Monday Notes: The Black People in Front of You 👽

kg_FSUI began a tenure-track position at a Research I university August 2013, a month after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. Our academic year began in one of the university’s ballrooms with announcements of new faculty, food, and light banter. I was the only black face at our round table. I’d grown used to being the only, but this felt different. I remember chit-chatting about inconsequential topics so minor that I cannot recall the slightest detail.

I remember wondering if I should ask any of these white faces what they thought about Martin’s death or his killer’s acquittal. After all, we were scholars. I remember wondering if this incident mattered to them at all, not in a Black Lives Matter way, but in a we live in the state of Florida and this just happened in Florida type of way.

Instead, I remained silent, returned to my office, and prepared my syllabi for the semester.

***

That August, I taught a class that was at an integral phase for my students who were studying to be teachers. The class was right before their internship semester. Strict guidelines had been passed down from the previous professor. Students could only miss two classes. The consequence? They’d fail and have to wait an entire year to re-take the course. Rigidity was important because they’d be student teaching the following semester and had to learn the importance of punctuality and attendance. They were two semesters away from being professionals after all.

Long story very short, there was a student who missed more than two classes, and because I wanted to follow the rules I was given, I failed her. The day she realized I wouldn’t budge on my decision, she stood in the hallway demanding to be seen even though my office hours had ended. She stood, with her face inches away from mine and yelled. She’d made such a commotion that the office secretary came out and asked if I was okay.

“Yes,” I replied, my voice no louder than a whisper.

The girl left. I gathered my belongings and left to teach class. I wondered if any white, tenure-track professors had ever been yelled at, in the middle of the hallway, in front of their offices at this Research I university.

I never asked. Instead, I taught, wrote my grant, and prepared to conduct my study, in addition to having to participate in several conversations that reached the dean’s office about why I should change my mind about this student’s grade.

***

Other bothersome events occurred at this university, like the girl who placed an online order and had a Jimmy John’s sandwich delivered to class…while I was teaching.

img_4048There was the time the same girl screenshot an email she’d sent to me to prove she’d completed an assignment. I noticed the emoji she associated with my name – an alien. According to her, she’d used that alien emoji for “all her professors.”

There was the time I was supposed to have a mentor. I asked for a black woman, someone with whom I could identify and navigate this particular university’s world. My assigned mentor was black and female, but she was not tenured. At the time, they didn’t have any black, female tenured professors in our college. She confessed that she had little to offer me by way of advice; she was just trying to keep her own head above water.

There was the time my white colleague asked me to speak to a black student about her use of Black English. I was tasked with placing her on probation if she didn’t learn to use “standard” English. How is she going to be an English teacher? my colleague asked.

There was the story of my incompetent, white, male counterpart, who initially made $12k more than I did, but who needed my help understanding how to create and teach his classes.

And, there’s the story of how I got this specific job in the first place. Spoiler alert: it was tied to Affirmative Action.

***

Since we’re all having moments of introspection and authentic conversations centered on race, I figured I’d share this partial list of how systemic racism manifested for me in three short years at a place I’d least expected it, the highest rated university in our educational system.

This post may be my last about race for a while, so I want to be clear.

Some black people will not encounter police brutality, but we will encounter white people in other spaces that weren’t initially created for us.

Subsequently, it’s important for two things to happen: 1) black people should speak up and be explicit about what we need, and 2) white people should understand systemic racism and determine how to engage in anti-racist ways.

For the latter, I think a great place to begin is with paying attention to the black people in front of you.

72 thoughts on “Monday Notes: The Black People in Front of You 👽

  1. “Some black people will not encounter police brutality, but we will encounter white people in other spaces that weren’t initially created for us”. That got me…the fact that we’re almost always made to feel like an after thought 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So, I figured out where the Research 1 (I did my doctorate there too). I wish I’d known you then, I have a couple of tenured/full professor friends there who would have been happy to mentor you. I have many, many stories similar to yours (no yelling though). And many stories about another institution in the same city. I’m actually in the middle of writing an article that uses those experiences as a springboard for a fuller discussion. It’s crazy that we can all tell the same story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s nutz. The fact that you went there and received a terminal degree from there, that you would know people there, and that we would be blogging buddies. The yelling was pretty much it for me. I had to do some soul searching. I’ve taught every grade from K-12 and never has anyone yelled at me. Anywho, yes…it’s the racism part that allows us to have this collective experience.

