This blog post might be one of those I worry about later. I’ll go ahead and call it a freewrite, so I don’t feel guilty about its chaotic form. I try to keep my emotions out of my blog posts. This is especially the case with productiveprofessor. I envision it as one of those blogs that colleagues, employers, family, other teachers, writers, professors can read. So, I strive always for this goal of appropriateness. I also have an envision-able line of intellect I try to stay above for this blog. But, I’m learning now, this is not such a straight line.
A blog (as I’m experiencing first-hand) inevitably carries the semblance of a journal. Journals subconsciously cross the line. I’m not sure if I’m about to do that or not, but in remaining loyal to my poet-side, I’m gonna write about it.
The Civil Rights Movement is not over. I think (I never let my students write “I think” in their papers, but here I am using it) Vietnam, sex, acid, Hunter S. Thompson and good, groovy music caused a major distraction–all causes for distractions. And all along of course, there’s always been booze–it makes you feel like you’re living no matter what the conditions are around you. It gives its drinkers a break from the dry dusty world they live in.
Frederick Douglass said on Sundays slaves would get booze (this was a routine in the places he had lived through). I remember as an undergrad, reading Douglass with awe as he unveiled all the slave holders’ strategies for keeping slaves in line. Douglass explains that getting the slaves wasted on Sunday would make them feel really good (wouldn’t you want to escape your mind if you had this life?), and totally lame (in the literal sense). When I think about how hard my work routine can get, and how, come friday night, I’m ready to plop down for hours, I realize I can’t even fathom the level of exhaustion slaves were in. So, they had their distraction, which was plentiful on Sundays. This enabled the slaves to just take it easy when they weren’t being tortured, and reasonably do things like pass out, sleep, drink water, let themselves be depressed for a second, slink back into memories, pray, or get wasted (not a bad idea, considering).
Anyway, then people like Douglass came with a brain that had a chance to catch its breath and started stirring and steering things in a healthier direction; then, a few decades later, boom, a new level of brave men stormed field, like King Jr. and X. The water started flowing; there was even a rush right there before its immediate and unexpected stoppage (aka lives and politics dying left and right).
Right now though, I suddenly feel that a bright new social spotlight has been aimed on these types of issues again. I experience it sometimes in the classroom, and it scares the hell out of me.
I remember when my dad used to tell me, “people are not white or black; those aren’t even the right colors!” He used to say, “light brown,” “dark brown,” “beige.” It seemed silly, and it used to embarrass me, but now I see that it gave me double vision. Part of me is a visual artist, and I recognized that these “black,” “white” colors were all wrong. I also recognized that this was the script I had to follow when bringing skin up in any form of conversation.
Another memory that won’t ever leave the reservoirs of my mind takes place when I was seven at a summer baseball camp. There were two girls on my team: me and I can’t remember her name, but we were great friends–us against the boys. We were outnumbered, but we had each other, and we both liked baseball. We were actually pretty good at it too (we had great survival instincts). We practiced pop flying. All of us, including the boys, made a circle. Baseballs were popping like popcorn. I remember thinking that the coach was surprisingly nice at this camp, treating my buddy and I like real baseball players. My friend sometimes had to use that T-ball stick thing, but it didn’t affect us, we all just kept playing the game.
On one water break, we were all in line. My friend and I were chatting about who knows what, maybe keychains, or Barbie, when a boy from our team turned around and said to whats her name, “you look like you fell in the mud.” I hoped that before she could feel any pain, I could spit something back at him quickly enough. Out of pure subconscious reaction, I said, without any hesitation to him, “you look like you fell in a vanilla cake.” What a silly thing to say! Yet–the boy took it seriously, and turned around. We didn’t say anything about it ever. We just felt it.
What really intrigues me about this memory is how one can easily assume I looked like I fell in a vanilla cake too because my technical skin color was the same as this kid’s, but I didn’t. It was not about skin or the cake or the mud. It was about feelings. The kid said some stupid thing to my friend. So, I, like a shield, let it bounce off me and right back at him. He felt it. He felt that skin didn’t matter when he experienced my loyalty, that I wasn’t afraid to disconnect from the color of my skin and insult him back. The skin thing was a mental weapon.
We kept playing baseball, but we felt different, and I know my best baseball friend felt it worse.
You know where else I feel it? In my classrooms, and around the stats I keep coming across. I’ve taught at a wide range of colleges. The first one was extremely diverse, like so diverse that skin was not a thing, but then again most of the kids that go there are locals that grew up in Miami, where we soak up bright colors, languages, big flowers and flags. There was a perfectly made rainbow in that college.
Then I taught at a college where the diversity was not as well organized. It was less balanced. With fewer colors, but larger groups. It was also the first college I taught at that features dorms. So most of my students were from all over the US living there, from parts of the US that don’t mix together as well as they do down here. At this college, I felt a great deal of pressure to gain the students’ trusts. I had to prove always that I’m on their sides. Only then, would they start performing well. It was draining, but every semester I always broke through this liner by showing my vulnerabilities to them as well as my respect for them. Still, there lots of hostile rip currents ran throughout that many of us tried to avoid–those of us that didn’t see skin. A few kids in the class would bring these currents with them, making it incredibly choppy and uncomfortable. Very distracting, but still we stayed on course.
I’ve taught at another school that’s much less diverse, where they trust me immediately, where we delightfully jumped right into our brains and enjoyed the little ripples we each made. But, there was such little movement, in our pool. Perhaps even an academic paradise, though a paradise, can grow stagnant with no currents.
In a quiet pool, everything is perfect. These swimmers know how dangerous choppy the surrounding seas really are, so the pool’s walls thicken and tighten their crevices for protection. Meanwhile, the noise outside won’t stop, but one swimmer peaks through a crack out to the sea, and starts wondering what he/she should do.
To be continued…