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.

Ferguson on My Mind

In the news today:

One Brown body.

One Brown body lying in the street.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet. At least two bullets to the head and four to the arm, maybe even more.

One Brown body lying in the street for four hours, cold, on a scorching hot August day. Refusing to see the humanity in black bodies, this Brown body lay uncovered without a sheet. At least two bullets to the head and four to the arm, maybe even more. The gut wrenching sound of crying rings like a tortured freedom bell.

That one Brown body lying in the street was somebody’s child.

Next week’s news story . . .

Another black body lying in the street.

In Memoriam, Michael Brown

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigital Photos.net.

No “Foto Friday” picture today, folks. Today we light a candle for Michael Brown, who was killed on Saturday, August 9, 2014, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. For Brown–and for all victims of police violence–we will seek justice and we will not forget you. Rest in Peace.

Jaywalking while Black

downloadTo me, jaywalking seems like a minor infraction. At most, it is a misdemeanor violation that might lead to a ticket or a fine, but recent events illustrate that it has become probable cause for harassment, suspicion, arrest, and violence.

On May 20,  2014, an African-American professor at Arizona State University in Tempe was arrested after a confrontation with an ASU police officer (Stewart Ferrin) that began as a result of her jaywalking. According to Assistant Professor Ersula Ore, she was crossing the street to avoid construction. Although others had done the same, she was the only one stopped for jaywalking. In the footage taken by the cruiser’s dashboard-mounted camera, Ore asserts that in her three years at ASU she had never seen anyone pulled over for jaywalking. And I must concur. There are two things I know from all my years on large university campuses: Construction and jaywalking are ubiquitous. I have never seen someone who was stopped–let alone arrested–for crossing the street in the wrong place or at the wrong time. The tickets issued from the constant stream of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and other pedestrians for jaywalking would be enough to keep the campus police busy all day, every day.

The campus officer was clearly displeased with Prof. Ore questioning his probable cause and his authority. Ore seemed incredulous that he would treat a “citizen” and a “professor” in such a disrespectful manner. When Ferrin attempted to put handcuffs on Ore and arrest her, she resisted and the officer slammed her to the ground. After this, she can be heard asking, “Are you serious?” as she is lying in the street.

Crosswalk

A crosswalk near my home.

Certainly, there are those who have argued that incident’s escalation was the professor’s fault. But to paraphrase Ore, How is someone supposed to behave when she is being disrespected and manhandled?

Although she stands fast in her assertion that her civil rights were violated, Ore pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of resisting arrest and was sentenced to nine months probation on August 1. Prosecutors dropped the original charges of “obstructing a public thoroughfare,” refusing to produce identification, and aggravated assault on a police officer.

While Prof. Ore’s situation left her physically and psychologically battered, she was not broken. Unfortunately, Michael Brown, the young black man killed by police on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri (a St. Louis suburb), did not escape with his life. Early reports indicate that after visiting his grandmother, Brown and a friend were walking home when a police officer told the 18-year-old to get off the street. Not surprisingly, the police officer’s version of the events differs greatly from the witnesses, but both sides agree that Brown was unarmed.

I would like to believe that trumped up charges of jaywalking are not the new “driving while black,” “stop and frisk,” or “papers, please.” But these cases remind us that even in this so-called post-racial America we must continue to proclaim both our humanity and our citizenship rights. As W. E. B. Du Bois stated in 1906, “We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a free-born American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America.” Black communities–in fact, all communities– are entitled to “freedom from fear” that those who ostensibly “protect and serve” in reality have malevolent intent.

 


See also:

Catherine Calderon, ASU Professor Gets 9 Months Probation for Resisting Arrest in Incident that Sparked National Attention, The Republic|azcentral.com, 1 August 2014.

Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, Arizona Professor’s Jaywalking Arrest Quickly Gets Out of Hand, cnn.com, 30 June 2014.

Dean Schabner, Witness Says Missouri Teen’s Hands Were Up When Cop Shot Him, abcnews.go.com, 10 August 2014.

Conner Wince, ASU English Professor Pleads Guilty to Resisting Arrest, The Republic|azcentral.com, 9 July 2014.

