Thursday, April 29, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I can talk about anything except race. Even among "liberals," race is a taboo topic. So here's the thing: When I initiate a conversation on race, white woman always stop me. They remind me that there is also "gender oppression." Umm, I look down at my D-cup breast, and, the words of Sojourner Truth come to mind: "Ain't I a woman?" Well, yeah. I am, so I don't need nobody to tell me about "gender oppression." At the moment, gender oppression ain't my topic. My topic is race. If I'm allowed to continue my conversation about race (and sometimes I'm not), some white lesbian in the room reminds me that gays, lesbians and transgender people are discriminated against. I pause, yet again, reminding all present that I am also a very "out" lesbian, but "I ain't talking about sexuality right now, I'm talking about race." As I continue, one of these socially conscious women will stop me yet again. This time it's social class--"class oppression." Let me tell y'all something: I know what it is to be hungry; I've lost more teeth than I care to admit because my parents couldn't afford dental care; I have worked since I was 15 years old. So don't bother to tell me about "class oppression." Let me talk about race 'cause race needs to be a constant topic of conversation in this country, especially at a time when so many people argue that "racism no longer exists" or, even worse, "we've made so much progress. Obama.... you know." What I know is that racism in the academy is alive, well and thriving. There are more GLBTQ, more women and more formerly "working-class" faculty on campuses than there are African-Americans. So I'm just gonna keep right on talking, ya hear? Later.
Even then I had to wade through the circus that affirmative action had become. I had to find ways to figure out what schools were interested in ME, Margaret, the person. I created a litmus test. In addition to getting through the interviews, I had to determine which were demanding and rigorous, and which were simply pro forma. I was grateful to the search committees that rejected me, and I suspected all the committees that wanted to interview me further. The campus visits were even worse than the interviews. One dean offered me a remarkably reduced course load from other English faculty. When I asked him how he would explain such a move to my future colleagues, he said: "They know we have to use extraordinary measures to get professors of your caliber." I was neither fooled nor flattered, but with each campus visit, I was vigilant about looking for signs that suggested some perverse interpretation of affirmative action. After many trips, and a candid conversation with the dean at Vanderbilt, I believed that they chose me for more than my skin. I didn't want the job, but I took it. That was the beginning of the trial by fire, and let me tell you that my feet are still burned and scorched after all these years. In other words, the trial period is over, but the fire still burns.
Lest you think I'm opposed to affirmative action, let me correct you. I'm not. What I'm opposed to is the patronizing and condescending way in which it has been used by white folks to encourage the stereotype that black folks simply can't compete--that the standards must be lowered for us; that they must make deals to lure us. I still refer to that MLA meeting as a slave auction. That's how degraded I felt by the process; the questions they asked; the patronizing ways in which I was treated. But even more important is the way in which it made ME feel about ME. The abuses of affirmative action fall on the heads of black folks. We feel the stares. We hear the questions of those who believe we don't belong. White people know about the deals, the offers, the shortcuts. I have never wanted money enough or a job enough or a reduced course load enough to take the deal, and I have no respect for those black folks who do. None. It makes us complicit in the selling of our souls and bodies. Don't give me nothing cause I'm black and you feel obliged or liberal and guilty. I don't want your money or your pity. Don't cut me no break. Don't make me your cause. Your abuses of affirmative action diminish my accomplishments!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Getting through by the "good graces" of white folks, rather than by having achieved it through the same rules as everyone else is indeed a hollow victory. It's a short run gain for a long run loss. All it ultimately does is reinforce the discretionary power of said white folks...
Victories that come from the forbearance (or the indulgence) of those in power are never as good as those that come from a stance of legal equality (or equal treatment under the rules) precisely because they depend on the very power that needs to be challenged.
Am I gettin' it?
Oh yeah, my friend. You ain't gettin' it. You GOT it. Thanks for reaching out.
This is my kinda "white liberal." This "white liberal" gets it. This "white liberal" has done a good job of putting him/herself in my shoes; looking at the situation through my eyes, my experiences. And don't think that "my" means me. This colleague understands the depth and complexity of the struggle. What has been lost. We have forfeited our dignity and our respect; we have sold our souls for a pittance.
