What Remains in the Ashes…

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Jacobi playing dead on dining room carpet, Silver Spring, MD, February 13, 2022. (Donald Earl Collins).

There are so many anniversaries I haven’t discussed over the past month. Just trying to make it week-by-week through being back in a classroom in-person, trying to teach groups of bratty, disengaged students while also wearing an N95 mask over a medical mask. It is torture, an emotional labor I wouldn’t wish on any of my nemeses. My students do not (and really, refuse to) understand the toll of having to teach in front of a group who complains about not going on field trips or couldn’t care less about oppression. All with their arms folded for two and a half hours at a time. If these were my first two courses as a professor, they would definitely be my last two courses as a professor.

That and our weak ass union at American has taken up a good deal of my February. To think the previous negotiators had only gotten our “liberal” employer to pony up a $25-per-course increase per year over three years. To know the whitemansplainers on American’s side of the table thought this was asking too much. To see how shocked my white colleagues were when they realized their well-reasoned arguments, their math, their impassioned pleas, their heartfelt stories didn’t matter. 

It all merely confirmed what I have known for years. Whites unaware of their white privilege will think themselves able to negotiate their way out of all jams and all forms of oppression. Except that white privilege does not mean socioeconomic privilege. And racial capitalism is a Ponzi scheme, a form of the Matrix too many white Americans have hooked themselves into. I had to allow myself the right of righteous anger, and the ability to call out these win-at-all-costs lawyers and shills for what they are, before any of my colleagues would say anything with a sense of anger themselves. Whiteness is a Matrix-level drug, and so is the narcissism that comes with it.

Several dates have come and gone since my last post. My significant other celebrated her 55th. My sister Sarai would have been 39 years old on February 9th, that is if the scourge of sickle cell anemia didn’t exist. Toto’s “Africa” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Pop chart in February 1983 also. (I was in eighth grade, reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle at the time.)

Yesterday marked two milestones. One was the 40th anniversary of a crush-turned-love for me, on the wings of Ballerina Wendy (I am truly a goofy romantic). Two, it’s been two years since I taught a course in-person and maskless, the last time I felt mostly “safe” in public (truth is, with everyday racism, I have never felt truly safe). I am not sure I will ever feel either of those ways again — March 1982 and March 2020 seem like different timelines that someone who was sorta me walked once in my dreams.

What feels painfully real about the pandemic is the distrust I feel toward humanity these days, not counting my partner, my son, and my dog (and in his case, he sniffs too many disease-carrying turds for me to trust his in-stink-ts). It’s been more than 20 years (February 2002) since I did a family intervention to reach out to my mother and my siblings about being honest about where we were as a family and how we ended up with the poverty and abuse we all experienced growing up. 

I have given up on having the kind of adult relationship a 50-something Black man should be able to have with his 70-something mother. Maybe being only 22 years apart in age, and witnessing so many of her failures and her small triumphs has been too much. Then again, refusing to admit she caught COVID, and that her church friends died from COVID, and refusing to get jabbed with a COVID vaccine, all based on vanity and willful ignorance, has completely worn me out.

I have mostly given up on having the kind of adult relationship a 50-something Black man should be able to have with his four brothers ages 54, 42, 40, and 37 (my door remains open for them, but just). The longest conversation I have had with Darren since 2002 was maybe ten minutes total. My younger brothers admitted during the intervention in 2002 they were jealous of me. That, unfortunately, has not changed over the past two decades. They don’t return my phone calls or my texts. They don’t respond to my Facebook posts on their timelines, or my LinkedIn messages. Of course, at least one of them refuses to vaccinate, and would prefer unemployment instead. Their job prospects in recent years have made them bitter, especially toward me. If they only knew the extent of labor exploitation in higher education and in the writing world. But they would still be jealous anyway, I suppose.

I need no one to tell me how blessed I am overall. I have reinvented myself into the person I always was.  I still make good trouble for my benefit and (hopefully) the benefit of others. My own family life remains good. I can only hope what remains in the ashes will rise again, for me and my own family, even for the flea-bitten dog.