Video of ASU Professor’s Arrest

 

Open Letter to Magic Johnson: You’re Better Than That

Dear Magic Johnson,

I was not surprised last week when Donald Sterling, the embattled Los Angeles Clippers team owner, sat for an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. I knew that there would eventually be a televised interview with Sterling, during which he would defend his record and deny being a racist. His history indicated that he would not go gently “into that good night.” I was a bit surprised, however, that you decided to give an interview as well. Against my better judgement, I watched the Sterling interview; I had to hear what he said that made you think you needed to respond.

I know your name has been dragged into this sordid mess, and it should not have been. In the leaked tapes as well as in his interview with Anderson Cooper, Donald Sterling seems to be obsessed with you. He charged that you weren’t a good role model “for the children of Los Angeles.” He brought up the fact that you are HIV Positive (incorrectly stating that you have AIDS). He said that you told him not to apologize and that you’d “work it out” with V. Stiviano. Finally, in all of his paternalistic benevolence, he asserted that you and other successful black people did nothing for “minorities,” whereas he had given away millions.

Magic, you said in your interview: “I’m always go’n fight for myself and for my people. I will never change, so when he attacked me personally, I have to speak about it.” Seriously, I know where you’re coming from. But, on the real, Magic, you’re better than that. Your participation in his tit-for-tat game allows him to obfuscate the real issues at hand. He has lost all credibility. He was simply trying to take some of the heat off himself. He got himself into this mess. He can get himself out. He can’t escape from what he said on tape and his own public record by trying to vilify you. You said it right in your interview–he’s delusional. Even though he is persona non grata, he insists that “everybody” still wants to be around him and that the players love him.

In short, we know Donald Sterling “didn’t do his homework.” on you. But I think everything you needed to say to him or about him could have been summed up with two statements:

  1. “Keep my name out your mouth!”
  2. (And regarding your charitable giving) “You better Google me!”

Now that the Los Angeles Clippers are out of the playoffs, I am hoping that we will hear less and less about Sterling. (But if he keeps on talking about you, feel free to use the two statements above.)

Sincerely,

Da Realist 1

Race, Sports & Society: The Sordid Tale of Donald Sterling

Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigital Photos.net.

By now, almost everyone in the United States has probably heard about Donald Sterling, the 80-year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, whose recorded, racist diatribe was released by the celebrity gossip website TMZ over the weekend. Sterling was recorded by V. Stiviano, who was apparently his mistress.

On Tuesday, with advertisers lining up to end their relationship with the Clippers and with the threat of a player boycott of playoff games, the NBA handed down its punishment. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 Million and issued a lifetime ban. He also called on the Board of Governors, comprised of the 30 NBA franchise owners (29 without Sterling), to meet and decide whether Sterling should be forced to the sell the franchise, which they can do with a 75% vote.

It’s a sordid story of race, sex, sports, and money. Perhaps the only thing missing is the violence. From the beginning, I was troubled by the discussions surrounding this issue because they often didn’t acknowledge that it was much deeper than one elderly man’s dislike of black people. However, as the scandal lingered on, writers delved more deeply into the story. Here’s my take on the subject.

  1. Donald Sterling’s racism was perhaps the worst kept secret in basketball. So, it’s interesting that so many were shocked, disappointed or hurt because of the statements he made on tape. Yet, one only has to scratch the surface to find numerous witnesses to Sterling’s bad behavior. He singled-out NBA hall-of-famer Magic Johnson, stating that he didn’t want his girlfriend to bring African Americans to Clippers games or appear in pictures with them on “the Instagram.”  But that is unsurprising since Sterling did not want black people in his rental properties either. He compared black people to dogs and spoke as if he were a 21st century slave master, providing houses and cars to his servants out of his benevolence, rather than employer paying people for their labor. I am thrilled that the players used their power to make a stand, but I wished there had been an outcry for the African-Americans and Latinos who lived in Sterling buildings (or were unable to obtain housing) when the Department of Justice housing discrimination suit was filed against him.
  2. The Los Angeles NAACP needs to check itself. In the interest of full disclosure, the national organization been getting the “side-eye” from me for a few years now–ever since since the Shirley Sherrod debacle in 2010. I respect the “historical’ organization, but something seems off with the organization in it’s current state. The Los Angeles NAACP has accepted donations from Donald Sterling for more than a decade. Although it has now been rescinded, they planned to honor him with his 2nd lifetime achievement award at an event in May. It seems like, with the housing discrimination charges, the organization should have been outside his buildings protesting rather than giving him awards. Or, can he wash his sins away with donations? There must be some other way to stay solvent than to take money from the perpetrators of racism that the organization is supposed to combat.
  3. There is a myth that race does not matter in sports. I contend that common sense, history, and contemporary events indicate the fallacy of this, but it seems to be a prevalent line of thinking expressed by sports media types who want to portray the culture of sport as a beacon of righteousness on a hill rather than a microcosm of our society. When confronted with racists or racist behavior, it may be comforting to think that we are confronting an anomaly instead of an endemic social ill. These relics will soon be like the dinosaurs–extinct. But reality contradicts this wishful thinking. And what will “they” say when the next Riley Cooper, Richie Incognito, Dan Snyder, or Donald Sterling reveals himself/herself?

