Comparative Slavery

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , ,


This time twenty years ago, I was finishing up what would turn out to be my first 4.0 semester at Pitt as an undergrad. I’m not bragging, even though my wife once thought I was (more on that in a few days). Key to the way that semester turned out — academically, at least — was a graduate course I talked myself into my junior year, Comparative Slavery. I found a loophole in the University of Pittsburgh handbook that allowed an undergrad to take a graduate school if that course would eventually be used as credit toward a master’s degree in that student’s fifth year. Somehow, I convinced my advisor and an administrator to let me take the course. Groveling and highlighting of obscure rules in the Pitt handbook were involved, though.

It was a good course, taught by Sy Drescher, whose scholarly research we in the history field would now consider part of Transatlantic Studies, as he looked at slavery from the standpoint of its impact on European notions of freedom, as much as he looked at the slave trade itself. As an aside, my nutty Carnegie Mellon University professor Dan Resnick once wrote a letter of recommendation for me to the Spencer Foundation discussing how huge an impact Drescher had on me as a student, which helped me become the great grad student I was. It was a bigoted, paternalistic letter, and I don’t think Drescher would’ve appreciated it if he had known about it. Drescher was one of my best professors at Pitt, undergrad and grad, but his student Paul Riggs was the one who had made a big impression on me in terms of my decision to pursue history as a degree, and to a large extent a profession.

But I digress, once again. This was my second course with Drescher as my professor. My freshman year, I had taken his Western Civilization II course (about how Europe came to dominate the world, 1492-present). It was a great course, and when I saw that he was teaching this one, I sought advice from Paul about the course and about his advisor, all of which convinced me to take it. I learned so much in that semester from that course, and not just the academic content. The fact that American slavery wasn’t the worst in the Western Hemisphere, the fact that the slave trade continued because the average life expectancy of slaves in places like Brazil and Haiti was about seven years, the fact that slavery and the slave trade made money for everyone involved, including West Africans. It was an eye-opening course.

I also learned a few important life and academic socialization lessons. I was in a class of seven people, including about three veteran grad students, a grad student who was the son of a famous civil rights leader, and a nineteen-year old first-year grad student who had gone off to college at the age of fifteen. Listening to these folks debate serious historical issues week after week was fun at first. Until I realized that some of them didn’t know what they were talking about. That at least two were classic yet sophisticated brown-nosers, attempting to sell arguments that would most likely impress Drescher (luckily, our professor didn’t like brown-nosers). And that there were many moments when all seven of us would sit in our grad seminar stumped by a question Drescher asked us about our readings for that week. I learned that students with master’s degrees or working on master’s degrees weren’t any more intelligent than I was as a college junior, or for that matter, when I was a high school junior. They simply read more on a given set of topics, much more in some cases than ninety-five percent of the educated public.

We had a primary source research paper on comparative slavery to do that semester, one that was supposed to be between twenty-five and thirty-five pages long. I decided to do mine on slavery in South Africa versus slavery in the US. It was a continuation of my undergraduate interest in South Africa that had developed my sophomore year. It turned out that with the other paper assignments and readings, Drescher realized that no one in the class would have their papers ready in time to submit by the end of April. So a week before the papers were due, he assigned us all “I” grades (incomplete) and told us to get our papers done as soon as possible.

It put me in a weird position, because I wasn’t a grad student. My semester Work-Study job was up, and I had made plans to be in Mount Vernon that summer working for Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health again. So it meant that I needed a job and some money in May and possibly June, I needed to extend my one-room efficiency lease, and I needed to turn a seventeen-page draft into a workable document of at least twenty-five pages. The last part was the easiest, since I had access to British parliamentary document and documents from the colonial government in South Africa about the conditions of slaves and the laws about slavery in that part of the world, all on microfiche. I just needed time to work on it.

Plus, I needed to get over the fact that I had earned A’s in my other four courses that semester: Latin American Revolutions, History of Africa to 1800, History of Blacks in Sports, and American Working-Class History. I had learned that semester how to be a cool nerd, to be diligent, to be social, to hang out when I made the time, and to study when I made the time as well. I had found balance in my life and broken free from six years of Humanities thinking. I no longer obsessed about A’s, which I believed was why I was doing nothing but earning them that semester.

So I did nothing on the comparative slavery paper in the first seventeen days of May. I worked my idiot job at Campos Market Research, where one of my friends and my eventual wife worked (again, more about that in a couple of days). I hung out with E (see “The Power of Another E” post from April 2009) and my other folks, took some driving lessons, went to see the Pirates play, cried about my Knicks again, and watched the Detroit Pistons clothesline players on their way to the hoop. I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X for the first time, and learned that life really is ironic as a result of reading his story.

Then I got a call from my eventual boss with Westchester County, telling me I had until June 19 to start my job if I still wanted it for the summer. That, and Drescher about to go on vacation after Memorial Day sent me into overdrive. It took a week, but I wrote, cut, wrote and revised my paper until it was thirty-four pages long and had enough endnotes to take up another six pages. It was by far the best academic writing I’d done up to that point in school. I think that Drescher was so happy that any of us turned in a paper that made any sense at all that he graded me on a curve and gave me an A. Honestly, I was just happy to have it out of the way.

I knew by the end of May that I was ready for grad school. It would take until I was done with my doctorate to prove to people like Dan Resnick, though, that I was truly grad school material. Either way, I think of that semester and this course and realize that while I would always care about my grades, I stopped worrying about them after that. And that really is a kind of freedom that can’t be underestimated, especially going into my senior year and in those six years of grad school that came after. I think that this experience helped me to become a better and more confident me.

When the Black Rapture-Seeker in Your Life is a #45 Fan…

Tags

, , , , , ,


Depiction of the Rapture, Evangelical-style, n.d. (Benjamin Hass via https://shutterstock.com).

What does anyone do when a loved one reveals themselves as a #45 fanboy or fangirl? This sounds like a question only White people have to answer, or one in which only a handful of Black folks must deal. Otherwise, the short answer is to kick them to the curb. “These people aren’t your friends,” after all, at least, that’s what your friends will tell you if and when this situation occurs. But one cannot simply drag family and cut them off when they do the American equivalent of “Sieg Heil!” in support of Donald J. Trump. 

I discovered that one family member has done exactly that. They didn’t vote in 2016, because they could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary. They supported the Muslim Ban in 2017, saw nothing wrong with another round of tax cuts for the wealthy and for trillion-dollar corporations, and favored closing the southern border to keep out “them Spanish people.” Of course, this loved one also calls those who are LGBTQIA+ “faggots,” “dykes,” and “things” like they’re the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009 edition).

