Why I Teach

Anne Moody (1940-2015)

Anne Moody (1940-2015)

Friday night, before I went to bed, I saw a tweet that said veteran civil rights activist Anne Moody had died at the age of 74. I shed tears as if someone in my family had died because I felt as though I knew her. We were both born in the “Great State of Mississippi,” and I have assigned her memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi to my American history classes many times. Her story seems to resonate with college students, perhaps, because she was close their age when she wrote the book.

Although I was sad about her death, in a strange way, my thoughts about Anne Moody made me realize why I teach after a week during which I needed some reassurance. This week had been a difficult one at the small southern college where I teach.

A student in my American history class, angry that I had assigned three books, in addition to the textbook, had complained to me in person and by email about having to purchase the books. Then, last week, she angrily confronted me after class. She reiterated that she could not afford the additional readers–two of the three which can be found online for free, while the third is less than seven dollars. She was also displeased with my teaching methods. It was clear that she liked nothing about me or my class.

In retrospect, I know that the student’s anger, although directed at me, had little to do with me. But I was not thinking of that during “the confrontation.”

This incident made me question my career choice. Sometimes the resistance to me, my classroom instruction, and my assigned readings is almost too much to bear. I asked myself, Why am I doing this if the students don’t appreciate it? Even though other students who witnessed the student’s verbal attack reassured me that her critique was not indicative of how they felt, I was discouraged.

Interestingly enough, this is where Anne Moody comes back in. The next morning I woke up thinking about her and all of the times that I had assigned her book. I also thought about the history that I had introduced to my students over the years–through lectures, discussion, readings, photographs, documentaries, and audio recordings.

I know there is value in learning about the past and its connection to our present. There is value in learning about people and our common humanity. So, I am here for the students in the “Amen corner,” who engage in call and response because they are feeling what I am saying. I am here for the students who have come to me in tears after a documentary on Wounded Knee. I am here for the student who seemed disinterested but then surprised me when he wanted to to talk to me about a website I recommended on Goreé Island. I’m here for the non-traditional student in my class who came up to talk about monopolies after I discussed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. I’m here for the student who said she actually enjoyed my lectures. I’m here for the students who had not read Coming of Age in Mississippi before my class but ended up thanking me for assigning it.

Yes, that is why I am here. Thank you, Anne Moody, for reminding me of that. Rest in Peace.

Hair We Go Again

Fist pickI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When we started in this blog in 2013, I never dreamed that so many of my posts would be dedicated to discussing hair. Eventually, Da Hype 1 and I began a category we call “Natural Conversations” in which we–as relatively new naturalistas–discuss what products work best for us. But most of our “hair posts” have not been in that particular vein. In fact, they usually involved one or both of us defending some black woman or girl who was being attacked because of her hair.

Enter the Steve Harvey Show (March 26, 2014). Let me preface this by saying that I am no fan of Steve Harvey’s radio show, his daytime talk show, his books or advice on how women should behave to get a man. But I was reading a post on the For Harriet site about one of his recent shows, and I decided to watch the clip. What I saw made me angry and sick to my stomach at the same time. A newly-wed African-American couple was there seeking advice because the husband did not like his wife’s natural hairstyle. Throughout their nine-year relationship, she had always worn weaves but didn’t want to wear them anymore. When he came home and saw her hair, he behaved like a child or, perhaps, more like a character from some melodramatic nineteenth-century novel. He ran from the house. He then returned to ask his wife if she were wearing a wig. And, if so, she should remove it.

To his credit, Steve Harvey chastised the husband for his extreme behavior and for making his wife feel less than beautiful. He said, “It ain’t your damn head!” Here, I had to laugh because I told my mother something similar–“That’s your head”–when her husband threatened to leave her if she cut off all her hair. But then Harvey brought out psychotherapist, author and blogger Curly Nikki to show some alternate style options. It appeared that his wife’s puff style was really quite distressing to him. Finally, Harvey offered the wife a year’s worth of hair appointments at a salon in her area specializing in natural hair.