      Like

      1. There’s another blogger who has actually been on my university campus a number of times and knows many of the people I know “in real life.” Another lives here in the same area. We “haunt” some of the same places, but haven’t met yet. Yet another blogger and I have been in the same room a few times (at academic conferences mainly). Finally, last October, I sent a message to her to see if she would be at a conference I was on my way to. So…we made a point to seek each other. I texted her as soon as I arrived and we finally met in person and spent lots of time together. But wait. One of the times we were in the same place was at the wedding of one of best friends’ daughter’s wedding. I was one of the photographers and took her picture more than once! And we didn’t meet then! Now, that’s a whole 3 levels of crazy. 6 degrees of separation. Very real.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, this is very good. You know the other part of the problem is that they don’t see the Black people in front of them as Black. It’s all very shocking to them when they get reminded of that fact. It’s like when Obama pointed out how he could have been Trayvon Martin or Beyoncé did “Formation,” and their popularity dropped among certain white people. That reminder that they’re Black just like the other Black people was just too much. Plus, you know, when it’s just the one, it’s easier to not “see” color, especially when the one is playing the game.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bingo! That is definitely the case of us “onlies” are always exceptions, but I think we’ve been taught to play into that mindset as well, in some ways, like maintaining silence (which I vowed not to do once I left) or doing things that don’t sit well in our souls.

      Thanks for the read/comment/compliment, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Dr. G! For continuing to lead and light the way in your writing and teaching. Your personal examples encourage me to see through an open and accepting and inviting perspective. To not take anything for granted. You teach with love. Thank you my friend. Grateful for your lessons. 📖🖤❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brittany, that’s the thing, right? You definitely don’t have to be a prof to have experienced a fraction of this. You just have to be black in white spaces ❤

      Positive vibes received and returned ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How can people deny systemic racism exists in our respective countries, in the face of all the evidence? How can people so casually deny the experiences, accounts, feelings of others, so high-handedly? Any attempt to answer these cannot lead to a positive conclusion. A man stalks and shoots dead a child and walks free, on the grounds of self-defence. There is no sense, no legitimate defence for this outrage, nor so, so many others.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. I agree. I think it’s like a few people have said (either above or below lol), it’s because sometimes people don’t want to admit it because it doesn’t benefit them to do so.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. The people defending the monuments to our colonial past have, yes, taken up far too much of the exposure over here compared to the wider critical issues in UK. But what a symbol . We close ranks. We protect. Protect our version of history, the noble history neatly packaged for us at school. We do not want to face other people’s realities, truths. No, that would be somewhere between an irritating inconvenience and distressing. Our prime minister too. Shame.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing!!… here on the path it’s not the image without but the person within that matters… 🙂

    “I am free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” Theodore Roosevelt

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not surprised. I had a Canadian born Chinese friend who got her PhD in English Lit and was teaching at major Canadian university in Toronto. She didn’t have tenure…anyway, she was questioned on why she even got in.

    Any time, one doesn’t look like the ancestry of the original English language in academia, then you gotta prove yourself over and over and over. Like a broken record.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Monique L. Desir and commented:
    This resonates with me: “Some black people will not encounter police brutality, but we will encounter white people in other spaces that weren’t initially created for us”. I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years. There’s no denying that I’m good at what I do. In fact, my classroom was chosen as a model for newer and older teachers to observe and learn from. Unfortunately, one of my colleagues chose to undermine and disrespect me during a collaborative meeting between our school and a visiting one. I didn’t let her know that what she did was wrong at that time; however, during an evening meeting that same day I told her calmly and discretely (in the hallway outside of the meeting room) that her behavior was disrespectful and unprofessional. You see, she thought it was okay to bring up a student’s and parent’s name during this meeting, which had nothing to do with the task at hand This was a privacy breech. She “apologized” by saying, “I’m sorry that you feel that way”. I took that for what it was worth and didn’t bring it up to our supervisor. I considered this a team player move; after all, I was her mentor and hoped that she would learn. Later on that year during my evaluations, our supervisor told me that I was being rude and argumentative with a fellow teacher (the same young girl). Flabbergasted, I asked her how can this be and explained to her the history behind this false accusation. To make this long story much shorter, I’m tired of the idea that black people are “threatening”. I often think it is a false narrative used to mask something insidious.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am currently composing a blog post about something similar to this to articulate my thoughts on this experience I had last week. (Thanks for the motivation)

    To be brief, I sent an email out to my author list about a campaign to support black-owned businesses (My Black Receipt). Long story short, I got six unsubscribes, two abuse reports, and one nasty email from people saying I was “discriminating” against other races.