Of the last seven times we’ve talked on the phone, six times we have argued. The arguments have varied from disagreements over the meaning of a particular piece of scripture to rifts over televangelists and their misogynistic, homophobic, and Apocalyptic messages. Recently, this person has gone after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others for their uneven responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has refused to lay any blame Trump’s way. Another relative confirmed that this person had planned to vote for 45 in November. What a shame and a pitiful!

I honestly do not understand how anyone American Black in 2020 could think well enough of Trump to defend his three years’ worth of wannabe autocratic rule and mini-calamities. It makes no sense for any Black man, Black woman, or transgender Black person to spend time and effort voting for this disaster of a human being. Except if one is committed fully to patriarchy, to vanity, and to seeing the end of the world Revelations-style. Wanting the Rapture to come so badly as to ignore blatant systemic racism, misogynoir, and rampant discrimination against anyone not rich, hetero-, White, and male. As much as I love this family member, I do not like their politics and their worldview. By comparison, I might as well be Pollyanna.

In the post-Western world to come, millennialism should be among the first things its leaders should ban from public debate and discussion. Too many people believing in and attempting to bring on the Apocalypse because they think their God or gods will usher in a more perfect world with a more perfect humanity. As a Christian myself, it was always weird to see people so desirous of a new world order that they were willing to see billions of others die in order to see it through. Now, with a family member who has committed themselves ever increasingly to this future, I could stop talking with them. But what good would that do? This is more than a hearts-and-minds issue. This is about hearts and minds pushing policies that will bring the world the self-fulfilling prophecy of Revelations.

So, hell yeah, banning millennialism and end-of-the-world prophecies meant to spur others to push humanity and all life on the planet into actual doom would be a good thing. Because so many of us are the descendants of people who had to live through the Apocalypse, their version anyway. Indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere, in the Arctic, in Oceania, and in Australia who died at rates up to 90 percent upon first contact with disease-carrying Europeans between 1492 and 1900. The 12 million Africans kidnapped into Western-Hemispheric-slavery between 1503 and 1888. The European Jews the Nazis murdered between 1933 and 1945. For these groups and in those times, this was the end of the world, the world that they knew, the lives they hoped to have. If one has already survived an Apocalypse (small “a” or big “A”), or has known so many who haven’t, why would a prediction of a larger Apocalypse coming from people who couldn’t care less about your ass ever matter?

For those who are in the Apocalypse-as-self-fulfilling-prophecy business, their goal is to reshape the world in their own fascist, patriarchal, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, nationalistic, and capitalistic image. It’s certainly not about God’s image or the vision of anyone’s gods.

As for this family member, all I can do now is limit my already limited conversations with them. They’ve had their bags packed for the Rapture since the 1980s. I love them, but I definitely do not like them. I can only hope that they recognize that the Apocalypse in any form is never something someone should wish for themselves, or something to wish upon the world. In what remains of their time in this life, or perhaps, in their next life.

A List of the Unwritten Rules I Wish I Had Known, in 1990, 2000, and 2010

Tags

, , , , , , , ,


Me, 23 years after my PhD graduation, May 18, 2020. (Donald Earl Collins).

As a confessed educated fool, I readily admit that there are a ton of things I understood but did not act on. But I also know that there are solar system loads of unwritten rules that I didn’t and couldn’t possibly have known going into my professional future toward the end of my undergrad days at the University of Pittsburgh. And, there’s the stuff that falls in between. The rules that are not hard rules, ones that can be bent, twisted into pretzels, and/or broken or even shattered. The things that I didn’t know I knew, the ideas and principles that are ingrained or splinters in my mind, but not quite accessible until the moment I needed them, or, even worse, right after I really could’ve used that extra bit of knowledge and wisdom.

This list is merely the beginning of the most important rules I could impart to my younger self, at 20, 30, and yes, 40 years old. Donald’s 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, and 2.5 all believed that his mind, his imagination, his hard work and achievements would all carry the day, would win him a slice of prosperity, a sliver of intellectual respectability, a piece of popularity, even. All to have moments and flashes of all three, but not usually at the same time, and all to realize that talent and hard work for Black folx in a Whiteness world matter not. Not even among most Black elites. I could list 1,000 unwritten rules and other ideas that I wish I had known or — if I did somehow already know — taken advantage of. But the real theme here is that the meritocracy is a lie. Whether in the form of rugged individualism or a belief in K-16 education as a social mobility equalizer, merit through talent and hard work is an American mythology like Abraham Lincoln “freeing the slaves” and America as always good and righteous.

1. You are a writer. Whatever the job, whatever the career path, whatever the familial and relationship and marital responsibilities, you are a writer. Yes, despite it all, your calling is to write about it all. Period. It does not matter if you think most of your writing is crap. All writers think their writing is crap. It does not matter if you’re really good at organizing conferences, retreats, and learning institutes. Or, if you are excellent at curriculum design, a tough but caring history and education professor, a science nerd and a talented computer science geek. Nearly every writer has another set of jobs and careers besides writing. Just because your co-workers, colleagues, and even family might not see you as a writer first, does not mean that you are not a writer.

And, here’s the real deal. Not everyone needs to know that you are a writer. Some dumb muthafuckas will use your expressed calling against you, especially if and when they do find out about your creative side and your one troy ounce of success. Some of your enemies, nemeses, and family members and friends will literally laugh in your face when you discuss your aspirations with them. You have to know whom to trust and not trust with this truth about yourself. You will learn, in time, to keep your own counsel, to not let everyone in your world in on your not-so-secret secret.

And you will learn that to write is not just putting pen to paper or fingers and thumbs to a MacBook keyboard. It’s reading, beyond the academic tome, beyond the occasional novel or Walter Mosley detective mystery. It’s reading folx who’ve struggled with writing just like you. It’s people-watching on trains and the Metro. It’s listening in Univision or Telemundo programs while folding clothes at a laundromat with a mostly Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Nuyorican or Dominicanyorka audience. It’s thinking of an idea while cleaning chicken thighs for dinner or on the occasions you end up jacking off for lack of sleep. It’s all the vivid dreams and nightmares — really, visions — that you’ve had of present, future, past, past-future, future-present, and ever-present, about escape, about overcoming, about being trapped. That’s all a part of the process.

