Thursday, February 28, 2008

Black College Students, Reading, and the Death of the Book

I have been very quiet lately and not posting. The deadline for my book is quickly approaching, and I am overwhelmed with too much teaching and not enough time to think. I am not disputing that there is thinking involved in teaching. But I have been shanghaied with issues that should not arise when students enroll in a college-level course. Thus, I have concluded that some of the stereotypes about African American students are true. I am going to share one with the hopes that those of you who read my blog and have children, particularly college-aged children, will heed my warning. I want to begin by creating a context for my frustration, and that context emanates from my personal and family milieu.

It was unheard of in my parents' household to be poorly read. That is, my siblings and I were introduced to classical western literature before we began school: from Grimm's to Aesop's tales. As we aged, my mother purchased a set of "The Book House for Children," which, if my memory serves me correctly, contained full-text of some of the better known stories in World literature. By the time I was in the 6th grade, my context for literature became the Great Books, as well as fiction, poetry and drama by African American writers. Our winter nights were often spent reading and talking, with my mother insisting that one of her four children run downstairs and pull a book off the shelf to support the point that she was attempting to prove. The winter when I was 18, my mother instructed all of us to read Dostoyevski, Camus, and Hesse; she must have been going through a existentialist phase. I matriculated in advance English classes in high school despite being enrolled in chemical-biological studies curriculum. I was raised to revere the sacredness of the written text. And my siblings and I were information connoisseurs. I know that my mother spent the majority of the family's disposable income on books. My mother always told me if I could read and comprehend what I read, I could accomplish anything.

I have taught at two research one universities that recruit from America's best and brightest students. I now teach at Howard University, that ideally, recruits the world's best and brightest students of African descent. I also teach at a community college where my students possess a range of aptitudes and levels of commitment to their education.

While teaching at the University of Michigan and University of Rochester, I never had to wrestle with students to purchase their books, or to read. Yes, these were predominately white institutions with a handful of Black students. However, even my Black students came prepared to work. In fact, having me in front of the classroom as their professor often gave the one or two African American students in the class a level of comfort that allowed them to reveal their intellectual prowess without fear of reprisal. I often marveled at how well-read my Black students were at these universities.

But my experiences at Howard University and Prince George's Community College, with majority Black student populations, have been quite different. If I were not African American, I would swear that the majority of Black students don't read.

Yes, you read me right.

It is the seventh and eighth week of classes at Prince George's Community College and Howard University, respectively, and students are still telling me that they do not have their books. And this is a normal occurrence. After hearing this confession yesterday, with both students pronouncing that they didn't have their books as if it were a badge of honor, I lost it. I pointed out to one of the students that she had an eighteen karat gold serpentine chain around her neck and the other had a brand new Blackberry. I told them that their priorities were misguided. Both students expressed the fact that their parents did not give them money to buy books. While I won't test the efficacy of their statements, the mere fact that both these undergraduate girls expressed this sentiment speaks loudly about the environments from which they have come.

My wonderful colleague and poet, E. Ethelbert Miller, interceded, and began asking the girls simple, but revealing, questions: 1. Are there books in your households? 2. Did you go to the library as a child? 3. Do your parents read? 4. Do you have your own library? The students' responses to these questions revealed that they had not been reared or educated in an environment where there was a respect for reading. I concluded that some of us are rearing our children and sending them off to college without a healthy respect for the place of reading, in learning and in their lives.

While I am far more tolerant of my students in the community college who are less likely to read a short story I assign since the majority of the students are at the college because they have not proven to be high academic achievers, I am intolerant of my students at Howard University, who are supposed to represent our communities' best and brightest. Like so many blacks in my generation, Howard University has been positioned as the Harvard of the HBCUs. Although it may be somewhat conceivable for a white student to matriculate and graduate from Harvard without reading, I don't have a Black friend who graduated from Harvard without reading. In fact, all of my friends and colleagues who are Harvard alumni are avid readers. I know that the majority of my students at Howard would not last one semester at Harvard without reassessing their commitment to reading, attending classes, studying, and improving their writing skills.