The Elite Jerkiness of Journalistic “Genius,” aka, Advanced White-Mansplaining

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I am most definitely not a journalist. At least not in any professionally trained sense. I majored in computer science, then in history, all while picking up minors in mathematics and in Black studies. Going further back in time, I refused to be part of the high school yearbook committee, even though my classmates asked me to be on it at least four times. I was always a writer, even when I was only in observation mode, even though I didn’t see myself as one until I was well into my 30s. I just didn’t want to work with a group of people who were caught up in their own middle class dramas, the petty jealousies, and the even pettier emotions over pop cultural icons and incidents. 

By the time I thought about J school, I already had my doctorate. I’d already learned from one of my former professors and several senior colleagues my academic writing was “too journalistic.” That’s what they thought, anyway. I knew my writer was stuck between the way I wrote before my PhD work at Carnegie Mellon and the four years of academic abuse I endured to make my writing colder and more “scholarly.” 

I did find my way back to writing without all the high-falutin’ bells and whistles. The words fait accompli and raison d’etre and “promulgated” and “posited,” and (especially for me) “indeed” all had to die in a supernova. Less is more, clarity and conciseness are more important than showing off my super-dense writing skills, at least that’s what the proverbial they say. And “they” are mostly correct.

But in my twenty-plus years of venturing into the world of journalism and writing, it is so clear to me the rules of academia operate in this white-male dominated world, too. Especially when discussing big ideas, like the West’s past, the US’ present, our collective futures. No, that domain is a “white man’s country.” Thomas Friedman, Ezra Klein, David Brooks, Nate Silver, Matt Yglesias, Matt Taibbi, Chris Hayes, Ross Douthat, Tucker Carlson, and an army of others. While there are Black and Brown men and some white women (and nary any Black women and women of color) working as big-idea columnists, I could lock them in a medium-sized conference room and light a match. And many in this group have spent more time discouraging me as a writer than doing anything else, from Pittsburgh to DC and back.

If you are like me and have decided to convert your research and your lifetime of expertise and experience to write about big ideas, then you know the marketplace for our ideas is small. Add to this my penchant for writing pieces on American racism and American identity, about racism’s impact on Black folx and people of color, and the window for publishing my work is a few micrometers in width. 

Rarely do I hear from folks in my circles about what they think of my writing or my ideas. Not even disagreement or open disparagement — even that would be something to work with. But it’s mostly deafening silence out there among the literati set whenever a piece of mine is out there to read. 

If it were just the geniuses group, I wouldn’t really care. (I mean, if Ross Doofus is a genius because he among the white male set was honest about the mythology of Harvard, then everyone’s a genius. Many of us knew this without spending $200,000 to go to Harvard or before even attending college at all. Elite white folk and their narcissism start off in K-12, after all. Woe to us who school with them!) 

Academicians and their silence, their “meh” responses to anything not published in a “peer-reviewed journal” with 300 footnotes and a few pages on multivariate chi-squared bullshit analysis (this includes Black academia). Journalists and their silence, their sort-of, “you write about race and racism well, but you don’t really know anything” when I do hear the occasional burp. The result is me feeling like Sisyphus, constantly reinventing the wheel to publish, well, anything, even though I have enough bylines to my credit to be part of a meaningful conversation about virtually any topic related to the US and the West.

None of this, though, is anything compared to the granting of “genius” status to the white-male set in journalism. To me, they are journalists. Period. Even the ones who have to edit and interpret the bigger picture think in newsworthy hooks, news cycles, and the relative immediate response of a reading or watching or listening audience. They do not care that their response to the January 6th insurrection might well lead to obvious fascism in the US by the 2030s. Nor do they care that their coverage and their analysis often ignores the anecdotal, emotional, and statistical regarding racist oppression in the US and its implications for the future. 

Friedman’s “flat-earth” ideas are mind-numbing. David Brooks’ conservatism is really fairly well-written middle-class white teenager angst and contrarianism. Chris Hayes’ neoliberalism assumes total insulation from the deep cracks in America’s facade of freedom and ignores the falsehoods of ever-increasing progress toward equality. Their whitemansplaing allows them to ignore the past and the future, to focus in blindly ignorant ways on the present. They are only “geniuses” because there is an army of other white men who like what they are saying.