2. Degrees matter, and yet, degrees don’t matter for shit. I cannot believe that your dumb-ass self believed for years that getting the “PhD would be a passport for doing what [you] wanted to do in [your] life.” You must have said this to 50 of your closest friends, acquaintances, and even a couple of folks who you eventually realized were your enemies back between 1990 and 1997. At your most stressed times, those sudden, bolting-upright-in-the-bed-at-3am moments, with your heart thumping like you were Bugs Bunny ogling Lola Bunny, you believed the doctorate was the ticket. You kept telling yourself this, even as you had doubts about what the degree meant as you finished your coursework in 1994. You cast yourself atop this hill, especially after becoming a Spencer Dissertation Fellow in 1995, even though you and many in your cohort were all obvious misfits in the grad school system.

Yes, in the narrow sense of job qualifications, degrees matter. But, you earned your master’s degrees in History in April 1992. At 22 years old! You were all-but-dissertation at 24. 24! You could’ve taken time off, earned a teaching certificate in a year, gone on to teach at public, private, or parochial school, or even earned a degree in a more practical field, like psychology, social work, education, journalism, creative nonfiction, or sociology. So admit it, damn you! You were attracted to some aspects of the tenured faculty lifestyle. Not most of it, to be sure. Yet the idea of having a schedule where you spent lots of time doing research and writing. You secretly craved being paid to write whatever you wanted to write. Even though you already knew that you could only do this if you willing to write like a cold, dispassionate White guy well-off enough to not care about reaching an audience outside of his extremely narrow field.

So you convinced yourself for nearly two decades that you could do and be both. A writer for mainstream organs and readers and a writer for academe. You weren’t wrong. Your eclectic writing style can accommodate complex scholarly ideas and personal tales and dramas, even creative techniques to transition between them. But the world of the privileged rarely allows for the crossover-dribble equivalent for writers. With a doctorate, you are an egg-headed scholar to the average editor, and cannot possibly write in any other way. For journal editors, your style was never gonna be scholarly enough. For newspaper and magazine editors, your style was always too cerebral. And, despite your degree, you had a hard time convincing others of your expertise. You only earned a PhD in History from Carnegie Mellon University, okay? Not from UCLA or Berkeley or Stanford, or certainly not from Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, or even UPenn, Georgetown, or Columbia. Your years of published works and a couple of self-published books would be barely enough to convince Ebony to take a look at your work when you hit your mid-40s. Forget about trying to bifurcate and make your degrees work for you. Get a good job, and just find more and more ways to keep writing, and hopefully, you won’t be dead before people start reading your stuff.

3. Academia, the nonprofit world, and the writing world only make room for Blacks and other people of color when then either completely conform to its -isms (tokens), or when we prove ourselves to at least be moderately successful mavericks. There is no in between, there is no best-of-both-worlds, or straddling the fence, or finding yourself as the Emissary that can cross between worlds. You are not Avatar Aang, the Last Airbender or Captain Benjamin Sisko of DS9. Even among other Black folks, like when I was offered a tenure-stream position in the Department of Africana Studies (née Afro-American Studies) at Howard University in 2000, it came with the implicit stipulation that I needed to conform, to always respect my elders — no matter how elitist and exclusionary I thought they were. At nearly every job I have held since 1996, I have been hired as a token toward diversity with the added benefit of my degree and/or specific expertise, or because I went against the grain to do or write something counterintuitively.

But if that were all, you may have figured some aspect of this out during the Reagan years. The layers of intersectional elitism, from whole institutions like lily-White, College Republican, and two-comma-kid Carnegie Mellon, to department-level beliefs of assuming that you as someone who grew up with poverty would somehow survive summer after summer without financial support. There were also the professors, who to a person assumed that “a few years of hazing will be good for you,” as if you grew up without a material care in the world. After all, how could a Black guy from Mount Vernon, New York with your familial and socioeconomic background find themselves in the hallowed halls of major universities?

Yeah, man. There are almost as many layers of elitism in the working world as there are folds in the gray matter of an alleged Mensa genius. Racial paternalistic elitism, neo-Marxist elitism, misogynist elitism, Marxist elitism, socialist elitism, misogynoir elitism, White feminist elitism, Afrocentric elitism, corporate elitism, technocratic elitism. There’s also Ivy League elitism, HBCU elitism, country-club elitism, affluent Black elitism, African Black elitism, Afro-Caribbean elitism, Puerto Rican elitism, and biracial elitism. And lest I forget, there’s that from-the-5-boroughs-New Yorker elitism, served-in-the-Peace-Corps elitism, revolutionary elitism, anti-revolutionary elitism, and even contrarian elitism. Cutting through all these layers over several decades might leave you in a rage, ready to holler at a moment’s notice, and with some bouts of exhaustion and high blood pressure. But the truth is, none of these dumb asses know how deep in The Matrix they are, putting on enough airs to crush entire cities into oblivion.

4. You will have moments of serious doubt. You will have days, weeks, months where you will be depressed. You will have “waiting for the other shoe to drop” emotions, even when everything is going well professionally. You will feel that you do not belong. Not in academia. Not in the nonprofit world. Not as a writer. Not as an American. Sometimes, not even as a Black American. You will have bouts with what we call imposter syndrome. And yes, you do not fit in easily anywhere, because you have spent so much of your life trying to learn how to cope in places and spaces that never wanted you. Your experiences with millennialist religions, with poverty, with Blackness, with growing up in Mount Vernon/New York City, will help you cope. But you will never be a fit in any place you inhabit in this lifetime.

And, you need to know that this will be perfectly fine. Fitting in never brings you the material and psychological benefits you will seek for yourself and your loved ones. Fitting in only brings you headaches on the regular, endless cycles of diarrhea and constipation, a nearly permanent insomnia. Fitting in makes you almost forget your training as an African American historian and your expertise in understanding the human condition. Fitting in nearly kills the writer you so desperately need to become before you even fully acknowledge that you are one.

So, do not ever fit in. Do not even try. Be you. Be your best you. If that isn’t enough, that’s the problem of a world full of bullies, Head-Negro-in-Charge micromanagers, White moderates, paternalistic White women, and other who would prefer brown-nosers to free thinkers. Not to mention, the armies of sycophants these assholes tend to hire.

So, the meritocracy is a neoliberal lie, and a debt-ridden deadly one. You might never break through as a writer in all the ways that matter to you. Or you just might. Or, you may fully break through, only to find out that you are so much more than the writer you will eventually become. But do not look for approval. Especially not from the US academic and literati set. Let them continue to eat their shitty cake.

