Vignettes around Blackness

In the supermarket today, the people in line ahead of me and the checker were discussing Obama. He has raised their taxes and utility bills, and raised prices on everything. He has made major policy changes that have moved us very far leftward.

The participants in the discussion then gave limp wristed, parodic Black Power salutes.

All but one of them was Black.

*

An educator with a PhD said to me the other day that it was racist to teach about slavery because that way Black people would never be allowed to forget that their ancestors here had been slaves.

*

A former student has certain views on race and culture that he publishes in the popular press, using materials taught in my classes which he cites out of context and distorts terribly; he keeps sending me these pieces and asking for comment.

He wants adoring comments but I disagree with the pieces, sometimes vehemently. If not approached I would say nothing. Since I am, I limit myself to making a brief remark or two.  These are not what he wants to hear and he complains, why do you challenge me, and why do you not comment in greater detail?

He thinks I am dismissing him and perhaps I should look at my tone. Although I try to choose neutral phrasing I feel sharp, and the reason for that is that I feel imposed upon.

What I would like to say is something along the lines of this:

“I am glad you are reading. I am very supportive of your desire to broaden your intellectual horizons, and also of your project to promote your native culture and the teaching of your language. However, I have a great deal more academic training in these matters than you do, and I also have professional responsibilities you do not.

“I cannot engage with an undergraduate on these matters at the level I can with a colleague in field, nor can I use University or personal time to give the level of professional feedback on your work I would to a student in our program. Yet more importantly, I do not wish to be construed or represented as lending my approval as a professional to any cultural or political project I do not actually support.”

*

I am feeling coerced by this person. I feel as though I were being recruited by a cult leader. It amazes me is that some objections I have made to his theories are then distorted such that they appear to support them. It insults me that he, an autodidact who may or may not have a B.A., thinks that by the use of condescension and suave persuasive techniques he will convince me to endorse his views and his shaky intellectual project.

The last fight I had with this person had to do with Blackness, my refusal to say regular African-Americans had no reason to resent Creoles and descendants of free people of color. Of course they do; but then white people don’t always understand me on this either, of course white privilege is resented.

Why does this bother me so? I think it is because my professional reservations about the project in question are not simply noted or even disagreed with from an informed point of view, but are treated as neuroses or ignorance. I am snapping at this person, yes, but I feel used and abused somehow — that is to say, I feel colonized.

Axé.


6 thoughts on “Vignettes around Blackness

    1. Haha! Because I’m p.o.’d, I had to make a blog post so as to formulate my statement!

      My relationship with this person is complicated, he’s also my much younger adopted brother, has been in my classes because – that happens – but he’s also a sibling and we’ve had schoolyard style fights about this, and I’m that big sister who is supposed to support but is also resented, and on and on. So off the clock, we’ve discussed all these things very informally, and/but he’s 30 now and a man, a Louisiana man, and has a professional or at least para-professional job in an NGO that allegedly supports education, and does activist work that isn’t part of that job but does it from that e-mail, so he’s blurring lots and lots of lines, and I’m too far in by definition because I’m the big sister and there is history. This is why he forgets to think of me as a professional … the fact that he took a couple of large lecture classes I team taught with someone in his department a few years ago is sort of incidental to everything else, and therein lies the rub.

      !

      Thanks for saying I sound reasonable because I had to work toward it, I _feel_ like the trampled-upon woman snapping back! 😉

  1. I think Dame is right. There is a problem with being too empathetic with the range of reference points that another person has, and thus trying to communicate with them in their language, when you already sense that the level of intellectual language they have developed is not sufficient to really understand what you are relating. This is particularly a problem for those who have been guilt-tripped into believing that the level of language that is needed in order to convey one’s point of view makes others feel inferior.

    Really, if they feel inferior because you address them in a way that they do not and cannot understand, that is not your problem. (I realize that it is nonetheless a real practical, political problem for women in the contemporary workplace, who can be taken to task by all sorts of invested onlookers for seeming to be too uppity.)

    Still it is not your burden to bring yourself down to his level of consciousness in order to communicate with him. This is not something that can be achieved even if you were to beat your head against the wall relentlessly with effort. You can’t have smaller and more crippled notions than you already have.

    You feel emotionally blackmailed because you have been conditioned to believe that standing up as tall as you really are will be hurtful to all sorts of people. This belief has not come from nowhere but from society’s attitudes towards women, and the fact that you have been punished over and over again for being too “uppity” when you were merely communicating in as logical and effective a way as you knew how to. Thus the stupider souls in society have managed to bring you down to their level. (There is the efficacy of lizard brain machinations in all of this, since they have found a way to indulge their laziness and blame YOU for it — so that you have to do all the work to try to bridge the gap between their levels of thinking and yours.)

    O my brethren, into the hearts of the good and just looked some one once on a time, who said: “They are the Pharisees.” But people did not understand him.

    The good and just themselves were not free to understand him; their spirit was imprisoned in their good conscience. The stupidity of the good is unfathomably wise.

    1. Very astute, I’ll try to absorb this. I really DO think the root of it all is misogyny. And I think I’ve engaged more than necessary, despite the situation related above. I could have stopped responding earlier and this is the strategic error.

      I should put this paragraph on my wall for this academic year.

      “You feel emotionally blackmailed because you have been conditioned to believe that standing up as tall as you really are will be hurtful to all sorts of people. This belief has not come from nowhere but from society’s attitudes towards women, and the fact that you have been punished over and over again for being too “uppity” when you were merely communicating in as logical and effective a way as you knew how to. Thus the stupider souls in society have managed to bring you down to their level. (There is the efficacy of lizard brain machinations in all of this, since they have found a way to indulge their laziness and blame YOU for it — so that you have to do all the work to try to bridge the gap between their levels of thinking and yours.)”

  2. I know exactly the type of person you describe in the vignette about a pushy student. It’s so difficult to maintain one’s boundaries while trying not to offend the student’s sensibilities.

    It’s especially painful when students try to convert me to “the one true Faith.”

    1. My error in these kinds of situations is to be too mild for too long, such that in the end, I come out ballistic.

      In the mildness, I’m imitating men. Many of my professors and models were men and they didn’t have to stand around guarding their boundaries because people didn’t transgress them. I expect the same behavior from people towards myself and am surprised not to get it, and it takes me forever, still, to understand why!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s