live or what I do or who I love. Even an abused animal will love its abuser. This is pure love, and it expresses itself without a word. No human. No human is capable of this. It's the "lesser" animals--those without "reason," who, in my humble opinion, have that infinite capacity that escapes and eludes me.

I do admire Jesus, and I suspect many Christians would be better Christians if they studied that life; got a red letter edition of the bible and read the words that Jesus said. Read his biography. The fact of the matter is that what we call Christianity is, more often than not, old testament theology. It's full of vengeance, eyes for eyes, retribution. Heavenly rewards and hell fires and punishments. Abomination. Y'all can have that. I don't want no part of it. I got work to do. Got to fix myself.

I'll take my chances. I'll continue to search and seek. If God is love, then I'll continue to try to understand and comprehend the incomprehensible. I will not, however, subscribe to any theology that includes hatred or "damnation." Any theology that suggests that I've earned some special place in "God's eyes." Any theology that suggests that I am "saved" and others are doomed. Any theology that suggests that God has "smiled on me" and frowns on others. Any theology that suggests that I'm a chess piece on the big board of life--that God is the chess master, moving me and you around at will. No. Nada. That's way too simple for me.

Whatever I am, I hold it in my consciousness nearly every waking hour. I struggle always to be the best human I can be. I fail, and I grieve because I know I fall short time after time after time.
I will never comprehend what this thing called God is, but I do know that most of what I hear it is, it ain't. Perhaps I've made a small step toward something. I have an infinite capacity for forgiveness. Oh yeah, I get mad, bluster, cuss, clown, declare that "I'm done," but I'm never done with anyone. Never done. If you think I dislike you, approach me. Tell me you need something. Ask me for a favor, and see what happens. I've forgiven suicide, incest, abuse, false accusations, character assassination. I've forgiven racism and Jim Crow. Sexism and homophobia. And even when I think I've talked myself into being "done," there's always an occasion that tests that resolve. I'm never done.

Best book title ever? Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Later.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

If you're reading my blog, and you're really, really angry, I suspect you may be one of those "white liberals" about whom I write. If you're calling me nasty names because you think I'm talking about you or one of your best friends or your cousin, then you're probably one of them. If you're reading my blog and are only able to see yourself, you might just be guilty. There are a whole lotta white women reading this blog who don't share your anger. They encourage me to do what I must do.

My partner, who is white, is wringing her hands. She's "worried" and "nervous" as much for herself as for me. Maybe more. I get it. I really do. It would be tough to have me as a partner under this circumstance, particularly where we live and work. Our friends are white; we live in a rural white area. She believes that she, too, will suffer consequences for my blog. Does this mean that I should stop writing? It's cathartic. I need it. I have needed it for a very long time.

I've received incredible support from women of color who seem to understand. I've received messages from women all over the country--African-American, Native American, Latinas who get it. I've received incredible support from white women who are able to see beyond themselves. I also have some male readers who offer a remarkably different perspective.

I'm reminded of the late 1960s and early 1970s feminism. The chasm between middle-class white feminists and we women of color was, or so we thought we the time, one that would never close. We've made great strides toward closing the gap. My second mother attends a group, "Black and White Women Together," and we speak often about how difficult communication and understanding are to achieve. Were I in a more racially diverse area, we women of color would have alternatives. We would have social outlets; friendships with women from our own ethnic groups; we would have choices. In this place, our friends are our colleagues; there is no separation between the personal and the professional. That's why my partner is worried. When I lose here, I lose the personal and the professional--friends who are colleagues. There's no where else to go.

This blog has been a kind of freedom for me. I make no rules at work. Ordinarily, my voice and my feelings don't really matter. And again, in this case, my means our. The funny thing about "doing diversity" on a predominantly white campus is that we never get to do it. For example, I've participated in "diversity" organizations for the entire time I've been an academic. All the institutions with which I've been affiliated have claimed to want to "recruit and retain faculty of color." Early on, I was inclined to believe that, but after a few years, it occurred to me that there was one missing piece. Not one administration has ever met with us folks of color to ask some critical questions. The first would be: "Why do you come to this university"? Seems that the varied number of responses to that question would give some insight into recruitment of faculty of color. Other questions? "Why do you remain at this university"? Remember, for most of the years that I've been in this business, faculty of color have had choices. Fewer now, but it still seems important to determine why we stay, especially if an institution is really interested in diversity. We head diversity task forces, but we don't do more meaningful work. I suspect a group of faculty of color could develop a comprehensive plan and program for recruitment of faculty of color and likely a good one for retention as well. We have never been approached. Diversity is the first casualty when funds are "tight."

What I'm saying is that this blog has given me voice in a way that I have never been able to achieve it on any campus. I can talk about how I feel; it feels; it has felt for all these many years.
Despite my partner's nervousness and worry; despite my own fears, this is something I must do for me, for my silent sisters and brothers in this place and others. This life ain't no joke. The price for this success is high, and for everyone who tells us how "easy" this ought to be, I'd offer you the opportunity to be the lone (or one of three or four) white faculty member on a campus in an all black "village" in the rural South or on a reservation or in the barrio in any urban area. No escape. Work and live there. Make a life. Assimilate. Yeah, do that. Later.