Jordan Was Great, But He’s Also an All-Too-Typical American Narcissist

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


John Starks (NY Knicks) dunking on MJ, Horace Grant (Chicago Bulls) in final minute of Game 2, NBA Eastern Conference Finals, MSG, New York, May 25, 1993. (Getty Images).

I’ve been thinking on this for a few weeks now. Ever since the buildup to the first episode of the documentary The Last Dance that aired on April 19, I contemplated the idea of a docuseries on the last Chicago Bulls run for an NBA title, hoping it would be a larger commentary about Michael Jordan, about the Bulls, about basketball and the NBA, about sports and society and so much more. And, in a number of important ways, The Last Dance is a larger commentary. But mostly not in a good way. Mostly, it nakedly celebrates American racism and American narcissism, embodied in Michael Jordan, and enmeshed in every aspect of the docuseries’ text, context, and subtext.

Two of my favorite sports and society columnists have it right. Chuck Modiano writes in Deadspin that The Last Dance is “Michael Jordan’s 10-Part Nike-Approved Commercial.” And although I believe Dave Zirin is correct to describe Jordan as “showing us who he is—exactly who we thought he was” — an “antihero” — he is so much more typical than that. He is an American narcissist, one who has internalized and interpersonal racism issues, sprinkled with patriarchy (like, where are women in this series, particularly his wife and ex-wife?) and Black masculinity and gross classism to the point of zero empathy for marginalized people. All this makes Jordan all-too-typical, and all-too-ordinary, in the broader scheme.

I have written a bunch on the connections between American narcissism and American racism over the past four and a half years, on this blog and in mainstream publications. What I have not touched on much are the connections between American narcissism and American racism in popular culture. Mostly because the narcissism, racism, and cultural appropriating in pop culture is obvious. It’s more than just low-hanging fruit. It’s the fruit laying all on the ground, ripe and rotten, ready for folks to eat and to throw out, and at the same time.

Ah, but pop culture icons are by definition narcissists, no? They must be, because they self-aggrandize, they’re extroverts, they navel-gaze, they refer to themselves in the third-person, etc., right? Sure, as a general rule, whether a Hollywood actor, a bankable music artist, an over-the-top rapper, a famous out-in-the-world writer, or an athlete among the “greatest of all time,” narcissism might be a significant part of their personality matrix.

But, there’s a difference between confidence — even cockiness and bravado — and actual narcissism. For starters, narcissists tend to lack empathy, the ability to even begin to put themselves in the position of acknowledging the pain, suffering, and difficulties people who are not them face in life, some of which they may have caused themselves. So many in pop culture put on airs and take on public personas who are only a facsimile of who they are in real life. Some artists create an alter-ego in order to cope with the pressures of being in the fickle world of celebrity and fandom. It would be unfair to ascribe narcissism to every individual who has ever “made it” through movies, music, writing, or athletics.

However, so many like Jordan show us exactly who they are, and in the process, show us who we are as a society. And ours is a narcissistic society, of winners and losers, of great disparities in wealth justified with systemic and collective racism. That Jordan’s sneakers still sell for well over $100 million a year for Nike nearly two decades after his retirement says more about the US and the world, and about the narcissism we possess as a society and have exported around the globe, than anything else.

Air Jordans are as much a projection of American narcissism and racism as is the US military, a McDonald’s Big Mac and Coke, and a Starbucks’ venti latte. China has been producing Air Jordan’s at its factories for decades, where workers frequently make $120 a month to produce a pair at $16 raw value. They sell in the US and in the world for between $110 and $250 for mass-produced models, and as much as $100,000 for one-of-a-kind pairs or creations. I couldn’t afford Air Jordans in the years between 1985 and 1999, when they often sold for $150 a pair (and kids were mugging and killing each other over them). In the decades since, I have found that my feet need ergonomic support, something Jordans typically do not provide. Figures. So I am happy to say that while I have tried on a pair or two, I have never owned a pair.

But as for The Last Dance, Jordan’s fourth lap around the world is the text, but him getting in his digs at his friends’, nemeses and haters’ (real and imagined) expense is the context and subtext. His constant put-downs of former Bulls’ GM, the late Jerry Krause went quickly from funny to sad to mercilessly demeaning, all in Episode 1. Jordan’s lack of empathy and leadership, though, comes through with Episodes 2 and 3, in the side story of Scottie Pippen. Jordan, who would have zero titles without Pippen, did nothing but shake his head at Pippen’s low pay and contract woes. Seven years, and you couldn’t be bothered to use even one percent of your influence to get Jerry Reinsdorf to renegotiate for your compatriot? That alone makes Jordan not the GOAT, not in basketball, nor in terms of his humanity.

His complete ignoring of both Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons in the universe of all-time great teams of his era, another example of Jordan’s narcissism, and quite frankly, racism. Pull up any quote from Jordan about the great teams he and the Bulls had to beat to get their first rings. Always “Larry and Magic,” “the Celtics and the Lakers.” Nothing about Isiah and the Pistons, not unless a reporter forces his acknowledgement, not unless Jordan can be begrudging and dismissive in the process. Hey, Jordan! The Pistons beat the Bulls three straight years in the playoffs, 1988, 1989, and 1990, on their way to three straight Finals appearances and two titles. Isiah played well in all the closeout games. Isiah may be an asshole, but he’s been far more gracious in victory and in defeat than you will ever be. But I guess that you needed to keep your distance from a man who has been calling out racism since his playing days. Because as we all know, “Republicans [really, White folx] buy sneakers too.”

As a die-hard Knicks fan, I knew there would be a snippet in an episode or two about the 1990s Knicks, Patrick Ewing, John Starks, and one-time Pitt Panther Charles Smith and their failures against Jordan and the Bulls. So I didn’t bother to watch those episodes. I mean, I lived and died by the Knicks every March, April, May (and sometimes June) between 1990 and 1999. Seeing Jordan smirk and smile in real time about my team and their blown layups, the uneven refereeing (Smith was fouled at least twice at the end of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1993), and the long scoring droughts mostly because of streak slumps and poor shooting choices was bad enough.

Why would I want to relive these memories via a self-serving docuseries? It would be like White men celebrating how their ancestors used to enslave Black men and rape Black women, and how their grandfathers and great-grandfathers used to lynch Blacks with impunity. Oh wait a minute — White men still do this! With idiotic protests to reopen states, with stand-your-ground laws, and by taking law enforcement jobs. And Jordan is the same way, but with a basketball and a microphone instead.