As I have said many times, I am not going to win any popularity contests. Nor do I seek to win them either. I don’t need praise to keep writing. It would be nice, though, if maybe once every couple of months, someone I know or sorta know would go, “hey, this is really good. It’s given me lots of things to rethink about x, y, or z.” It would be better still to get paid for my think pieces, at least more than $150 here, $300 or $400 there. It’s not much comfort that the powers that remain did this to W. E. B. Du Bois, too, and often denigrated Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin as much as they praised them. 

All I know is, “genius” without challenging yourself, your supporters, or the status quo isn’t genius at all. It’s a bunch of grinning dumbasses slapping each other on the back for stating the obvious in their white-bred world.

Signs of Elitism

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Front cover, Joel Stein’s In Defense of Elitism (2019, cropped), January 16, 2022. (https://amazon.com).

I have spent four-fifths of my life in elite spaces among affluent whites, middle class Blacks, and Americans elites in general. I have so little in common with them aside from eating, drinking, breathing, and having a sex drive. So little that I sometimes think that God made a mistake and missed my exact time and place for my existence by 20 or 30 years, meaning 1949 or 1994 would have been better years for my birth. 

But it’s not when I was born so much as the lack of material resources with which I lived growing up in the most resourced area in the US. And that has brought consequences for me since the year I began puberty. The years in Humanities in middle school and in high school in Mount Vernon, New York. Hearing about everyone’s summers those first days of school between seventh and 12th grade, for example. Black and Black Caribbean classmates regaling us with their summers spent down South, in Jamaica or Barbados or  Trinidad and Tobago visiting close relatives. Or, their trips around the US, from the Grand Canyon to cities I wouldn’t travel to until I was 24 or 35. Or my white peers spending their Junes, Julys, and Augusts in France, the UK, Japan, Germany, Italy, Greece, Egypt, or Israel. I lied about going to Tel Aviv my first year.

I rarely left Mount Vernon and New York City those years. Albany was the furthest I’d been away from home, on a school trip in October 1985. My walks occasionally took me across the New York-Connecticut border (in 1986 and in 1987), but that was somewhat accidental.

In grad school, especially once I transferred to Carnegie Mellon to complete my PhD, these awkward communications involving my lack of socioeconomic privilege and my white classmates’ rose-colored worldviews continued. In my final semester of grad courses in Spring 1994, I took Comparative Urban History with Katherine Lynch. One week, we were in a discussion of Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, about the correlation between suburbanization and the expansion of the white middle class. Jennifer, one of my classmates, contributed her not-so-insightful analysis of what this correlation meant, about how “most Americans benefited” from the growth of suburbs between 1945 and 1980. 

I was not happy with her elitist worldview. I already knew that she was 23 or 24, married, and from suburban Philly (think a place like Cherry Hill, New Jersey). I also knew that Jackson’s point correlated well with White Flight from increasingly Black and Brown cities like Philly, New York, Boston, DC, Detroit, and Chicago. Being in my third year of grad school overall and surrounded in this course by first-years, I had one advantage. I was almost as well read on topics of inequality as most of my professors. 

So I said to Jennifer and the rest of the class, “Well, if by ‘most Americans benefited,’ you mean white Americans, then yes, suburbanization was a good thing. But cities’ tax bases didn’t benefit, and neither did the African Americans who moved into cities that whites flew out of. Redlining and restrictive covenants made it harder for middle-class Blacks to ‘benefit’ from suburbanization. And last I checked, poor people live in suburbs, too.” That last past was a direct reference to my growing up with poverty in Mount Vernon, and the scores of poor Black and Latinx and Black Caribbean folk I knew in Mount Vernon and throughout the New York area, suburban and urban. 

During the class break, Jennifer came up to me as I was standing outside the seminar talking with my other white classmates congratulating me for my eye-opening perspective on how to break down Jackson’s book. She brought all five-foot-three of her frame to bear, almost as if she had attempted to stand on a soap box (even with one, at six-three, I would’ve had to bend down to see her ire). She had tears in her eyes and one running down each cheek. “I can’t help how I grew up. I am not a racist,” she said, and then walked away in a huff. “I guess I struck a nerve,” I said in response to one of my other peers.

I really didn’t give a rat’s ass about her crying. None of it was going to make the lives of Blacks and Latinx people with poverty in Camden or Philly or even Cherry Hill any better. White women’s tears and crying foul when challenged for their elitism had already hardened me against placating them. My experiences matter, damn it!, was what I thought after that exchange.