Ethelbert told me that I was educating the future leaders. I challenged him on this fact. I have not come across any future leaders among my students at Howard University. They do not read, they barely attend class, and they do not possess the writing skills that will make them competitive or successful outside of Howard University. My colleague told me that too many of the Howard professors don't demand academic rigor from the students. This perplexes me since so many of the faculty, like myself, have graduated from universities where academic rigor was a prerequisite for not only matriculating, but also for graduating. Then I must ask myself, have my colleagues also stopped demanding academic rigor of themselves?

So I have sounded off. If you are one of my friends with children and you do not have any books in your house, shame on you. If you send your children off to college without money to purchase their books, double shame on you. Our kids will not be competitive in a world that still revers the book, critical thinking, and excellent writing skills. The educated elite will always have access to elite positions in the job market, the better graduate schools, and a higher quality of life. Race will somewhat impede our children's access to this world, but not reading will certainly deny them access completely. While the book may be dying in some areas of Western culture, the elite will always revere the book. Get over it, and make your children readers before it's too late. And ask yourself, when was the last time you read a book for sheer pleasure? Remember our children learn from our examples.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Elderly Parents and Care Giving

For the past 48 hours, I've been pondering the racial and historical contexts of Hillary Clinton's continuous accusations of plagiarism against Barack Obama. And I've been combing the financial disclosure reports for each candidates' campaign, noting that of the three front runners, Obama, Clinton, and McCain, Obama has been the only candidate who has not received any money from political committees.

But there are issues closer to home for most of us than who will be our next President, although there is the strong possibility that the next President will greatly impact on the issue that plagues me most this morning, and that is the quality of life of our parents as they age and our quality of life as we age, too.

Currently, two of my friends are caring for elderly parents. Shirley is an only child and her father is deceased. So the responsibility of caring for her aging mother, who has dementia, rests solely on her. Although my other friend, Ricci, has two half-sisters, Ricci feels that it is his responsibility to care for his elderly father.

I marvel at both friends' resilience. I worry about Ricci because he has his own health issues that are exacerbated with stress. I know that going to the rehabilitation center daily for the past two weeks is beginning to take a toll on his health. He has promised to take off on Sunday and rest because his father's health has improved enough for the doctor to project a release date.

For my other friend, Shirley, her mother is in the early stages of dementia and hasn't started wandering out the house and getting lost in the neighborhood. However, my girlfriend did mention that her mother remains awake all night, and this is when her mother's behavior dramatically changes and requires Shirley's attention. After sleepless nights Shirley rises to teach a class online, provides psychological evaluations for clients, manages her own business, and is writing the last two chapters of her dissertation. She is 32 years old. I wonder how many of us were, or will be, caring for an ailing parent at 32 years old because of fear of inadequate health care, or concerns about the poor quality of the health care that is available.

I asked Shirley if she had not interceded and moved her mother to northern Virginia after seeing the poor care that her mother was receiving in Tennessee, where would her mother be today? Shirley unequivocally said, "she'd be dead." I know that on some level, Ricci feels the same way about his father. Once when Ricci traveled to metro DC to visit his father during a previous hospitilization, Ricci was so alarmed by the poor quality of care that his father was receiving that he physically carried his father out of a rehabilitation center. Ricci removed his father against doctor's orders, and within hours he had his father admitted to a cleaner facility with a more competent staff. However,the stress involved in bucking the system in order to provide his father with decent health care eventually took its toll on Ricci.

As my father ages, as I age, I ponder what is in store for me as both potential care giver and recipient of care. I wonder what the future holds for my son as an only child of divorced, middle-aged parents. My father always tells me not to worry. My son also tells me not to worry. I should be grateful that both my son and father, like my friends Shirley and Ricci, have the emotional, financial, and spiritual resources not to be plagued by the ever pressing need to revamp our health care system so that the young, sick, disabled, and elderly are provided for.

I pause when I think of the resources that Shirley and Ricci are expending in order to care for their parents. I also pause when I think about the fact that both Shirley's and Ricci's parents also have the resources to be independent during their elderly years, thereby, minimizing the impact of their failing health on their children's resources. I further pause and think that because of my father's resources, intellect, perseverance, and managerial skills, he was able to navigate the quagmire that the health care system became when my mother was ill with lung cancer. With spread sheets and research in hand, my father was able not only to have in-depth and informed conversations with my mother's doctors, but he was also confident that he could command the best of care for her because of his resources. Further, he was not dependent on his children to provide my mother with the care and support she needed.