So, after watching parts of the first four episodes of The Last Dance, I am done. Jordan will never be the GOAT in basketball, as great as he was to dance between 1982 and 1999. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain will always come first, with LeBron possibly somewhere in between. Objectively, MJ’s in the top three or four, but the other three have carried teams to the NBA Finals. But, more importantly, Jordan is the worst combination of American narcissist and indirect supporter of American racism the US has. Just like millions of other ordinary Americans. History will remember, because despite what autocrats think, history is as much determined by the downtrodden as it written by the victorious myth-makers.

A Quick Note About Colleging in Fall 2020

Tags

, , , , ,


Georgetown University, front entrance screen shot (cropped), Washington, DC, May 2, 2020. (https://uadmissions.georgetown.edu/visiting/directions/).

There is a standing COVID-19 pandemic debate about what higher education institutions should do about Fall 2020, when the Class of 2024 will begin their postsecondary studies, and when millions of other students are supposed to return. There are many who believe that because of where things are, that schools should remained closed through the fall, and that university heads should have already made this decision. At one point, Harvard University floated the idea of postponing its Fall 2020 semester to January 2021, but its President Lawrence S. Bacow recently made the announcement that Fall 2020 will proceed. How it will proceed, delayed, partially as online, gradually as face-to-face, no one knows.

But there are a series of if-thens that colleges and universities could work out to make it possible to open up campuses for in-person classes in Fall 2020 and to ensure a safe and healthy campus community for all involved.

1. No matter when they open, these institutions should test every student, staff member, and faculty member for COVID-19. They cannot rely on the honor system to make sure everyone is not contagious.

2. Those who do test positive should be afforded every opportunity to work or teach from home, or to take classes online.

3. Those who do get sick must be quarantined and allowed to make up their work, even if this takes more than a semester, for up to two years.

4. In the event that the US remains on this disheveled trajectory of every state for itself, many schools will not be able to open by mid- or late-August. This is where opting for a quarter-system semester may be best. A 10-to-12-week semester that begins around September 30 would provide enough time for university communities to prepare for a shorter semester, and to prepare to test everyone for COVID-19. But this option only works well if universities announce this soon, between now and June 30.

5. In the event that colleges and universities wait until after early July to think through their options, that will leave only three plausible scenarios for Fall 2020 on the table. One of them would be to opt for an even shorter semester, a half-semester of six-to-eight weeks, similar to a summer session format, but for everyone, starting sometime in mid-to-late-October.

6. Or, universities could just opt for a full-blown semester (however they decide to define this) online, from start to finish, even for incoming first-years. Although this breaks the tradition of welcoming freshmen to universities and upwards of two months of Welcome Back activities, it does have the advantage of protecting everyone while the shit storm continues.

7. Or, if it comes to it, universities could cancel the semester. But this is the worst of all possible options. Contingent faculty like myself would be out of work for four months without any interventions from universities or governments. Students may opt to stay local or try for two-year institutions (already cash-strapped prior to this pandemic), which would lower enrollment and may put even more pressure on higher education institutions to cut faculty and staff.

The truth is, there are no perfect solutions here. Add to this the real possibility that the US version of this pandemic might be with us until 2022, and even then, sans an effective vaccine. Which means that we could be having this same conversation about Spring 2021, Summer 2021, Fall 2021, and Spring 2022. No one wants that, certainly not me.

Which is why options 1., 4., and/or 6. are the best ones. They offer the most in flexibility for everyone involved, and balance safety and health with the need for people to work and enroll in school. All of them are likely expensive. But it’s less expensive than paying off billions of dollars in lawsuits if students, staff, and faculty die in the middle of a lecture or an event. It’s less damaging than rendering millions to unemployment. But we will all see how well America’s college and universities will succeed and survive this pandemic.

Revealing in Cloaked Blindness/I Heart Kendzior’s Work

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Front cover of Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America (2020), by Sarah Kendzior, April 30, 2020. (Donald Earl Collins).

In the past four years, I have read so many good and great books, fiction, nonfiction, and mixed genre. Black and Brown writers — especially Black women and Latinas — have written nearly all of them. Brittney Cooper (crunk, crunk!), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Colson Whitehead (masterclass!), Crystal Marie Fleming, Darnell Moore, Bassey Ikpi (poetic masterclass!), Erica Armstrong Dunbar (literally brought together the academic with creative nonfiction) , Ijeoma Oluo, Kiese Laymon (Black abundance and excellence, of course!), Mona Eltahawy, Morgan Jerkins, Patricia J. Williams, the ever-great Roxane Gay,  Tressie McMillan Cottom, Raquel Cepeda (a New Yorker after my own heart!), Imani Perry (3 books in two years — this woman has range!), Leta Hong Fincher, Jose Antonio Vargas, Alondra Nelson, Mycheal Denzel Smith, and likely another ten or fifteen I can’t remember by name.

All of them (really, all of y’all, since I have had conversations with you all in person, on social media, or in my head since 2016) have confirmed so many of my ideas around racism and narcissism, about the use of the interdisciplinary, about the hard-nosed work of writing. They have strengthened my voice around Black feminism, critical race theory, Afrofuturism (a term I was chagrin to use about my own writing this time seven years ago), and queer studies. They all have shown what I have been teaching since I was a PhD student in 1993 — the connections between -isms-laden ideas and deliberately punitive policies meant to cower the ordinary and crush the marginalized.

Sarah Kendzior has done so much on this last theme, uncloaking the connections between the ambitions of brazenly craven rich White guys (and some women) to enrich and empower themselves while destroying the US that came to be with FDR, the New Deal, and the post-World War II superpower boom. And Kendzior does so unassumingly, with bits of memoir that parallels the US glide path toward naked autocracy since the mid-1970s.

I’ve been reading Kendzior since her freelancing days with Al Jazeera, so, somewhere around 2012 or 2013. So many of the themes in Hiding in Plain Sight are familiar, if only because those themes of a hollowed-out St. Louis, a systemically racist and autocratic government, where corrupt and unaccountable leaders are front and center in nearly everything that Kendzior writes. Plus, I am a half-century old Black man and historian who grew up in malnourished welfare poverty and around eschatological cults in Mount Vernon, New York and in New York City. Everything Kendzior has written over the years, I know down to my bones and veins.