    For asking you to support a black-owned business for a few days??

    I wasn’t surprised but more so disappointed that I had such people subscribed to my list. It doesn’t take but reading a few blog posts, poems, and Instagram posts to see how passionate I am about uplifting black people. How did they not know this? lol

    You answered it here: not paying attention to the black people in front of them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Riiiiighhhttt!!! Because, ma’am. You are blackity-black black, with the t-shirt,slogan, historical facts to back it up, and protest sign…I cannot possibly understand where the confusion was.

      And, ummm abuse report?

      I’m so tired these days :-/

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Thanks for sharing this, Kathy. I honestly believe that the only way forward is to tell our own truths, because we all see things from our own perspective. But when we can listen to someone else’s, and can hear what their struggles are and hear what they say will help, then there is hope. Because when “others” become real people, we care. And when we care, then we want to fix what is broken. No one’s life should be marginalized. Your honesty and willingness to share your experience is part of the solution, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. 🤔Hmm the choice of an alien emoji is highly suspect especially when a little friction existed, my very first thought whilst reading was this girl has a more sinister agenda, as for being asked to have a chat about the use of black English, well that would get someone the sack in Britain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah. It’s all suspect. It was more than a chat. It was probation; whereas, I was asked repeatedly to change my stance on the other girl, who’d broken a written rule. I just want everyone to do better than what we’re doing.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Thank you for sharing these examples, Kathy. I work at a research 1 institution (staff not faculty). We have had some amazing Black faculty come aboard and most do not last more than a few years. As staff, I do not know what the climate was like for them within their departments, but your examples give me an idea. I do know that they have had tremendous pressure put on them, as the “only” ones in the department, to be the diverse face of the department and be everywhere and do everything that entails, on top of their regular job. It must become a burden when they just would like to do their research and teach like any white faculty member. On a personal note, last year I spent a week in Paris with my mom, who is a blond white woman. It was an amazing experience. None of the rumors about the French being rude applied to us. Everyone was friendly. Literally two weeks after our return home, I went back to Paris, this time for a European Access Network Conference and staff study tour. There was a group of 20 of us from all over the U.S. Most of my colleagues were Black or Latinx and as a white woman, I was the minority in the group. One night four of us, one Black woman and two Latina women, went to a restaurant recommended by our hotel. When we arrived they told us they didn’t have room for us, even though at that moment the place was near empty. We went back to the hotel and this time they made a reservation for us at a different restaurant. When we arrived, the French owner literally looked like she wanted to throw us out, but because we had a reservation she couldn’t. Again, at that time the place was nearly empty, yet she stuck us in a corner in the front of the restaurant shoved next to the bar and literally pulled a curtain around us. I could not even believe it. I asked the other women if they wanted to leave and they said no because they were starving and didn’t want to wait. I know damn well we were treated like that because of the color of my colleagues’ skin and not because we were American – as I said, I had just been there and had no issues like this. I know how I felt being discriminated against by association – royally pissed off and insulted – I cannot even imagine how my colleagues felt feeling it first hand, and over and over their whole lives and in their own country. It was so eye opening for me. I had heard my students’ stories of having racial epithets screamed at them on campus and the microaggressions that occur, but not until this Paris experience did I witness this firsthand. With everything that has gone on, I have been trying to educate myself. I’ve attended forums and webinars on race. I attended one called Lift Black Men’s Voices, which had a panel of Black men, a couple from academia, business owners, a lawyer. I listened for two hours as these educated, intelligent, successful, good men shared their stories about being discriminated against and tried to find solutions. A former student of mine, who is bi-racial black/white started her own consulting company recently and is holding a workshop called White People, We Need to Talk, and I’ve signed up. I know I will never understand first hand what it’s like to be Black, but I want to understand and learn the best I can given my own skin color and life experience. I truly hope I can be part of the solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The first step is exactly what you’re doing…taking ownership for your own knowledge. I’m willing to bet the black and Latina women were used to what you described. That’s why they were probably like whatever, we just wanna eat.