Even outside academia, the elitism wafted like millions of gallons of human shit at a sewage treatment plant. Between Presidential Classroom and AED, I spent much of my nonprofit years (meaning, a good portion of my thirties) proving to others that despite my background, I could do work on behalf of others. My bosses held it against me that my parents weren’t GS-12 or higher federal employees, or diplomats, or advisors, or members of country clubs. Or, especially in AED’s case, that neither I nor my parents ever served in the Peace Corps or traveled overseas. I practically had to do somersaults and cartwheels to do my work between 1999 and 2008, but could not maintain social connections, because my doctorate from Carnegie Mellon would never be good enough.

Maybe I’ll discuss Black middle class folk and their rites of privilege and passage, especially fraternities and other organizations. But I’ve already written quite extensively about why I’ll never fit it with such groups. And at 52, I’m not entirely sure I want to. I guess after a lifetime of my peers ignoring me or erasing me or acting as if only their socioeconomic and racial privileges matter in explaining how the world works, I simply don’t care anymore.

My mom grew up as part of a sharecropping family in southwestern, Red River Arkansas. She’s the oldest of 12 children. She worked mostly in the kitchen of Mount Vernon Hospital or in the billing department of Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla as a paraprofessional for 34 years, with a 16-year period on welfare in between. My dad worked as a janitor or a supervisor of janitors and building cleaners all his time in New York and in Jacksonville. He grew up as a tenant farmer (before his family bought out their land) in rural south-central Georgia. He barely finished seventh grade. His two sisters were the first in the family to go to college, and both spent years teaching during segregated times. Despite it all, I am proud of their work. No pedigree is fine with me.

The Scourge of Scholarship & Scallops

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Pan-seared scallops with bacon cream sauce, February 10, 2015 (cropped, December 31, 2021). (https://www.cakenknife.com/pan-seared-scallops-bacon-cream-sauce/).

I am not much of a scholar. No, really, I’m not. At least not in the extremely narrow way those who taught me to do historical research defined scholarship. For me, uncovering deliberately hidden truths or coming to new ideas, realizations, and leap-in-logic epiphanies was always about more than just “evidence.” It was about the nexus between human history and human behavior, the ability to use the past to understand the present and possibly the future. And through all that, to predict, to prevent, to propose remedies or possibilities for being, and being better, as a person, as people, as entire societies.

But all through graduate school in the 1990s, especially during my Carnegie Mellon years, all I was supposed to learn was about the greatness of “scholarship.” The way my dissertation advisor Joe Trotter would say “scholarship,” it reminded me of how my now recovering-alcoholic father would say “pep-up” when he wanted a drink. Trotter said “scholarship” with the zeal and relish of a person ready to eat at their favorite down-home restaurant or fish shack. 

For years even after finishing my doctorate, I could still hear Trotter’s “scholarship” and think of scallops, the ugliest and fishiest tasting of mollusks, in my opinion. I imagined them raw, then either sautéed or seared in butter, as this is the only way to eat the nasty things. Just like with academic scholarship. None of this removed their fishiness or the loads of carcinogens lurking in their lumps of meat.

For years, I have watched former and current colleagues, former and current students, and big-fish academicians I have only seen from my cold and cheap seats in the Kuiper Belt promote scholarship as a great and mystical process. “This is groundbreaking scholarship” is a common phrase in my academic world. “The genius of” so-and-so’s “scholarship” can also be read and heard, in book reviews, in scholarly journals, at academic conferences. I could be jealous, but I’d eat a can of unseasoned and undressed tuna again before eating up these scallop-y descriptions of scholarship.

For those who really don’t know, “scholarship” is really a combination of three things. 

1. Research, which in my field usually involves archival materials, like a letter Martha Washington might have written about making “her” Rum Punch, or a diary left behind by a granddaughter of an enslaved African woman, providing details not normally found in historical literature. For me, it’s interdisciplinary. Interviewing people about their experiences, asking common questions along the way for comparative purposes. It could also mean looking at census records, running microfiche machines for 100-year-old op-eds about “Saturday Night and the Negro.” But it is ALL research, and you don’t even need a high school diploma to be this nosy. I knew this already, but was reminded of this by a former student, an archivist who recently completed his bachelor’s.