Because of that, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy Hiding in Plain Sight, forget about reading it. But Kendzior uses her book to build a case better than Perry Mason and Jack McCoy (of Law & Order lore, played by Sam Waterston) could on their best days. Kendzior’s thesis is that Trump as POTUS was inevitable, as the “elite criminal network” of which Trump is a part “has been building for decades.” This network includes “right-wing Republican extremists, apocalyptic religious movements of varied faiths, social media corporations, advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association, and part of the mainstream media.” According to Kendzior, what makes them new and lethal to the US is their “transactional nature and reliance on non-state actors.” Ultimately, this cabal “will take your money, they will steal your freedom, and if they are clever, they will eliminate any structural protections you had before the majority realizes the extent of the damage.” Along the way, they are transitioning the US “from a flawed democracy to a burgeoning autocracy” (pp. 8-9).

Kendzior skillfully uses her own growing up and adult experiences and the places she’s inhabited in building the interconnections between Trump’s lifetime of enabled narcissism and criminality and the rise of the American autocracy. She starts where she usually does, in Missouri, “the bellwether state turned corruption capital, the broken heartland that got the sneak preview to the national shitshow” (p. 20). Kendzior makes the case that Missouri and St. Louis even more specifically represents well the erosion of democracy all over the US with the infusion of dark money and out-of-state money and operators in state and local elections. I do think that she oversells the assumption of Missourian and Rust Belt irrelevance here, if only because every White American actor attempts a Missourah or Midwestern accent in the standard movie, TV show, or internet series not centered in New York.

But I digress. The gutting of Missouri and the rest of the Midwest between St. Louis and Pittsburgh (although so many cities outside the Rust Belt could say the same, like my own original hometown) was a deliberate one, meant to destroy unions, to line politicians’ pockets, and to enrich already filthy-rich folk. People like one Donald J. Trump.

Kendzior again builds a Mayan-step-pyramid-of-evidence to show how Trump had aspirations toward the presidency at least since the 1980s, and had gotten away with grifting projects and Ponzi schemes since the 1970s. And with those twin motivations, how Trump could easily become comrades with Russian mobsters and the likes of the infamous Roy Cohn, with Paul Manafort, with Roger Stone, and the rest of this crew of the craven. And Kenzior ties this one up with a macabre dystopian bow, bracketing Trump’s almost inevitable rise with the story of how her mother taught her about George Orwell’s 1984, a timeline her “mother laughingly assured [her] did not exist” (p. 76). “We are living in the future Orwell warmed about” now, Kendzior wrote.

Among the more heartbreaking vignettes in Hiding in Plain Sight is the story of Kendzior’s own personal experience with the new normal of constant job and financial insecurity born from a false Great Recession recovery in the years after 2008. The collective we have often looked back at the Obama years with fondness. But all the while, the US kept rolling down the same road to autocratic perdition, chewing up everyone not affluent along the way. Kendzior’s experience is no different from my own, and no different from at least 150 million others.

For over a year I would wake up shaking. The economic nightmare I had documented for years as a journalist had finally gotten me, like a monster I had tracked but failed to slay…It made no difference what we could offer the world. We only knew what the world could take away…The rage, though — that stays with you. (pp. 133-135).

Kendzior wrote a book that few who truly understand the nature of the evil that has infected the US since the 1970s could argue is incorrect. Her analysis is nearly as excellent as the prose, to be sure.

I do have a few bones to pick. Mostly because I had a hard time figuring out the audience Kendzior was attempting to reach. Was it other journalists? The broader American public? Anyone who needs a Laurence Fishburne-style “Wake up!!!” call from School Daze?

I landed on nearly-disillusioned-White-Americans as Kendzior’s audience, the ones still clinging to the hope of the American Dream with their fingernails, the ones who all but realize that the Dream is a lie and a nightmare for almost all of us. “I am trying to show them [her children] our country was always vulnerable, always flawed, but that people fought back. We’ve survived as long as we have due to self-criticism and sacrifice, a willingness to examine our faults and try to fix them,” Kendzior wrote (p. 213).

I’m sorry, but this is the America I read about in a Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich textbook from fifth grade in 1980, not the America in which I have lived for 50 years, worked in since I was 14, and studied for three decades. This is a part of the American mythology, this idea of self-correction. The only times the US has changed to mete out symbolic half-measures toward its ideals has been when the marginalized through years and even decades of resistance have forced it to. Full stop. To suggest otherwise would be to suggest a land that believes in anti-racism, Black feminism, reproductive rights, non-binary sexuality, and democratic socialism. Where is this US? I am still looking.

Another criticism is around Trump himself, and about the arc of the autocratic glide path of the US since 1968. Yes, just as Kendzior and others have written, I have also written that Trump was an inevitable consequence of rampant criminality and grifting, of lying in the same bed with mobsters and autocrats from Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US. But really, in a country as racist, misogynistic, and narcissistic as the US has always been, someone like Trump was always the danger, and has happened on some level in the past (see Andrew Jackson, see James Buchanan, see Teddy Roosevelt, see even FDR’s four terms in office, as good as his New Deal policies were). The US is just two months removed from Mike “will get it done” Bloomberg running for president, a much more competent billionaire and grifter, with his own ideas for autocratic rule. It ended up being Trump, but it could have been any of a dozen aspirants we’ve seen from the top 1% over the past three decades, starting with Ross Perot.

Kendzior’s centering of Trump is disturbing because the “burgeoning autocracy” has always been an autocracy for Blacks and for indigenous Americans, going back to the days before the US even existed. In modern politics, the dividing line isn’t Trump or the Great Recession. It’s Vietnam and Richard Nixon and his “Southern Strategy” in 1968. It’s the Reaganomics and the corporate deregulation of the 1980s, followed up with gutting the social welfare state that has occurred with every president since Reagan, including Mr. “Mend it, don’t end it” himself, Bill Clinton. As Malcolm X said in his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan in 1964, “Oh, I say you been misled. You been had. You been took.” But not by Trump, at least not just. Trump was the one Kendzior and so many others saw coming, but could do nothing about, because Trump wasn’t the first.

“The Bush Legacy” editorial cartoon, Nate Beeler, January 13, 2009. (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2010/11/13/919739/-; Washington Examiner). Fair use applies due to low resolution of screen shot and subject matter.