One of my friends thinks I'm profoundly unhappy because I've had a varied and eventful life. She thinks I'm pessimistic. I'm not generally angry. No question but that I'm angry about racism, but I'm also angry about our human acceptance of injustice in general. I suspect many of us who think beyond ourselves and our particular situations are angry. Anger is often appropriate. Conflict is also appropriate. Neither suggests unhappiness. They rather suggest a deep desire to see things change; to see humans be our best selves. Rather than profound unhappiness and pessimism, anger and conflict suggest that I believe that change is possible. As to happiness, I know and experience joy and contentment in a way that, in an earlier life, I never dreamed possible. I've had the good fortune to achieve most of my goals. I have absolutely everything that I need. I have a cranky, loving and loyal partner who loves me fiercely and well. I have two great dogs and a very troublesome cat. I've been all over the world. I have more than two pairs of underwear, so I don't have to wash a pair every night. I have more than two pairs of shoes. I can go to the grocery store and buy any kind of steak I want (if I wanted to). I can go to the dentist regularly. I don't have to work two jobs. When I look out my window I see trees, a river, the steeple of the chapel at my university. I have good and loyal friends who put up with me, and mind you, my friends are all kinds of people from all kinds of places. I have no enemies. I've tried. Doesn't work. (This doesn't mean that some don't view me as their enemy). No matter how hard I try, I'm fundamentally incapable of holding a grudge. There have been times when I've tried really, really hard. I hate no one. I love easily. Trust too easily. I'm acutely aware of my faults and flaws. I'm conscious of the ways in which I need to change. Although I'm not "religious" in that condescending kinda way, I find the life and person of Jesus pretty remarkable. And no, I'm not talking about Jesus as a "divinity." There are others whom I admire and try to emulate: Gandhi. Sojourner Truth. Faulkner. Marcia Thomas, my undergrad roommate. Quakers in general for what I learned from them. Elaine White. Gayl Jones, Doris Stormoen, Andrea Smith, a former student; my sister, Colena Johnson-Kemp. All flawed but remarkably decent people who represent, in so many ways, the woman I'd like to be. I'm still becoming. Not done. I like that about myself.

I hate hurting people, but I also recognize that it happens sometimes. I can ask for forgiveness. Apologizing is neither difficult nor distasteful. I do not apologize for who I am or being me. I've been cured of that. It took me a very, very long time to like myself--lots of years and a good bit of "seat time" with a counselor. I've arrived. It's often difficult in this kind of setting. I have to withstand the criticisms: too harsh, too forthright, too hurtful, too too. I have to withstand the losses as well. Of course I'm pained by the losses, but I have to put them in perspective. As I review the responses to my anger of late, I can put them into a few categories: There are those who believe they are the "targets" of the anger, and they're right.....but not really. The system, institutional racism, is the real target. But institutional racism is moved along by collaborators and facilitators. Ironically, they see themselves as "our" biggest champions. Those women, for they have been the inspiration for my anger, are likely losses. They are seething in silence. I'm confident that they are, for the most part, losses. I can name them one by one. They have the most to lose since so much of their identity depends on being "progressive" and "liberal." If I (and I mean we) don't accept it, then that's complicated. There are two choices: Engage me or dismiss me. Most choose to dismiss. "Friendships" done. They are very, very angry.

Other friends, concerned about my use of the term "white liberal," owned the designation. I explained why most didn't fall into the category. Yes, they are both liberal and progressive. No, they are not "white liberals," a term for which I'm developing a publishable definition. They are good people who care enough to reach out, to ask, to wanna know. Nothing at stake. No relationship held in the balance. Just "hey, that's me?" Nope. Not you. Liberal? Yes, but not that. Friends? Yes, indeed.

The third category are those who know so well that they're not implicated that they read, chuckle, comment and encourage the blog. These women (and a man or three) just get it. They just get it. They're not threatened or defensive or angry. They are absolutely secure. They love me, understand in some inexplicably profound way, and support me in my efforts to expose racism and promote and advocate change. To do what I'm compelled to do. Friends with few conditions.

So I got mad love and mad joy and mad contentment. Just do!

Saturday, May 1, 2010


It's been one of those days. You'd think after 12 years that I'd be accustomed to it. I'm not. Before I enter the all white room, I get queasy and nervous--embarrassed because I know what's coming. It's not a university event. Before I walk into the room, I breathe deeply and hope that there's at least one person I know at the event. I enter. I feel the stares. See the raised eyebrows. I'm mortified. I smile. I'm miserable. No one ever believes that I'm painfully shy in social situations; more so in this kind of situation. I frantically scan the room for one familiar face. And then someone "recognizes" me. "Hi, Shaun." I get a big hug. How do I tell her that I did not deliver that "powerful sermon" last Sunday? Do I embarrass her because I'm embarrassed? I let her think that I am Shaun. I smile. Another assures that he "has met me before." Indeed, I've been to a party at his home. It does me no good to tell him that I've never seen him before in my life or set foot in his home. He assures me that I have, and he's sure because "I" am the only black women he's seen. I was at a meeting at SUNY Potsdam last week. Nope. I work for dining services, don't I? Nope. "Are you the one who.......?" No, I'm not that one. "Where are you from?" Mars. "What do you do here?" Teach. "Where?" St. Lawrence. "Ohhhhhhh, how nice for you." Why? And no, I wasn't at IT this morning or the gym or in ODY. It was Gloria Naylor who spoke a graduation, not I. And no, doctor, for the third time, I have never been pregnant. No miscarriages. Wouldn't I have been pregnant first? No, no abortions. Yes, it's possible for a black woman to be 60 and never pregnant. I wasn't in your "check-out line" yesterday. You didn't serve me at your restaurant last night. No, I'm not one of "the ones" who lives in the apartment complex on Judson. Here, in this special place, my people are still referred to as "colored people." When my students who "have never had a black teacher before" or who "live in an all white town" find me intimidating, I need to be patient. After all........ when I talk about "race," I'm reflecting my "bias." When I'm being the only me I know how to be, I'm too "scary to approach." Curio, that's me. Later.