But what about the tens of thousands of Americans who do not have such resources: health insurance; access to quality health care; homes with equity; savings; loving children; or family and friends to assist them during their most trying years?

As the size of U.S. families shrink and people are having children older but living longer, the possibilities of having a good quality of life as our population ages is being jeopardized. While we do age better than perhaps our grandparents did, the rising costs of health care and lack of access to a high standard of health care will compromise the quality of elderly life for all except the wealthiest of Americans.

As I peruse the financial disclosure reports of our members of Congress, I am certain that few of them are genuinely concerned about their quality of life if, and when, they become ill, or as they age. They have good health insurance and access to the best of health care; most have assets that far exceed those assets of the average, upper-income American; and they have pensions that will never be jeopardized by an Enron scandal.

Let's hope that at the very least, our next President will strongly consider the quality of life of an aging population; and this quality of life requires not only comprehensive and affordable health care insurance, but also a health care system that is affordable and with competent people who are paid a competitive wage to ensure a high standard of care regardless of a patient's income or economic status.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Creating a Life Worth Living

E. Ethelbert Miller will be conducting a panel discussion by interviewing me, along with Dr. Jamie Walker and Dr. King-Miller, at 3:00 p.m., Howard University, 3rd Floor, Founder's Library. If you are in the District today, please stop by.

Okay, so I'm combing the shelves of the library looking for ESL material for a gentleman whom I am tutoring, and my eyes rest on a book entitled "Creating a Life Worth Living." Hum. I love my life, but maybe I can improve on it. So I take the book out of the library.

Instead of following the author's directions, that is, to complete the exercises in each section before reading on, I read through all 298 pages in one sitting. Now, I'm ready to go back and do the exercises.

The book is geared toward "artists, innovators and others aspiring to a creative life," according to its author, Carol Lloyd. Hey, I tell myself, why not. I was once an artist (dancer, poet, and creative writer) before I became a legal assistant, wife, mother, and scholar. Maybe I can recapture those creative aspects of my personality.

So I plunge in. The first chapter of the book instructs the reader to keep two notebooks: a feelings notebook and an adventure notebook. I pause. I dump everything into my journal each morning (some of which I post on this blog). I can't do that. I can't compartmentalize. Alright, I'll violate the author's second word of caution (like when I read the entire book in one sitting instead of methodically going through it and completing the exercises at the end of each chapter as directed) and keep one notebook or journal for both feelings and adventures. Besides, I'm already carrying too much stuff around with me, I can't add another notebook to the burden. I have this fear of being a bag lady one day.

The first exercise is to generate ideas and take one of these ideas and develop it into a project. Well, since I have a deadline for my manuscript looming dangerously close (the book is due to the publisher in March), I had better focus and make this idea for a project about my book. Now I'm violating the author's third word of caution, that is, to have the project generate from the adventures notebook. But isn't a scholarly book a doggone adventure? I ask myself.

So to justify working on the book, I imagine the book signings, lectures, and invitations to participate on panels at professional conferences that publication of the book will generate. Hey, although the book project may not be creative, marketing and selling an academic book is not only creative but an act of sheer tenacity. Maybe I'm onto something.

I guess I'm just hopelessly too creative to follow instructions. Oh, well, that's the story of my life. But hey, I think that in addition to working on the manuscript, during my downtime, I'll start developing a strategy for marketing the book. Now I feel much better.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fidel Castro Resigns

The international news wires are blaring with the resignation of Fidel Castro. Political pundits are speculating that nothing will change in Cuba because it is expected that the National Assembly, the legislature, will nominate Castro's brother, Raul Castro, as President. And Fidel Castro will continue to write articles for Cuba's state press thereby remaining a formidable voice in Cuba's culture and politics.

I have always been intrigued by the political, economic, and ideological wrangles between the U.S. and Cuba. I vaguely recall the tension during the Cuban missile crisis (yes I am old enough to have trace memories of those times even if I didn't understand at the time what the crisis was about). And these memories were reinforced when I met my first Cuban family in exile while I was in elementary school. I have always wondered how an island 90 miles off the coast of the Florida Keys could be such a nemesis for the U.S.