And if Trump was inevitable, then what does that say about our first family of autocrats, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush? The amount of international meddling in which these two presidents engaged? The trillions spent on wars, all for more access to Saudi Arabian oil, their autocracy, and their money, and all to line their pockets and the pockets of cronies, especially those within the military-industrial complex? Dubya and Cheney used 9/11 to push the Patriot Act in Congress, the single biggest autocratic move in American history since the Electoral College? The players on the US side of the table may be different in 2020, but the evidence gathered in the years since 2000 show significant foreign interference and at least one rigged election. But I’m supposed to believe that Trump’s version of autocracy is worse because his corruption is much more obvious and because his flaunts it with buffoonery and a deluge of lies? Anyone remember a Dubya presser between 2000 and 2009?

I am a big believer in both-ands. Binary either-or explanations may be simple, but they are usually incomplete. Kendzior argues that Trump’s a master of using buffoonery and deception to bamboozle an audience and distract them from his daily crimes. Most of the rest of us think Trump is as dumb as shit. But why can’t he be both? Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler are all proof-positive that one does not need great analytical power to be savvy, brazen, and bullying enough to make one’s stupidity work for them. And when someone like Trump comes from money, it is that much easier.

There’s this song “Silent Running” by the ensemble pop/rock group Mike + The Mechanics — with Mike Rutherford of Genesis, Paul Carrack of Squeeze, B. A. Robertson, et al. — from 1985-86. Kendzior may have heard it growing up. The music is eerie and an homage to resisting totalitarianism. The lyrics, though, so poignant, both to Hiding in Plain Sight and to where my mindset has been about the US since the 1980s.

Take the children and yourself
And hide out in the cellar
By now the fighting will be close at hand
Don’t believe the church and state
And everything they tell you
Believe in me, I’m with the high command…

Swear allegiance to the flag
Whatever flag they offer
Never hint at what you really feel
Teach the children quietly
For some day sons and daughters
Will rise up and fight while we stand still

That’s what I hope my descendants (literal and figurative) will take with them, and that’s what I hope for Kendzior’s children. Anything about a primrose American past in the time before cronyism and Coronavirus, though, would belie this “Silent Running” truth. I strongly urge everyone I know to read Kendzior’s book. Just be sure to find the words “Bush,” “Dubya,” and “both-and” along the way.

Being Scared

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,


Me in my makeshift mask (with filter), outside a Safeway, Silver Spring, MD, April 10, 2020. (Donald Earl Collins).

As a person of faith (however one defines it), I believe in believing. I believe in ideas. I believe in a cause much greater than myself, a calling, really. I believe in God (he and she) and the universe. I believe, therefore, I am.

But I have also been scared so many times in my life. Between my sexual assault in 1976 and my full-circle with myself in 1988-89, I was scared of everything. And I mean everything. My senses were sensitive to every sound, every smell, every inflection of hurt. My mind alert at a moment’s notice to abuse and every threat of abuse. My body in knots over the possibility that no one liked me, or worse, that people secretly did but hardly shared it. It’s amazing that I ever got a good night’s sleep before my junior year at the University of Pittsburgh!

Being scared does not negate faith. Not at all. In fact, to embrace faith fully, one has to accept their fears and why those fears exist. One has to soldier on, fear and all, anyway, if one is to surpass their fears and continue to fight, to sweat, to bleed, to think, to scramble their way through life and crises.

Since teaching my last face-to-face class at American on March 4, I have been scared, more scared than I have been since my days of homelessness at the end of the Reagan Years. I have been scared of contracting COVID-19, because I know what severe bronchitis/walking pneumonia feels like. I have been scared of unknowingly passing Coronavirus on to unsuspecting people, to cashiers and store employees, to mail and package deliverers, and to my wife and son. I have been scared of dying. I have been scared of going to a hospital, only to be turned away, or, worse still, to be intubated or ventilated. I have been scared of my wife contracting the virus and watching her try to survive this. I have been scared that my son has so tuned out the pandemic news that he will end up traumatized by the reality of it when he does tune back in.

Being scared has nearly overwhelmed me at times. I caught a mild cold the week of March 16. But I turned it into five days’ of temperature checks, of breathing tests and just-in-case medications. I checked my wife and son’s temperatures at least twice a day. I hardly slept. But then, I jumped rope at a pace only Muhammad Ali himself could’ve kept up with, and realized that it was only a cold.

It wasn’t only a cold, not for a man with mild asthma who has to look out for spring and fall allergy season. Being scared made me almost miss the fact that the winter of 2019-20 was incredibly mild, with no snow accumulation since November in the DMV. Leaves began growing on our bushes at the end of February, on our flowering trees in mid-March, and the flowers by March 30, five weeks ahead of normal. If I didn’t have asthma or allergies, it would’ve have been a beautiful sight.

Being scared left me with my worst asthmatic cough in recovering from a cold while dealing with a really high pollen count in five years. And that scared me, because even without COVID-19 inflaming my lungs, asthmatic coughing fits and alveoli on fire during allergy season is still somewhat debilitating.

Thankfully, I have folx who tell me that I am a hypochondriac these days. Thankfully, I workout regularly, and would’ve noticed fatigue, chills, fevers, and abnormal body aches by now, between the jumping rope, the planks, the plyometrics, and the water rowing. Thankfully, I keep inhalers and a stock of eucalyptus oil in the house, for these just-in-case moments.

Being scared has left me fearful of going outside, at least as long as I see other people out there with me. I have been inside a store only twice since March 31 — I’m used to shopping nearly every day — and do not plan to go back again until April 24. We have enough toilet paper for a couple of weeks, but we are short on paper towels, all-purpose flour, and liquid soap. We’ll manage.

Being scared has pissed me off, because so much of what is happening is all too predictable, even as it is also all too beyond my control. And yes, callous and craven Trump and his cronies have made this pandemic lethally worse. But, for those “but, those emails” folx who believe that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would have handled this better, ask yourselves this. Is a better demeanor and a better mobilization of resources the equivalent of stopping a virus in its tracks, sans a vaccine? Sure, maybe 750,000 people wouldn’t be infected and 40,000 people wouldn’t be dead in the US (to date). But there would still be hundreds of thousands infected and thousands dead, because neoliberalism and neoliberals also left the US underprepared for a pandemic.

Being scared in the midst of a crisis while having predicted this while working on my Narcissism, American Style manuscript and then having the audacity to read Sarah Kendzior’s Hidden in Plain Sight actually left me more rattled. But at least I know I’m not crazy for seeing the past-present-future for what it is. This will pass. This pandemic is yet another omen that America the Empire is becoming both weaker and more obviously autocratic at the same time. And while I remain a person of faith, as a wide-awake Black man in a racist-ass US, I also know America all too well.