Hold up. Wait a minute. So, the solution to the husband’s obsession with a long, silky, Brazilian weave was to find natural styles that were more pleasing to him? I’m confused. Wasn’t it the husband’s attitude that needing “fixing” and not his wife’s hair? Oh, so this actually wasn’t new advice. Steve Harvey was on script: Fix yourself so you can get/keep a man. 

I was angry with the husband for being self-centered and insensitive yet sickened by what appeared to be his self-loathing. A few questions have gnawed at me since I saw this clip:

  1. What did this man think was going on under his wife’s weave for nine years?
  2. Doesn’t he realize that the same hair that he despises also grows naturally out of his own head?
  3. Does he love his wife or the weave?

I suppose I’m asking too much. This is daytime television, after all. Every time I see a discussion on natural hair, it is shallow and disappointing. This wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.

___________

Click here for the For Harriet post, where you can see the Steve Harvey clip.

Below are links to some of 2 Dope Sistahs’ posts on black hair:

The Jigaboos vs. The Wannabees: The War on Black Hair

How My 6-Year Old Protested her Natural Hair & the Role Tiana Parker Plays

Spoken in Jest: Sheryl Underwood & Afro Hair

Blackness on Exhibit: Choosing to Objectify Our Own Bodies

Beautiful Black Girls

2 Dope Bookshelf: Women in Academia

Last weekend, at the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy Conference, I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop facilitated by Carmen G. González, professor of law at Seattle University School of Law and co-editor of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Prof. González outlined some of the challenges confronting women of color as faculty members and then discussed “practical strategies” to address those challenges.

It was a powerful session, with many of Prof.González’s examples resonating with those in attendance. She stressed the importance of telling one’s story as the contributors to Presumed Incompetent did. Later I talked with her at her book signing, and she wrote in my copy: “Please share this book with others.” Now, I know she probably wrote something similar in all the books she signed that day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. This 2 Dope Bookshelf includes Presumed Incompetent and some additional titles that may be useful for women in academia.

 Women in Academia

womenask

Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, 2009.

 AcademicMotherhood

Maria Castaneda and Kirsten Isgro, eds., Mothers in Academia, 2013.

PresumedIncompetent

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris, eds., Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, 2012.

WomensRetreat

Atsuko Seko and Mary Alice Bruce, eds., Women’s Retreat: Voices of Female Faculty in Higher Education, 2013.

TellingHistories

Deborah Gray White, ed., Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower, 2008.

2 Dope Bookshelf: Women’s Studies

My writing partner and I have many things in common, including our teaching interests. Although we come from different disciplines in the humanities (literature and history), we have both taught courses in Women’s Studies. So, on this last Thursday in Women’s History Month, we are featuring texts we use for our Women’s Studies classes.

Readings in Women’s Studies

BlackFemThought

Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Routledge, 2nd Ed, 2008.

Femtheory

Josephine Donovan, Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions, Bloomsbury Academic, 4th Ed., 2012.

accountsex

Cynthia Ellen Harrison, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women’s Issues, 1945-1968, University of California Press, 1987.

SisOutside

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Crossing Press, 2007.

VAWoolf

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, Penguin, 2004.

 

2 Dope Bookshelf: Women’s Autobiography

Here are more selections from the eclectic grab bag that is the 2 Dope Bookshelf. Continuing with our Women’s History Month focus, this week we have women’s autobiographies/memoirs.

Women’s Autobiography

ElaineBrown

Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, Anchor Books, 1993

AngelaDavis

Angela Davis, Angela Davis: An Autobiography, International Publishers, 1988.

MaryCrowDog

Mary Crow Dog with Richard Erdoes, Lakota Woman, HarperPerennial, 1991.

BarefootHeart

Elva Trevino, Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child, Bilingual Press, 1999.

CondoleezzaRice

Condoleezza Rice, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: a Memoir of Family, Three Rivers Press, 2011.