Though I do not claim to know anymore about Cuba than what I have read in translation and available in U.S. bookstores, I do know the relative caution that encases Cuban poets and artists when I have met them stateside at various functions when we Americans start probing about freedom of speech, economic stability, and quality of life in Cuba. Typical American questions that are rude and perhaps dangerous to those artists who have been allowed out of the country in hopes of projecting a more positive image of Cuba to the people of the U.S.

Although the U.S. press is anticipating that nothing much will change in Cuba with Castro's resignation, we can only hope that the academic and artistic communities continue to find ways to collaborate (despite restrictions on tourist travel to Cuba) and to remind both countries that the people of Cuba are human, all to human, and suffer from the same exigencies created by policies meted out by both governments. For, after all, domestic and international political and economic policies hurt real people, not nations, but people.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Family's Tenacity

When I reflect on my childhood, I marvel at the sheer tenacity that my parents exhibited in rearing four children, and born within five years, in Detroit, Michigan during the 1960s and 1970s. I revel in the fact that I never felt emotionally, physically, or financially deprived. I always knew that my mother would be at home waiting for me when I arrived from school. And, yes, true to the nature of a post Second World War homemaker, my mother often had warm, toll house cookies and cold milk to be consumed when my siblings and I arrived home from school.

In rearing my own son, I realize how different his life has been from mine. As an only child he has benefited from his parents' undivided attention. But also as an only child, he's never had the joy and frustration of having a sibling share a bedroom with him, take the last pancake, or grab the car keys and back out the driveway just when you decided you had to drive cross town to see the love of your life; or so you thought.

I am extremely grateful to my parents for the love, care, and security that they rendered me. It is their love that allows me to be the achiever that I am, to take risks knowing that no matter what happens, I will land on my feet. I hope that I have provided my son with the same sense of security so that he will continue to be confident and have high self esteem, and take calculated risks.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Clarence Thomas Biography

Today I attended a discussion and book signing with Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher, Washington Post associate editor and staff writer, respectively, and authors of the biography, "Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas."

Both Merida and Fletcher assert that part of their project is to interrogate Thomas' racial identity; that is, what are the factors that construct Thomas' sense of race. While Thomas' autobiography points to incidents from his childhood and formative years meted out by black schoolmates and colleagues that indelibly scarred him, Merida and Fletcher's research, which includes interviews with childhood friends and classmates, tells a different story. Thomas would not grant an interview to Merida or Fletcher, and when Merida and Fletcher forwarded a copy of their published biography of Thomas to him, according to the authors, Thomas' secretary returned the book.

Both Merida and Fletcher argue that much of the pain of discrimination by blacks that Thomas claims to have suffered is not remembered by those persons who were intimately connected to Clarence Thomas during these years. It seems that while Thomas' autobiography is directed towards settling old scores and supporting the mythic Horatio Alger rise from rags to riches narrative that seems to be the requisite background for all successful U.S. blacks, Merida and Fletcher's biography reveals the financial support that Thomas received from his grandfather until Thomas decides to withdraw from Seminary school, career guidance and support by African Americans during key moments in his career, and continuous engagement and encouragement from conservative whites and African Americans.

Merida and Fletcher's biography of Clarence Thomas provides an in-depth examination of the factors in Thomas' life that have made him the man that he is. Although Thomas rarely gives credit to the social and political forces as well as the individuals who helped him achieve his success, Merida and Fletcher's biography reminds readers that no person, including Clarence Thomas, achieves success solely through their own efforts. If you are the least bit curious about accessing a more balanced view of the second black U.S. Supreme Court justice, I strongly suggest that you read Merida and Fletcher's biography of the honorable Clarence Thomas.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Let The Voters Decide

I've decided to forward to you an e-mail message received from my father regarding the concerns regarding the DNC Super Delegates. Read and take action if you are concerned. And Happy Valentine's Day.

Dear Charles M.,

Sign the petition to make sure Democratic voters decide our nominee, not the party elite

This is an unprecedented year. Thirty-seven states and U.S. territories have already voted and we don't have a clear nominee. Senators Clinton and Obama are in a delegate race to the nomination.