Intermittent Starvation

Tags

, , , , , , ,


Empty fruit and vegetable section shelves, Asda store, London, UK, March 14, 2020. (Yui Mok/PA via AP; https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/mar/15/trump-tells-people-stop-hoarding-and-buy-normal-am/).

A fair number of people I know have gotten into this trend we collectively call intermittent fasting. It’s the idea that you reduce your caloric intake by either reducing you total number of meals per day or take a set of days to not eat at all. When combined with rest, sleep, and exercise, one can become healthier, lose weight, and roll one’s body back to the days of normal blood pressure and glucose numbers. In the somewhat Apocalyptic times in which we live, some have said that intermittent fasting may be the new normal. Especially if or when stores and supermarkets begin to run out of foodstuffs. We will see what we will see come May, June, and the summer.

In the department of limited food intake, I have years of experience. Between the fall of 1980 and the winter of 1999, there isn’t a year where I didn’t have to scramble for scraps. I unknowingly made the lack of food at 616 part of my escapism in those earlier years, especially in Peanuts Land, where I used empty styrofoam McDonald’s and Burger King containers to construct the eatery sections of my imaginary capital city. It was partly why I liked it when my father would show up every third Saturday between April 1979 and April 1981 to take me and my brother Darren out for a few hours or even the whole weekend, sober or drunk. It didn’t really matter to me. Being able to eat fast food was a godsend this time four decades ago. Arthur Treacher’s Chicken and Chips, Mickey D’s, Carvel’s soft-serve ice cream, Papaya’s hot dogs, Wakefield’s brownies and greasy-spoon diners. Once, I even ordered and ate three Big Macs in one sitting at the one-time McDonald’s on the Avenue in South Side Mount Vernon. I was ten in 1980! Ah, those were great days!

But those days came after many days of well-balanced but often meager food options that Mom provided. Chicken and dumplings, pinto beans or black-eyed peas with rice, pork neck bones, and corn bread, and cabbage, cabbage, cabbage! By the end of 1980, cereal was no longer a regular household staple, and snacks were a rarity. Heck, when Mom and my idiot stepfather Maurice separated for six months that October, he cleaned out weeks’ worth of pork chops, lamb shanks, chicken, ground beef, and steaks on his way out of our apartment.

Then, the Hebrew-Israelite years came, and with it, intermittent fasting. That is, with extreme urban poverty. With the start of middle school in September 1981 came days at a time where I didn’t eat or ate very little. Our conservative take on Judaism meant that we would all have to fast for three days prior to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover. Since Darren and I weren’t adults, we were supposed to fruit and juice fast. That would have worked if there had been fruit juice and fruit in the house regularly! Our first Rosh Hashanah was the only time in those three years where I ate oranges, apples, grapes, and bananas for all three days. But with my family’s economic decline came days where I simply went to school and did not eat at all, upcoming high-holy day or otherwise.

So many days I watched my classmates eat full lunches while my stomach growled from drinking water. Pride and watching the older students clown others for being on free and reduced lunch kept me from picking up and filling out the application. And even if I hadn’t been raised to not expect handouts and to not see free-lunch as a sign of familial failure, the Hebrew-Israelite years complicated matters for me. Most Fridays at school, the cafeteria served grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches with French fries.

It got way worse before it got better. From October 1981 through April 1984, we went between seven and 10 days every single month with little or no food at 616. After the 20th of any given month, I knew I’d miss meals, or it would be cabbage and corn bread or Great Northern beans and rice again. Keep in mind, Mom worked at Mount Vernon Hospital for most of that time as a dietary supervisor, so she worked around food while often hungry herself. One weekend in October 1982, all we had in the kitchen was some dried up cabbage, sugar, a little bit of flour, and a one-year-old box of Duncan Hines Devil’s Food cake mix. Things were so bad the summer and fall of 1982 that Mom was bringing home scraps from her job for us to eat. I got sick of days’ old Boston Creme Pie, hospital version.

Life improved slightly when Mom went on welfare after my late sister Sarai’s birth in 1983. But the food shortages continued into 1985, when Darren and I began working with my father regularly, and then began getting our own jobs. But while the malnourishment and starvation left me scarred, they also left me prepared for future crises that for many would have been calamities. Homelessness, malnourishment, and no money while at Pitt in 1988. Difficulties with rent, bills, and food in 1990 and 1991, when I graduated from Pitt. Summers looking for work and living off fumes in 1992, 1993, and 1997, when I was in grad school and after I finished my doctorate at Carnegie Mellon. The beginning of 1999, when me and soon-to-be-wife stretched $20 over ten days, eating makeshift gravy with instant mashed potatoes while teaching nearly every day for a week at Duquesne.

Maybe that explains why I once thought about becoming a chef while growing up. Maybe that’s why I took so quickly to cooking family-sized meals when I was 14. Maybe that’s the reason I made a point of cleaning off every plate of food I fixed or someone else put in front of me until I was 31. It’s certainly the reason behind my OCD around shopping, cooking, storing, and giving food, for myself, my family, and for others, for so many of my 50 years. It very well could explain my G-I tract issues and IBS for much of my adult life.

But with this COVID-19 pandemic could come food and other shortages. The land of endless plenty could have pockets of starvation if millions get sick and stay sick for too long. I have thought for years about buying a composite bow and some arrows with which I could shoot a deer in the neck. I already know I can do it, having killed two dozen mice and rats over the years — some with a broom handle, a hammer, and my bare hands. I have beheaded and gutted fish, chickens, and turkeys. I have eaten venison and rabbit stew before. Or, I could hop on down to Home Depot and buy some seeds to grow snap peas, green beans, maybe even squash or potatoes. We do have a back yard!

Maybe this is all overblown. Maybe this isn’t the Apocalypse. We still have electricity, cable, and wi-fi, after all. Yet the Romans still had gladiatorial games at the Coliseum during two years of siege and starvation at the Visigoths’ hands before it fell in 410 CE. Thousands and perhaps a few million could go without food, even if the power plants and Comcast and Verizon never shut down.

So, intermittent fasting may well work for many. As for me, I’ve tried it, and I still do it from time to time. But you cannot fast your way out of a crisis. You can hunt and grow your way out of one, though.