      When was that trip? Dwight and I are planning to go and this doesn’t sound hopeful.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. October 2019 both times. Maybe you’ll have a better experience. I hope so. None of the Black and Latina women in our group liked Paris. The men, as men often are, were silent about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. you are very patient with us, dear. a long time ago, someone told me that we teach people how to treat us — it’s something I often try to keep in mind. I know this isn’t quite the same to try & teach a whole society, a whole culture, but you are lovely to do your best to teach us, Kathy.

    my parents are Latino, & they look & sound it (past tense for my dad who passed away), whereas I don’t. it was terrible to see how kids’ parents would be so weird to my parents. My husband is from Iran, & I often worry for him. as women, we all have plenty to worry about — somehow, sometimes these things hurt worse when it’s done to our dear ones.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for noticing this da-AL. So, what you’ve mentioned is important. I know that some Latino people choose to pass for white, or I know depending on where they came from, they identify as white or black AND Latino? I’m wondering what “weird” ways you observed.

      I cannot imagine what having an Iranian husband would be like, especially in the climate of the last 18 years or so.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I learned early on that regardless of how we categorize ourselves, we can all be not very nice to the ‘others,’ that poor or minority doesn’t make us saintly. incidents that come to mind around nationality & such… just jotting down so forgive the jumble (& that you may regret having asked lol)

        … anglo people condescending to my parents in a way that they weren’t toward me… when I was a teen in Miami, some Cubans would act like I was one of them (good aka Latina) (my parents are from Spain & Argentina, countries which many esteem as if folks from there are automatically better the way anglophiles can do here) if they liked me then would categorize me as anglo aka bad… anglo friends would do the same in reverse… (occurs to me now as I write this that teens can be especially eager to categorize & judge, no?)…

        my father was hideous & my mom a doormat/breadwinner, my brothers were allowed to aspire & no housework… I often wished I was a boy… my father, a very mean adulturous man, often saying (when I was not even in grade school) how I needed to marry (& for sure all women must bear children as if we are mere vessels) someone from Spain as those men were best (which made me never want to marry or have kids, definitely with no one from Spain)

        … sigh, now I’m getting all upset — I imagine by now you get the general picture.

        which is to say that my earliest memories have to do with pondering gender & nationality & culture, thinking about how crazy it is that the world is marked by lines on maps & tones of skin & sexual organs… feeling glad when I’d watch insipid tv that showed family members who were actually nice to each other, fantasizing about getting amnesia & getting lost (not hurting my family, just losing them lol)

        … anyway — not to promote my own site here, but was thinking you might enjoy my latest post on ‘happy un-fathers day’?

        wishing you the best as always, dear Kathy — & a happy father’s day to the sweet family you’ve made ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for answering da-AL. I keep also forgetting that Latinos also have a hierarchy within the community/culture (e.g., Mexicans seem to be at the bottom and South Americans at the top). And yes…I think I read/viewed/commented the day before you wrote here: kismet ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      3. now on further reflectiion, reminds me of how I’ve had a few black friends mention that in their families they ‘weren’t black enough’ — guh — & families go right to our hearts…

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m sure the atrocities against POC we see on the news and social media are only the tip of the iceberg. Reading all the stuff “below the surface” in the diagram was illuminating, but your stories and examples really hammer the point home. I am a story + example learner rather than a conceptual one. Tell me how a concept translates into real life and BOOM, I get it. Thank you for offering up stories about where and how you’ve encountered racism. As a white person who was born into privilege, the experiences you describe would never have even occurred to me. POC say it’s not their responsibility to educate me, and it isn’t, but those willing to do so have been a great help to me. Thank you, KE. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Joan, I understand. We all learn differently. I do have to say that if you asked me directly about what to do or how to learn, then I’d say the same thing others have told you…it’s not my responsibility. The beauty of this blog, I suppose, is that I get to “teach” and share on my own terms, not because someone’s asked me to lay it out for them.

      I hope this makes sense in some way.

      With that said, I do appreciate you reading and commenting. I’m glad these examples help you to understand what is a systemic issue. Everyone is concerned with overt racism, which I think many of us will rarely encounter. These microagressions or whatever we’re calling them today, are prevalent for people who look like me.

