Thursday, April 29, 2010


I constantly question why I am often, or so it seems, the lone person who holds a particular position on an issue. I use the criticisms as a way of judging myself. My initial instinct is to always look at myself through another's eyes and then take myself to task for the error. "Why am I always the solitary voice"? Does the fact that it is solitary necessarily make it wrong? I marvel at the simplicity with which others approach my comments, criticisms and judgments. They speak as though they know me; as though their world is mine. They speak in the platitudes and cliches that they have learned. They demand explanations that make sense to them, but the context from which I come and from which I speak made and makes no sense. They violate all the rules with which I grew. People half my age tell me how I should behave; who I should love and why. People explain the logic of their positions--not mine. Logic? Like Jim Crow kinda logic? Law? Like that kinda law? And then there's "love," and I use the term lightly. This is not the kind of love with which I grew. It is not the love I know. This love is a weapon. It whips me into shape. It says "you are my friend," but I bow under the weight of its conditions. It demands "civility, and it demands low tones and avoidance of conflict; it avoids challenge, and it will never, ever say "you're right." In twenty years I have never, been right on any issue that pertained to race. Let me say this again: in twenty years, no white colleague has ever deferred to me when race is the issue. I am astonished. My positions represent "essentialism," and that is another way of saying they don't mean anything to us. It is also another way of saying that I don't know one damn thing about being a black woman in this world. My vision is too narrow; my education is incomplete. The antidote to my ignorance is white women--liberal and learned white women who have studied me, and who "love" me in spite of myself. These are Facebook friendships. We move in and out of them with a click of a key. And so my friend, when did we last share bread or cry together or express the deepest desires of our hearts? When is the last time we took to the open road for a short jaunt or a shopping spree? What is this friendship? It is full of conditions and demands. I do not need this. Relationships in this world are held together by a slender thread. They are easily broken. I have a new approach, much to the chagrin of my beloved. When I see the thread straining, and the relationship hangs in the balance, I ask: What do I lose when I lose this person? What will I miss? How will I suffer from the loss? For the most part, I have a tough time answering those questions in this place of books and knowledge. So let me tell you this: I may not know what love is in this world, but I do know love. It is a love that allows me to be me; a love that encourages me to thrive and think and expand. It is a love that isn't always right, but it is also a love that sometimes says: "Kenny, you're right." The love I know endures through time and distance and conflict of every sort. It endures through hurt and pain. It bounces back with tears and hugs and apologies. It is resilient. That is the love that matters to me. Later.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I've received more unsolicited advice in the past few days than I have in a long time. There are those who believe I'm angry with some human somewhere; others think my stories are about them. They respond to what they think I think. They know me so well that they interpret my words and feelings with precision, and they write--willing and able to point out all of my failings and my shortsightedness. If I only understood patriarchy, brilliance, friendship and even love. What you is ask that I assume your point of view, your position. But I am not you. I will never be you, and you can't tell me how to write my story. So lest you think this is about you or you or him or her, let me assure you that this is my story. The precipitating event was only that--a precipitating event. My post elicited an amazing number of varied responses. Mind you, my post wasn't simply a shot in the dark, I refer to a person I have known and sometimes loved for more years than any of the responders, and I'm not talking about an acquaintance or passing knowledge, I'm talking about a deep and long relationship unlike any I've had with the responders. But "liberal"white women apparently know everything, and their knowledge far exceeds mine. Never mind that she and I are both black, southern women. All that matters is what they know. Ask me no questions. Make your judgments. If you're not interested in my point of view, then don't read my blog.

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.


to have everything you are and everything you do belittled to "just because you're black"? Do you know how it feels to begin to wonder if every, single opportunity or invitation or overture is "just because you're black"? Do you know how it feels to be seen in a place you've never been or to be called a name that is not yours or to be congratulated for an action or event that you had no part in "just because you're black"? I would like to believe; I do believe that I have accomplished something. I would like to believe that all the honors and awards and kindnesses and good fortune that have come my way are not just because I'm black. What I do know is that it's really very sad that anytime anything positive happens to me. I don't have the freedom to enjoy whatever success I've achieved without questioning...just because I'm black. So now you know why I feel demoralized or degraded or angry when I witness that patronizing, "liberal," helpful attitude from whites, and that shameful, shaming "thank you, massa" attitudes from black folks who are perfectly happy to ride that gravy train. Hear me now, y'all, black or white: I have no respect for you. Later.


So this is how it started: I got more interviews than any doctoral student in my graduate school cohort. No joke. I literally had so many interviews at that 1989 MLA meeting that I had to schedule one after the other. I got many offers for campus visits--so many that I actually had to turn some down. And then there were the schools who wanted to hire me without even a decent interview. Far too many to name. 1989, and even then I had emerged as an oddity. I was one of a very few African-American women graduating with a PhD in English. I was a good student--not exceptional, but good. So were many of my classmates. It didn't take long to figure out the why of my popularity. I (meaning we) was in short supply, and "diversity" was the word of the day. My white professors and mentors were thrilled by the success of their "most illustrious" graduate. Some of my classmates were pissed. My African American professor was furious: "You got a better job than I have." Although I was never interested in teaching at a research institution, my mentors and advisers demanded that I direct all applications to such institutions. Just as I was applying for jobs, I got an offer. It was my dream job. I got a call from the headmaster of the newly developed Mississippi School for the Arts, a public/private high school for gifted kids. The offer? Chair of the English Department. I was thrilled. No one else was. Profs told me that it would be a "waste" of my degree and their time and energy. How could I not represent my institution at a research university? I applied to 18 schools. My classmates applied to 50 or more. Of the 18, none was a small liberal arts college. When I left Vanderbilt off the list, my dissertation director demanded that I apply. Though I said "no," I applied.

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


Sometimes it takes me awhile, but I think I'm getting it.

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.


"so i heard the news, and I just wept---but they were bitter and angry tears---not because s/he got through but that s/he got through this way. i kept thinking about how fucking tired you must be."

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 are those who rejoice. I am not among them. Waves of sadness wash over me. I cannot find my smile. She "got it." And even now, I am conflicted. Not about the fact of it. We all need our jobs, and she is, indeed, a superb teacher. "Brilliant," they say, and we all know that brilliant Black folks are in short supply. My sentiments will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. They will think that I am jealous. They will think that I fear losing my "status" as HNIC. They believe we are competitors. What a joke!

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


This evening marks a victory of sorts. She got through. The job is hers "for life." They will sit back smugly in their professorial seats and pat themselves on the back for what they did. They will feel really good about themselves. Her victory is their victory. I know better. It is the victory of the ancestors, and nothing they did or said made the difference. Of this I am certain. So let them rejoice and be exceeding glad. The lamb was spared.

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.


HNIC is not a honorary title. It's not bestowed. HNIC is "earned" in particular contexts. For example, though one can be an HNIC in a predominantly Black environment, it's not likely. There are very specific qualifications for an HNIC:

-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


So here's the thing: When you make exceptions and excuses under the guise of "diversity," you hurt rather than help, and you hurt a lot of people. When you make exceptions and excuses for Black people, you really, really hurt rather than help 'cause, like it or not, we're at the bottom of the high expectation scale. You can't look at this from your open-minded perspective. Look from the other direction. Be the colleague who believes that we don't belong in academe; that we're all affirmative action hires--not quite competent, not really deserving of our places. Be that person. Better yet, be the colleague who needs to "help us" cause it's the "right thing to do." Be the colleague who needs to mention that we're "other," or the one that needs ask us questions about our "backgrounds" and make sure that we're "comfortable."

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

"Sick and tired of being sick and tired"

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.