There are a lot of ways that delegates get assigned to a specific candidate, but almost all of the allocated delegates are directly tied and bound by the actual votes in each primary or caucus -- all of them that is, except super-delegates.

Super-delegates are a contingent of almost 900 elected officials, party insiders, and current DNC members and they aren't required to follow the voters. In fact, after every Democrat has voted and the last allocated delegates are assigned, super-delegates have the power to overturn the popular vote and crown a different winner.

That's right, if super-delegates don't like who you choose to be our nominee, they can overturn your vote. We can't let that happen. Our nominee must be chosen by Democratic voters, not by back room deals of the party elite. Sign our petition now to let the voters decide:

We must respect the 20 million Democrats who have already voted and the millions more who will vote before the convention. It's up to us to make sure the almost 900 super-delegates do the right thing.

Sign the petition today and we'll deliver all of the signatures directly to super-delegates.

And this is just the beginning of our campaign to let the voters decide. The longer it takes to win, the more we'll escalate the campaign. We'll write letters, make calls, and hold media events. Because when it comes to protecting the will of Democratic primary voters, DFA members know exactly where we stand.

Thank you for taking action today.


Charles Chamberlain
Political Director

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Landslide for Obama in Chesapeake Primary

The polls predicted that Obama would beat out Clinton by 20%. However, he won by a landslide while his opponent, Senator Clinton, scurried out of town to Texas to court the hispanic vote.

Clinton's loss in metro DC should send a loud message to those voters who are still undecided. Her loss echoes how Clinton and her husband, former president Clinton, were not the favored couple in this area during the president's administration. They were acerbic, less than polite, and ruffled the feathers of more than one of the power brokers in metro DC; that is, they lacked decorum and protocol. And the former president's entire administration was involved in one crisis after another: Travel Gate, White Water, and Monica Lewinsky, to name a few. While our former president may have done right by the economy (some economists argue it was just a matter of timing and the nature of business cycles), we must recall his botched state visit to Africa, where he looked not only flustered by the throngs of Africans excitedly greeting him, but he also looked afraid.

Okay, senator Clinton should not be held responsible for her husband's indiscretions. But recall that the joke during our former president's administration was that former president Clinton was taking orders from his wife. Uh, hum.

Loyalty to the public and sustaining the public's trust are tantamount to the character of a leader. Neither Bill nor Hillary has displayed such character. They will bait and switch, curry the public, and say anything to garner and retain power. Do we really want another four years of the keystone cops couple?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Election Protection, The Chesapeake Primary

Today in Virginia, Maryland and DC we go to the polls to cast our votes in the Presidential Primary Election. But yesterday when I was leaving campus, my eye caught a poster on the wall outside of the Political Science Department. The content on the poster reminded me how contentious this country has always been and continues to be not only in electing a president, but in allowing people to exercise their rights to vote. The poster advertised the work of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, "a private, nonprofit, nonpartisian legal organization formed at the request of John F. Kennedy in 1963." This organization has also established an Election Protection Coalition to answer questions regarding voters' rights during the primary. The telephone number is 1-866-OUR VOTE.

After the Bush-Gore debacle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, my colleagues and I were calling for the United Nations to monitor our elections in this country, just as the United Nations (as well as teams of lawyers, politicians, and even our former president, Jimmy Carter) monitors the elections of Third World Countries and newly formed democracies.

As the contention in this primary grows, perhaps it is time for the citizenry to rise and demand that our primary and general elections for president be monitored by the United Nations. A fair election helps to legitimize a democracy. Clearly our last two presidential elections have further illegitimized democracy in the United States.

As we galvanize together for one of the most important presidential election in our lifetime, let's not forget that when the stakes are high, people play dirty. We've already seen the air thicken with suggestions about what the DNC will do about the Florida and Michigan primaries. This is only a glimpse of the challenges that are ahead of us.