2. Training and Methodology helps folks shape the research they do into what we call scholarship. It is very hard to do historical research on any given topic without “going to the archives.” That’s where researchers can commune with the primary sources, where they can most readily find the first-hand and “objective evidence” they need. But, if dead folks didn’t write anything down, then proximate evidence, like census records, can tell us about a people who didn’t leave written records, or because of oppressors, might have seen their records destroyed. Ethnographies, all the rage in my profession in the 1990s, are a sociologist’s and an anthropologist’s tool. So is mere observation or years spent reading others’ research. This is how I and so many others know lazy-ass Martha Washington ain’t never mixed no drinks in her Mount Vernon mansion. Not when she had trusted enslaved Africans as cooks and mixologists doing all the work.

3. Experience works on multiple levels, and is often the way others who like what they’re reading reach the conclusion that so-and-so’s “scholarship” is “genius.” There’s the experience of interpretation and being able to take new information and meld it with everything one already knows about a specific person, a group of people, a given topic, event, question, and/or social problem. There’s the experience of being a human being, and how those experiences have shaped you and how you process information, including the small and big epiphanies gleaned from one’s research. There’s also the experience of being oppressed or benefiting from oppression, which utterly colors whatever “objectivity” one may believe they have. In the case of oppressors and their beneficiaries, those experiences often dilute one’s ability to take quantum and cosmic leaps in logic to cover up the ginormous holes in their research, training, and methodology.

So when like-minded people get together to discuss what is and is not “scholarship,” 3. outweighs 1. and 2., just like Jupiter outweighs the other seven planets in our solar system — combined. It is a toxic, cannibalizing system, made more potent by the riches and miseries of capitalism, where research grants, book deals, and media appearances, and lecture circuit checks are on the line. 

When people ask for “evidence,” whether at this year’s American Historical Association conference or on Twitter, they are saying, “My experiences in life and in my field are privileged and limited, so I have decided your experiences in life and in my field do not matter.” When people refuse to accept your findings, it is often their myopia and their sense of narcissism and entitlement at work, and not flaws within the research you did. Especially when one’s research is about oppression, oppressors, how to fight oppression, and what happens when a people succeed in that fight.

This is why I chafed at Trotter’s salivations over scholarship some 26 years ago. This is why I find much about the idea of scholarship offensive today. Oh, I think doing one’s own research in a field of expertise or even to acquire expertise is fundamentally important. I just don’t think genius and scholarship are in any way related. Not without the experiences of life, the understanding of one’s positionality in privilege, not only to do research, but one’s unique life experience through which to process it. This is why I can never be a scholar. I refuse to be part of a club that has to sear and sauté its poisonous, fishy-ass scallops and declare themselves all “geniuses” for doing so. 

One might say that there’s something fishy going on here in the academic world. Scholarship is like scallops in that way. Do not leave it at room temperature for too long. Just like the academic “geniuses” who refuse to shower while writing their latest unreadable tome.

How Does Self-Determination Work in a Place Determined to Kill Me?

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Kujichagulia, the Second Day of Kwanzaa, the principle of self-determination (cropped), December 27, 2021. (Caroline Moman via Pinterest).

Today is my 52nd birthday. My born day always coincides with the early Capricorn season, winter breaks, and falls two days after the celebration of Jesus’ birthday (which is NOT December 25th, no matter what dumb white people and unthinking Christians think). My birthday sometimes falls in the middle of Hanukkah (I think it did one time during the Hebrew-Israelite years, but I’d have to look that one up). My date of birth is also always on the second day of Kwanzaa, known as Kujichagulia, Swahili roughly meaning “self-determination.”

On this last one, I must confess. I learned a bit about Kwanzaa growing up, but it was in my Black Studies courses I learned about Maulana Karenga and his Afrocentric visions and philosophy. Kwanzaa was among the creations of Karenga and other like-minded brothas and sistas from the more radical part of the Movement. That was more than 30 years ago. I am not a Kwanzaa celebrant. But I fully believe in all its principles. Mostly because I would not be here at 52 if I didn’t.