My sisters and brothers are not rejoicing. They are silent. Mourning isn't as noisy as rejoicing. It is, however, as real. Remembering Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde and all the women who were victorious for real.
There is no justice in this victory. It has been a spectacle, an academic freak show: Black People For Sale-Inquire Inside. The lies and cheating, the unscrupulous behaviors, the comparisons: Oh, she's better than he; the other is stupid, blah, blah, blah. There has been no dignity, no respect in this process. We have sold our souls. They have no souls.
There is no joy in this victory. There is no joy in this victory. There is no joy........ And with that, there is no respect for them, for the process, for the institution. A dear friend who doesn't cry said she cried. I was stunned. That added to my sadness, and so we cry together, but for remarkably different reasons.
And by the way, Stephen Hawking is a brilliant and prolific scholar. Just so you know. Later.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Joy is not what I feel. Justice, at least by these ambiguous rules, has been served. The storm is over, but the weather will be cloudy for a long, long time.
I am physically and emotionally weary, but it's over. The HNIC signing off.
-An HNIC must master the English language
-An HNIC must speak truth as he/she sees it, even when that truth isn't popular.
-An HNIC must be forthright.
-An HNIC must be willing to be wounded.
-An HNIC must suffer the loss of friends.
-An HNIC must speak "on behalf" of those who refuse or feel unable to speak for themselves.
-An HNIC must be willing to be unappreciated by Whites and the community of color.
-An HNIC must be willing to be accused of terrible things.
-An HNIC must be willing to be shunned, silenced and sanctioned.
-An HNIC must be willing to be labeled all those nasty things to which I referred in my first blog.
-An HNIC makes people tired--tired of hearing about race and injustice, oppression and discrimination. S/he is like a "broken record."
-An HNIC must be willing to be "in trouble" with "superiors" often.
-An HNIC sometimes questions his or her sanity.
-An HNIC is accused of being "uncivil" ized.
-An HNIC cries more than anyone can ever imagine.
-An HNIC often feels alienated and alone. Sometimes their work makes them ill.
And that brings us to my brother, RF. He was an HNIC--a Latino HNIC and taking on that mantle almost killed him, and I mean that literally.
But before I get to that, I've got to do some HNIC business. Bold and brazen racism occurring all around me now. People are scared and angry. Integrity has been tossed. Expediency is the word of the day. Finding my phone booth to change into my HNIC uniform. Just kidding, y'all. Wish I could hide my identity, but it just doesn't work in that way. Later.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
It's worse for our students. There are colleagues who accuse them of cheating if they make high grades. They're called "white" if they speak "standard English." They suffer the comments that they are "all HEOP" students or athletes rather than "regular" students. They are accused of "taking some qualifed person's space." And they are all "affirmative action." I hear their stories. I see their tears, and I know what they suffer. I say: " Prove them wrong. This is your place too. You belong." Every now and then they encounter a "white liberal" who feels sorry for them; one who is aware of "their struggles," and the "tough life they've had." These kind souls "take care of them, " and one of the ways in which that care manifests itself is low expectations. "Well, she's doing the best she can under the circumstances." That's crap. And believe me when I tell you that we'd have more kids on the Dean's list and in the various honor societies on campus if fewer people felt sorry for our kids.
When it's my time, don't lower your expectations or standards for me. When it's my time, don't make excuses for me. Hold me to the standard to which you hold everyone else. Cause you know what? I don't need your pity or your do-goodism or your low expectations. I won't ask you for what I don't deserve. I have no respect for Black folks who take advantage of all the "goodness" that abounds, and many of us do. It's a dangerous thing to cross a "liberal white" person who acts in the service of an African-American. It's a really dangerous thing. I know. I've been the target of them. These are the folks who would call me "conservative" or even "Uncle Tom." Cause nobody knows what Black folks need more than white liberals. Not even Black folks.
Believe me when I tell you that no one cares more ardently than I about my people. No one. So if we're engaged in controversy about a situation involving Black folks, then it ain't likely that we're on opposite sides for any good reason.