      I also want to add that Asians, African Americans from other places (i.e., Nigeria, Jamaica, etc.), and LatinX people each contend with a different set of covert racist acts.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It makes perfect sense. Blogs are one way I try to educate myself on the experience of others. Just today, a friend posted about Band-Aids, which have been “flesh-colored” forever, a thing that seemed perfectly reasonable to her until she realized they would stick out like a sore thumb on the flesh of a person who isn’t white. (Band-Aid is updating their product line to include more colors btw.) A few years back, I chose a tag from the Share the Joy tree for a little girl who wanted a black baby doll–I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find one. The town I lived in for 25 years was very racially diverse, but none of the stores there carried black hair products. How do we expect black people to feel included and valued when the default setting for everything is white? Being mindful leads to awareness which leads to change, I hope. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I am so sorry for what you experienced, Katherin. I cannot imagine it. It is very important that you keep writing and sharing your experiences so others can understand and learn. I pray things will get better.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. Thank you for sharing. It’s so hard for any of us to understand that which we don’t experience. I remember when I was doing my teacher’s education (we were out if we missed more than 2 classes too), we had to prep a class for primary based on family life. It was the first time I became consciously aware that not all families are the same, and how important it was for me to account for that in my teaching. Our ignorance in some matters is systemic. We must be willing to educate and enlighten ourselves.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for affirming the 2 class rule V.J. That’s also important. Being a lone voice of experience is a lot.

      Educating ourselves, and then APPLYING said education is most definitely important.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Oh my my eyes are watery. Where are you on social media? We need to talk. I just had dialogue in my Facebook page about racism. I’m in an interdisciplinary masters program and my paper due today is about racism. We ALL see it and know it to be TRUE. What’s the solution Sis? What is it? I don’t know. We can bring in every discipline that exist but I don’t know the solution. I don’t believe it lies in research and meetings and voting. It’s something that needs to happen internally with EVERY White person. But it’s not going to because they’d have to admit to being wrong and that won’t benefit them. In the interim what do I tell my black children. Adult children? 😰😰😰😰😰😰😰😰😰😰

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I know we had an off WP convo, but I have to say this here in response. We don’t all see it. There are people, mainly white, who have never SEEN what you and I have experienced, even if it’s right in front of their faces. I maintain that it is because some people, mainly white, don’t HAVE to see it. They have the privilege to literally not notice their own surroundings, because in many ways they benefit.

      So yes, like any awakening, the person him/herself has to open his/her/their eyes and WANT to be awakened…then they have to act, because I say this with all the love in my heart…if one more person post the NYT’s bestelling list, I’m going to scream. You can own all the books in the world, but if there’s no application, who cares?

      Tell your children to speak out. That’s what’s helped me. Speak out and also don’t be afraid to tell people no…no you will not offer up a list. No you will not tell them about ALL your racist encounters. Just no, unless you want to.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. See I believe they do see it. They just choose not to act because it won’t profit them to act. I keep telling adults children don’t challenge those police officers. I woke up this morning all in my feelings. It’s not right but I want my babies to outlive me. I don’t want them killed. Although even showing respect it could still happen. My daughter got pulled over and handled by while police officers in Brandon MS last month. They kept telling her to get off the phone and she wouldn’t. Next thing I hear they telling her to get out the car and that she smells like weed. It could’ve gone to death but she just spent the night in the jail. This is too much. They see but they don’t profit by making a change. ESPECIALLY with Trump I’m office.

        Liked by 2 people

  18. People here are talking about their epiphanies regarding Indigenous Australians. I feel invisible as part of the African diaspora here, but I don’t say anything because I don’t want to interfere with the necessary justice and righting if wrongs. It is weird because I have experienced racism all my life, including police brutality, yet I also acknowledge the privileges I have that have made my life far easier than a lot of indigenous folk. Astounding that there are white people who cannot also recognise their privilege. I’m also tired of talking about this stuff. I also question the sudden onset of epiphanies…I don’t think any of this is new to white people, I think a large number can no longer pretend not to see the issues which they have conveniently turned a blind eye to (and directly been complicit in) so that they can enjoy the spoils of their privilige…like walking into a space without bring questioned of their rights to be there, trusting the law will serve them etc..

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree with you Mek.

      A friend of mine asked me what do I do when I face systemic racism. My answer? I made waffles today. I tried to explain to her that I don’t have the privilege to do something else, other than live life. It’s a part of every black person’s life, whether we join a protest or remain silent. It’s like taking a shower.

      To your point, I do think that there are quite a few white people who have simply turned a blind eye when it comes to these issues. Others, I truly believe are surprised. It’s like the conditions of George Floyd’s death were too much to ignore, but then this is my point…that’s what it took to say something? A whole pandemic where we’re at home and can’t turn away, and a black man in handcuffs being suffocated on camera, in broad daylight?

      Anyway. I’m just as tired as you are friend, but I’ve decided that if people are going to wake up and listen, then I might as well give a few examples.

      Liked by 2 people

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