Kujichagulia was a principle I understood long before I took my first Swahili class in Fall 1990. I had to. Between poverty, physical abuse, suicidal ideations, and the occasional bouts with bullying and ostracism, not taking some charge over my life would’ve ended it. Seriously. But too much self-determination without others’ help or guidance (Ujima or Nia) between twelve and a half and my 14th birthday left me one leap off a bridge away from death. Somehow, I managed not to take my own life that day, or in the 38 years since. 

Self-determination has been very good to me, despite the bruises and busted up body parts I picked up early on. I determined I should cut my own path, to the chagrin of my teachers and a good portion of my middle school and high school classmates, not to mention my guidance counselor. I learned how to cook like my mom despite her not wanting to teach me how to cook, a week or so after my youngest brother came into the world. The same thing goes with shooting a J, dribbling left and right handed, writing, jumping rope, loving and forgiving others, moving on (eventually) from those who have hurt me, and a million other things I cannot name because Kujichagulia has been my everything since 1982. I am so fully into Kujichagulia that I’ve made my own birthday cakes and desserts most years since my 15th birthday in 1984. This year, I made myself German Chocolate cupcakes!

But Umoja is just as important. Unity as a principle has been as hard for me as Kujichagulia has been easy. Most people in my life have given me little reason to trust them in their truth, in their half-hearted offers of help, in their words consistently not matching their deeds or follow-through. I live by the words, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” but so many have failed to live up to those words, my family members included. Even when I ask for help, what I often get back is silence, or few offers in kind, and usually no equivalent measure in deed. Maybe it’s because I never joined a frat, never found a permanent church home, was never particularly “cool,” or have worked in affluent spaces around folks who would never get my one-generation-removed-from-sharecropping-but-lived-with-welfare-poverty-for five-years self. What makes me truly sad is the Black folks who should get me, but choose not to.

But none of this is really about me. It’s about people who want unity without self-determination or purpose or faith. Umoja cannot work without Kujichagulia, Nia, and Imani. We live in an especially narcissistic age, on top of the half-millennium of narcissism that systemic racism, nationalism, and capitalism has wrought. I am not trying to be popular. I am trying desperately to be me, the best version of me I can be. 

I have a couple of more mountains to climb. One is to finally publish a book in a more traditional way, so that all the work isn’t on me (alternatively, I were to self-publish, maybe raise $20,000 or $25,000 through GoFundMe — probably not). I suspect this goal is not the mountain I have built it up to be. The other is to get out of the adjuncting ratrace. If that means leaving academia again, or leaving the US and living overseas, or even giving up on writing for a time. Whatever is next, I hope that Kujichagulia is the principle guiding me to these places and spaces, and not fake Umoja. There’s already been too much of that in my life.

Another Year of Not Seeing Family

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The Welsh word hiraeth, not easy to say, but easy to understand, December 19, 2021. (Reddit.com)

I wish I could say I am fine with going into my eighth year since my last visit with my mother and sibs in Mount Vernon, New York. I am and I ain’t. The one thing this pandemic has exposed is how little things have changed with my folks back in the New York area, and how little and how much I have changed living away from them and New York in the past couple of decades.

I had originally planned to visit my mom in March 2020 during my “Spring” Break week from teaching at American University and University of Maryland Global Campus. But we know what began to occur in the US due to bad policies combined with brutal narcissism, racism, and capitalism. COVID-19 Alpha slammed into the Big Apple like one of those ginormous worms from Dune, and ate into it faster than a supernova. My mom was sick by mid-April, as was my younger brother Maurice. If you ask her, my mom would say her “tests came back inconclusive,” but given the accuracy of her tests and the reality of her symptoms, she had COVID Alpha. My youngest brother contracted the virus a month later. I do not know for certain if I would have contracted COVID-19 if I had gone through with my plans in March 2020, but had I done so, I very likely could have infected my wife and then 16-year-old son, unacceptable by my standards then and today.

Then they started doing the unthinkably ignorant. They started having gatherings sans masks and vaccinations. My mom had my siblings and niece and nephew over for Thanksgiving 2020, and babysat the young’uns all during this shitstorm. My mom’s apartment is barely 800 square feet. Ten people gathered in the living room/kitchenette area of her place, nine not masked at all. My older brother Darren wore a KN-95, “except when [he] was eating and drinking,” he said. I all but facepalmed my forehead into mashed potatoes.