Remember 1-866-OUR VOTE. Call them if you have any problems. Also, it is time for us seriously to consider demanding more monitoring of our polls in this country. Perhaps it is time for the United Nations to step in.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Podcasts and Relaxing

Two things are plaguing me today. The need to have more order in my life and to be more intellectually engaged. I've been running from pillar to post, teaching a full load at one college and part time at a university, rearing my son, tutoring a young man from Saudi Arabia in English, and writing for the local newspaper. Therefore, I sometimes don't take the time to engage in the intellectual endeavors that are necessary to sustain me. Although teaching is very intellectually engaging, I cannot always interest my students in the lofty ideas and conundrums that periodically plague me. Far too many of my students are simply in the classroom to get a grade, obtain the credit, and move on. Attitudes like my students' are what drove me out of the university and into the library when I was an undergraduate student because I saw too many professors capitulating and servicing the students' needs. I don't do this. Either they engage in intellectual rigor or they drop my class. In this regard, I am unyielding.

Today, after brunch at my favorite hangout, Busboys and Poets in Shirlington, I took one look around my house and found the disorder creeping in on me. Those of you who know me know that I cannot operate within chaos, which is why all of my books are arranged in alphabetical order, and my closet is organized according to the type of garment and its color, from light to dark. I know, I'm probably a bit anal. But my mother told me the key to running an orderly household is to be organized. So yes, I do roll my linen like she did, and my spice cabinet is also arranged alphabetically.

As I moved about the house cooking, organizing, vacuuming, and dusting, I engaged in my latest method for relaxing, listening to my ipod. My wonderful son gave me an ipod for Christmas. I still marvel over how he knew just what I wanted. I marveled even more when I realized that I could download lectures from university professors, the Washington Post Book Review, and unabridged editions of books, and listen to them while I worked, commuted, and journaled.

I am in heaven again. As my eyes age and reading becomes harder and harder for me, I can still gain pleasure and stimulate my mind from the printed text. The other night, I lay in the bed listening to "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave." I've taught this narrative for more than 12 years, and it has never come alive for me the way that it does when I listen to it in the middle of the night on my ipod. I don't have to stop to turn the tape over, insert another CD, or press play. I just click on the arrow and away it goes. Wow, I love this technology. I know. Don't laugh at me. In marketing terms I am a late, late adapter.

So if your ipod is full of music, you may find it pleasurable to download some of the many podcasts that are available on the internet. I know that I am simply gleeful listening to the numerous podcasts that I have located and downloaded.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Alexandria, Virginia and the Slave Trade

As busy as I am, I am attempting to recapture the activities of my pre-mom, pre-wife years. One activity that I engaged in quite regularly was freelance writing. Recently, I signed on to freelance write for the local weekly paper, The Alexandria Times. One of the stories that I covered this morning was a walking tour, "Black History Above and Below Ground."

Under the blustery sky and with the chilling winds slapping my face, I stood on the corner of Duke street and Reinkers Lane as I listened to Dr. Pamela Cressey, an archaeologist, explain to the predominately white crowd, how Alexandra was the largest slave trading city on the east coast. She pointed out the former Bruin "Negro Jail," which was the location of one of many slave traders in Old Town Alexandria.

Dr. Cressey retold the story of the Edmonson family. The father, Paul Edmondson, was a free man. However, he married Ameila Edmonson, an enslaved woman; therefore, all 14 of their children took the legal status of their mother.

But in 1848, some of the Edmonson children while being hired out to work in Washington D.C. Along with 70 other enslaved African Americans, some of the Edmonson children attempted to escape from Washington, D.C. aboard the schooner Pearl. The escaped slaves, along with the Edmonson children, were captured and placed into bondage in the Bruin "Negro Jail." Paul Edmonson, in conjunction with white abolitionists, eventually raised enough money to purchase his children's freedom.

I glanced up and looked at the green neon signs of the Whole Foods Market across the street. Up and down Duke street and throughout Old Town Alexandria, more high-end townhomes and condominiums are springing up to add to the already condense and crowded landscape that has obliterated vestiges of the slave past. No where did I get a glimpse of any evidence that human beings were coffled and driven up Duke street like cattle. Directly across the street from the former Bruin "Negro Jail," a slaughter house and tannery were once located; slaves and animals traded and slaughtered within feet of each other.