 

 

A Posse to Protect Your Star Player: Scholarly and Comedic Advice

FWCAIn March (28-29) I attended the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy Conference, which was hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This conference brought together faculty, graduate students, and post-docs “for professional development, personal development, and community building.” Through workshops and various discussions, the conference sought to identify challenges within the academy for women of color and suggest strategies to deal with working and succeeding in the academy. Although often cited as one of the best careers, a career as a college professor can be quite stressful.

Friday’s Keynote Address was by Nell Irvin Painter, distinguished historian and professor emerita from Princeton University, who provided suggestions on navigating the academy. She gave us the benefit of her experience and wisdom, and I was determined not to miss a word. Then, on Saturday, I attended a workshop that was presented by Carmen G. González, professor at Seattle University School of Law and one of the editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Both of these scholars offered sage advice and coping strategies. One of the themes repeated during their presentations and throughout the weekend was that women need to build networks of support in order to prosper. Their wise counsel took me to a less than scholarly place, however. These professors gave the same advice as one of my favorite comedians, Katt Williams.

People of color can find themselves feeling quite isolated on their campuses. To cope with the isolation and stress of academic life, Prof. Painter emphasized the need or collective support. She cautioned us not try and deal with academic life alone. Instead “you need your own ‘posse.'” (Yes, Nell Irvin Painter said posse!) This posse, for example, may include friends, mentors, congenial colleagues, older women, administrative staff, sorors and church members. You need to have a friend who will listen–without interruption–when you have had a bad day. You need people who can offer good career advice. In short, you need a group of people who will defend you when you need it and support you when you need it. While it is helpful if you and the members of your posse work at the same institution, it is more likely that at least some of them will not.

Similarly, Prof. González stressed the need for collective responses to life in the academy by building alliances. These alliances can be cross-generational (with mentors and sponsors); horizontal (with peers from your department or university); or cross-border (with people outside your department or university).

KattWmsIn much more colorful language, but with the same message, Katt Williams gives similar advice in his 2008 stand-up comedy DVD It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin’. This comedy show is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Williams riffs on everything from Pres. George Bush to Michael Vick and Brittney Spears. But “Jesters do oft prove prophets.” Williams contends that we have to be a bit more selfish and take care of ourselves. After all, YOU are your “number one star player.” So, “make sure you got your team set up” because you will need four or five people who will “jump in and block bullshit” during a crisis.

America is a country that celebrates individualism, but it’s clear to me that there are times when we will all need a little support from our friends, no matter what careers we’ve chosen. Each one of us needs a posse. I’m fortunate enough to have a posse that includes my husband, former professors, friends from graduate school, sorors, and former colleagues. Who’s in your posse?

 

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

Foto Friday: Springfield Race Riot

Springfield, Illinois is the home of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Springfield was also the site of a race riot in August 1908. Sculptures commemorating the riot are located across the street from the Lincoln Museum.

A scene from the Springfield Race Riot

A scene from the Springfield Race Riot

The outrage from the riot led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.

Please click here for more on the history of the race riot.

"Acts of Intolerance"

“Acts of Intolerance”

This sculpture by Preston Jackson was inspired by photographs of the riot’s aftermath.

Springfield Race Riot marker

Springfield Race Riot marker

Historical marker, Union Square Park, Springfield, Illinois.

Springfield3

Close-up of sculpture.

Springfield2

Close-up of sculpture.

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.