When the vaccines finally came on line for emergency use last December and the beginning of 2021, I assumed my mom would reluctantly but definitely get hers. After all, she worked for Mount Vernon Hospital and Westchester County Medical Center for a combined 27 or 28 years. Boy was I wrong! We last discussed it in May. “I don’t know what’s in it,” she said. “I wanna wait and see how it affects people,” she also said. Keep in mind, the younger brother between Maurice and the youngest one (convoluted, I know, but the 40-year-old doesn’t want me to mention him on my blog anymore) and his wife caught COVID-19 Delta earlier that month. They went out to eat at a restaurant, unvaccinated. “Probably got it off a fork or something,” my mom said.

After I explained the facts, that at that point, a billion people had been partially or fully vaxxed, she gave her usual defensive response. “I know the facts, Donald. You think I’m stupid?” Even now, though I may think, No mom, but you are acting as stupid as stupid can be, I don’t say it. It’s all part of her vanity, her anger and misunderstanding of me. At this point in her life, I couldn’t convince my mom that water is wet and the sky is blue, not even if I quoted Jesus himself. So I conceded. Do what you want. But it’ll be a long, long time before I come visit again. Don’t expect a lot of phone calls or letters or cards moving forward, either. For me, this was and remains about self-preservation, body, mind, and spirit, and not about anger or spite.

I last checked on my mom and brothers during Thanksgiving last month. I didn’t even bother to ask my mom about her vaccination status or her health. I knew she wouldn’t tell me the truth about her decisions, anyway. But my brother Maurice. Yep. He too refused to vaccinate. “I don’t know what’s in that stuff!,” he raised his voice while lilting on “stuff.” He was out of work, too, because New York State’s not allowing unvaccinated people to work for them.

He said one other thing that made me truly sad. I asked about what being unvaccinated has done with his social life. “I can’t be around these…’modern women’,” Maurice said with a pause and the feel of air quotes around the term. Somehow, a woman who doesn’t need a man to “take care of them” is “modern,” and made Maurice feel obsolete. All I could think was, Wow! Mom’s misogynoir and patriarchy really rubbed off on you. You, and all of us at some point.

Nick Nolte’s character about ready to kill James Coburn’s (screen shot, cropped), Affliction (1997), December 20, 2021. (http://www.camera-roll.com/raging-bulls-affliction/)

There’s this not-so-famous 1997 movie Affliction, starring the late James Coburn, Nick Nolte, and Willem Dafoe. The cycles of physical and psychological abuse, the obvious misogyny and hypermasculinity, the mental breakdown, the need for distance from family, are all part of this movie. Nolte’s character eventually kills his father (Coburn), and eventually loses his grip with reality. His withdrawn and recluse brother (Dafoe), a writer and English professor, wrote down his brother’s story for posterity. This as Nolte’s character disappears to Canada, where someone eventually finds a cadaver matching his physical features. 

I wonder if I am Willem Dafoe’s character. Probably not. At least, I don’t think my partner since 1995 and my 18-year-old see me that way. But I do feel the lurch to stay away from people, especially my immediate family outside of Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s not like I don’t want to see them. But they have never ever seen me, not even during all the years I stared them in the face.

The Black Man-White Woman Matrix

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Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix (1999) chained up (screen shot), accessed October 14, 2021. (https://racism.org/articles/defining-racism/338-thematrixa).

There have been and will be tons of think pieces about the misogyny, the homophobia, and the transphobia in Dave Chappelle’s The Closer, his latest/last stand-up comedy special for Netflix. Within that maelstrom of using the stage as a 75-minute patriarchal therapy session, I noticed how most of the people whom Chappelle apparently discussed his id issues with were white women, whether straight, lesbian, or transgender, including the late Daphne Dorman. “Maybe he should spend time with transgender Black women. They are among the most marginalized in the US, with deadly results, between suicides & murders,” I tweeted. But Chappelle never would. His hypermasculine defense of transphobes and homophobes like Harry Potter billionaire J. K. Rowling, fellow comedian Kevin Hart, and rapper DaBaby, means seeing the binary and non-binary white women he referenced throughout his latest stand-up concert as a sign of personal progress, or even, as part of a televised revolution.