Yesterday, after reading my blog, a friend of mine responded and referred to herself as "one of those white liberals whom you rail against." I chuckled because I would never use that term to refer to her. I've never heard her say that she's "committed to diversity." She's never asked one patronizing question. She holds her students to one standard. She can argue with me unapologetically, and I love her for that. She treats me just like a person--an ordinary person. Imagine that! Her commitment to "diversity" manifests itself in the course she teaches on diversity. Her commitment reveals itself in the way in which she motivates and encourages students to do "diversity" within the context of the classroom. That colleague and her students actively perform diversity in their daily lives.
More to come from the HNIC (Head Negro in Charge) for those who don't know. It's not a title I've given myself. It's not a title I sought. I didn't run for this office, and I damn sure don't want it. But, as with many things: It bes that way sometime. Later
Saturday, April 24, 2010
This is my 20th year as an African-American woman in a predominantly white institution. I've spent much of my time mired in the muck of "diversity" and "multiculturalism." I have come to loathe these words for they have, more often than not, been used by those in power to "do diversity" in ways that are abhorrent to many "people of color." I have spent a good part of my existence on the margins of the institutions with which I have been affiliated. Perhaps my greatest offense has been to speak my mind even when my position goes against the wisdom and power of those who make decisions. I am neither academic superstar nor an extraordinary intellect. I do have "mother wit," good common sense. Truth be told, my primary area of specialization is "diversity" and "multiculturalism" in the academy. I have studied the academy for as long as I have studied my discipline. I have read, researched, attended national and international meetings and participated in seminars and workshops. I have held every conceivable "diversity" position on campus, and I have never had any power to fundamentally change the ways in which my institution "does diversity." That ought to tell you something about the "commitment to diversity." I have, over many years, watched institutions damage and tarnish us by abusing Affirmative Action laws, finding ways to "make exceptions" for those of us who are acceptable, and breaking "rules" in the name of diversity when an "emergency" arises. What I have not seen is rising recruitment, retention or tenure rates of African-Americans at my institution. For as long as I have been here I have been the sole tenured African-American professor on campus, and it is that ugly fact that brings me to this moment and this blog.
Most of the time, my voice can be discounted because it is perceived as a "lone voice." That is not true. I speak on behalf of many, or the many in this particular context. The anger is not only my own. My sentiments are not simply mine. Some are reluctant to speak; more are afraid to speak. It would be easier to keep silent. I would not have lost friends or been accused of every sort of offense. I have been shunned. I have suffered unspeakable pain, but the positions I have taken come from a place of deep conviction. I refuse to let white people define racism for me. I refuse to let white people explain racism to me, and I reject the presumption that suggests I don't know what I'm talking about. I have seen racism in all of its ugly forms. I've been spat upon. I've been called nigger. I've lived through the overt racism of the Jim Crow South. I gotta say that Jim Crow made things easy. It was in your face, undeniable racism. What we now experience is equally pernicious and far more dangerous. It is educated, polite and civil. It smiles. It condescends and patronizes, and it explains why my interpretation is "off the mark." More than anything, it is self-satisfied. Academic racism declares it isn't racism. It's good for us, liberal. It's so liberal that it doesn't allow me to speak of it. It is passe'. There is no racism in the academy, the problem is mine. I am "hostile and defensive." I am the stereotypical "angry Black woman." I'm not any of those things. I'm a Black woman who knows racism when I see and hear it.
Am I a Black conservative? No! Am I an Uncle Tom? No! Do I hate white people? No. I don't hate anyone. Am I angry? Yes. Do I have good reason to be? Yes. Change? I'm in exactly the same situation I was in when I started 20 years ago. I'm hearing the same excuses, working for the same "diversity" for all the same good reasons. Not much of anything has changed in these 20 years, and I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."
In addition to institutional racism, the self-ordained "white liberal" has been the greatest impediment to the achievement of racial diversity on many predominately white campuses, and, more often than not, these are the people whom I deeply offend. More on this later.
Until next time. Thanks for reading.