Despite the lack of visual evidence of the city's involvement in the slave trade, I appreciated the candor and truthfulness with which the archaeologist relayed the early Black history of Alexandria. I must say when I visited Mount Vernon about ten years ago with my son, I had a much different experience as the docent attempted to explain to the predominately white crowd how benevolent George Washington was as a master. For my son's own benefit, I stopped the docent and set the record straight. His benevolence is irrelevant, he held human beings against their will. Period. And when he had an opportunity to manumit his slaves, he did not. However, this time I could listen intently as a white Ph.D. set the record straight.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Empty Nest Syndrome, Or Happy to Be Free and Single Again?

My son, David, graduates high school in June. In addition to marking this milestone, he turned 18 years old this past January, and declared rather profusely that he was "grown." I started to burst his bubble by telling him that being grown is not a matter of chronology but responsibility, and also hand him one-half of the monthly expenses to pay. But I decided there is time enough for that.

I recall quite vividly when I declared I was grown. I was much younger than 18, and my rebellious period started much sooner than my son's. Thus far, he has been on track, yet there are those subtle changes that make me grind my teeth at night, subtle changes that are inevitable and represent some of the pangs of maturing.

1. Having girlfriend problems (I thought he was smarter than this);
2. Becoming unfocused his last semester (I keep reminding him it sure would be nice not to have to write those tuition checks, that a scholarship will keep me from having to live with him when I am old and retired;
3. Leaving his shoes at the front door for me to trip over;
4. Scattering his belongings all over the house (I'm confined to my bedroom and kitchen);
5. Eating a sandwich and drinking a soda from 7/11 rather than consuming my gourmet French Chicken cooked in a Dutch Oven (a recipe I hand copied from Cooks Illustrated magazine while sitting in Barnes and Nobles); and
6. Having to tell him every night at 10:30 p.m. to come up stairs and get ready for bed (he awakens at 5:30 a.m., I still think that kids need 8 hours of sleep; well, at least I do, he needs to come upstairs so that he won't awaken me, I'm a light sleeper.

I know that I will miss him when he is away. But I am almost certain that I will not suffer from empty nest syndrome. In fact, when he told me that he will get on the metro and travel from Howard University's campus to northern Virginia where I live every weekend to eat and do his laundry, I threatened to apply for a Fulbright to a university in Africa.

Oh, after 18 years, how will it feel not having to worry quite as much, not having to prepare dinner every day, and not having my house filled with the remnants of school projects, worn out clothes, and love letters from his girlfriend? I don't know, but I am sure looking forward to being free and single again.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Family Hour?

I missed the half-time Super Bowl entertainment when Janet Jackson suffered from a wardrobe malfunction. But I didn't miss this year's Super Bowl. While the half-time performance by Tom Petty was mild, and quite frankly, boring if you are not a Petty fan, I noted that towards the end of the broadcast the commercials became sexually suggestive.

The two commercials that seemed to me to be less than family friendly were the man with the jumper cables hooked up to his nipples and the scantly clad woman in the Victoria Secrets advertisement suggesting that the post-game time would be even better than the game itself.

Maybe I'm too sensitive and cynical. Now, there was a lot of controversy regarding whether or not the exposure of Janet's breast was a mistake or planned. Regardless, we do know that the exposing of a man's nipples with jumper cables attached to them as well as the scantly clad woman in the Victoria Secrets commercials were not only planned, but condoned by the network.

For the most part, a man exposing his breasts and nipples is not deemed sexual in our culture. But, I still don't want to explain to a five year old sitting beside me who asks, "what is he doing?" For even a five year old knows that there is something out of the ordinary being portrayed on the screen.

Likewise, any prepubescent boy could have processed the suggestive and not so subliminal message emanating from the provocative and scantly clad model in the Victoria Secrets commercial. I suppose violence and sex are permissible during the Super Bowl provided the sex is not cloaked in Blackness. Alright, we know it is completely acceptable for the violence to be Black, we only have to look at who the players are.

I turned to another middle-aged woman beside me and said, "This is not family friendly." She agreed. I think that after I post this blog, I'm going to contact the network and complain.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Home, My Disappointment

I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, as most of you may know. But after graduating high school, I never had a true affinity for the city, having never felt completely at home there because Detroit was not my mother's home. Despite my personal unrest, I was a staunch supporter of my beloved city, and would go toe-to-toe with anyone who demeaned it in any way. But the last debacle with Mayor Kilpatrick not only saddens me but also reminds me of all that bothered me about Detroit, and this is particularly true of the mayor's mother's response to her son's indiscretions.