From a deeply emotional and psychological level, I fail to understand this penchant for Black men like Chappelle to use and idolize white women as if they are the pentacle of all that America ought to be. Hubert Davis and Alfonso Ribeiro have publicly uplifted their marriages to white women as a commentary on racial progress. “I’m very proud to be African-American. But I’m also very proud that my wife is white, and I’m also very proud that my three very beautiful, unbelievable kids are a combination of us,” Davis said during his opening press conference as the first Black men’s head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. Ribeiro of Fresh Prince fame believes “the Black house” has ostracized him. “I am in a mixed relationship….And it’s not easy to make that choice…I’m never going to be white and I’m never going to be fully supported in the Black house,” he said in an interview with Newsweek in August.

Davis’ and Ribeiro’s are both very strange statements. Somehow they and many other Black men have convinced themselves that marrying white women is a sign of racism’s end. Somehow, this is the televised revolution the US needs. Somehow, marrying white will dismantle the latticework of racism on which this nation is built. But, as sociologist Crystal M. Fleming wrote in her How to be Less Stupid About Race, “we’re not going to end white supremacy by ‘hugging it out.’ And we’re certainly not going to fuck our way out of racial oppression. That’s not how power works.” The US Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision that legalized interracial marriage was groundbreaking, but it never was the “promised land” that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned the night before his death in 1968.

My first time thinking through the social and political implications of Black men and white women together in union or solidarity was in 1990, my third year at the University of Pittsburgh. At the student union one day, I sat down for lunch in between classes to hang out with three of my friends. Two were already in the middle of conversation about a growing visible concern on campus — young Black men dating young white women. The two of them (one man, one woman), were biracial themselves, each the child of a white mother and a Black father. One other Black girlfriend also chimed in. They were decidedly against the idea of interracial dating and marriage. At one point I said, “If they love each other, what does it matter?” My two Black biracial friends both sighed and side-eyed me, and then laughed like I was telling a cruel joke. 

What they understood and I didn’t get in 1990 was that while universal love ultimately conquers all, romantic love and friendships will never negate racism in any of its forms. I also knew about Emmett Till’s lynching for winking or whistling at a white woman. I definitely knew from the movie Birth of a Nation (the original one) the deadly dangers of white women accusing Black men of rape or unwanted flirtations. 

I also knew this from personal experience. The year before, and with the support of my one-time boss, a 26-year-old white woman at my campus computing lab job who was my supervisor’s high school friend accused me of sexual harassment. This after she had groped and squeezed my ass cheeks on two occasions during our shifts. I was 19 years old at the time.

In his Afropessimism, Frank B. Wilderson III wrote, “You marry White. It doesn’t change…What do you do with an unconscious that appears to hate you?” The bigger question is, why would any Black man ever expect to end the latticework of American racism and anti-Blackness through interracial marriage? This is  the typical combination of Black mens’ colorism, hypermasculinity, and seeking the same status as white men through white women. “Those black men who believe deeply in the American dream…a masculine dream of dominance and success at the expense of others, are most likely to express negative feelings about black women and…desire [for] a white woman,” as bell hooks wrote in her Ain’t I A Woman.

Davis, Ribeiro, Chappelle, Wilderson, and many other Black men are too susceptible to the idea of interracial relationships as their revolution, their American Dream. The late critical race theorist Derrick Bell foresaw this in one of his lesser known allegorical essays from Faces at the Bottom of the Well, “The Last Black Hero.” It’s a story about a leading Black revolutionary who fell in love with a white woman. As Bell wrote, many whites in power see Black men with white women “as proof that black men in such relationships were, despite their militant rhetoric, not really dangerous.” For anyone working to dismantle the matrix of American racism, though, this way of Black-man-thinking (and white-woman-thinking) is very dangerous. Especially in the words and deeds of people like Chappelle, Davis, Ribeiro, and Wilderson.

This is why if the revolution does come, not only will it not be televised, it will rely predominantly on Black women binary and non-binary to lead it from imagination to actuality. Like in The Matrix movie series, there are too many Black men and white women who have “the world pulled over their eyes,” a world of white binary hypermasculine and patriarchal racism. Too many Black men — whether they are entertainers in need of long-term therapy like Chappelle or are people who see themselves leading revolutions — are too compromised by their own gendered privilege and social status desires to be the leaders they’ve all been waiting for.