It is not that I am taken aback by congress woman Carolyn Kilpatrick publicly declaring her allegiance to her son, despite the fact that he possibly lied under oath about his affair with Christine Beatty, his chief of staff. One expects a mother to support her son at all costs. But perhaps it was the manner in which she chose to support her son in a public forum screaming loudly; referring to her grown son as, "my boy"; and vehemently insinuating that someone else, and not her son, is responsible for his current predicament.

The mayor and his mother embody the most negative stereotypes of African Americans: loud, uncouth, and indiscreet. I have noted that some Detroiters seem to live within a bubble that prohibits them from realizing that they are citizens of not only a nation but also a world. I do not fully subscribe to the belief that every Black person is representative of the race. However, I do strongly believe that Black public officials have an obligation to exhibit a degree of decorum and restraint within public venues. After all, whether Black public officials regard themselves as representative of the people or not, they are. And their public behavior and indiscretions ultimately do negatively impact on their predominately Black constituents.

How can people like Mayor Kilpatrick and his mother even profess wanting to help Detroit become a world class city when they are trapped within the myopia that has defined far too many Black Detroiters' lives and perceptions since the Coleman Young years?

The Kilpatricks' inability to see how their behavior only fuels a national perception of Detroit as an urban, postmodern industrial wasteland, governed by incompetent people, severely limits relocation of people and businesses to the city. There is one thing for sure, Detroit will never become a vibrant city again unless jobs and people are willing to relocate there.

Since I departed Detroit in 1987, I very rarely hear anything positive in the media about the city. I used to attribute the media's negative portrayal of the city to the fact that Detroit was majority Black. However, intellect dictates for me that race cannot be the panacea for all that is bad and wrong in the city. At some point, the buck needs to stop somewhere. Not only should Detroiters call for the mayor's resignation, but the citizens of the 13th Congressional District should strongly consider a new person to represent them in Congress, too.

Six terms sitting on the Hill have been too many for the congress woman, and two terms throwing parties in the Manoogian mansion have been too many for the mayor.

Detroiters, you deserve better.

Friday, February 1, 2008

More Similarities Than Differences

As you may know from earlier posts, one of my favorite haunts is the neighborhood Starbucks. I often sit there to write, grade essays, prepare for class, and read. I started this habit when I was a stay-at-home mom with a toddler son who spent his entire day with me. Often after dinner, I handed my son, David Malik, to his father and hit the front door; at break neck speed I'd make my way to the neighborhood Starbucks. Many years ago, in conjunction with the manager of Starbucks, I ran a neighborhood reading program, "Reading Under the Coffee Tree," where moms and toddlers would gather to read stories aloud to preschoolers.

As I sat in my favorite chair in Starbucks this past Tuesday, a Moslem woman, Sarah, wearing a hijab, sat across from me chatting on her cellphone. An infant was asleep in a stroller parked beside her. She ended her telephone conversation and immediately began to engage me in a conversation in precise and calculated English. Inevitably our conversation centered around children, being at home, the difficulty in finding good childcare, her academic career, my teaching, etc.

Although Sarah is at least 20 years younger than I am, I noted how the challenges that she is faced with are no different than the challenges I faced as a mother with a newborn, 18 years ago. Like me, she, too, finds refuge in the neighborhood Starbucks. Unlike me, she walks to the Starbucks because her customs do not permit her to drive.

We exchanged telephone numbers. She exacted a promise from me to visit her in her home because it is a one mile walk to my home from hers. Sarah pulled back her hijab to straighten it out. I would have never guessed that her dark brown, curly hair sported blonde streaks.

I smiled and told her that we are both rebels in our own way. She laughed as her husband pulled up and rushed in to help her with their infant son.

I know that Sarah, a Saudi Arabian woman who has only been in the U.S. 6 months, has a lot in common with me. We are both women. We are both mothers. We are both racialized minorities in a white dominant, patriarchal society.