My hands are up!

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Its been a difficult day, not because of any one particular thing, but because of many things. I think about the tasks on my immediate “ToDo” list and none of them seem to keep my interest. I know I have a serious deadline that is about to pass me by. I know I have obligations at work that I need to address on a daily basis. I know there are things at home that have to be maintained and tended to, but then I cannot help but to think about the murder of Michael Brown, yet another young Black male shot down at the prime of his life. Shot down for no reason.

I hear that he would have been off to college yesterday. I hear that he was a young man that was about change (if even for himself and immediate community). I hear that he said something along the lines of “my hands are up”. How is this possible? It seems like only minutes ago, another Black man, Eric Gardner was yelling about not being able to breathe, and now he too is dead.  What does that mean today? What do these words mean, I thought they were ways to say STOP or TRUCE. But clearly, when you are face to face (or even running away) from someone that feels that you are a threat (even if you do not know why) it does not matter what words are spoken.

I have to say that today was one of those days where I wanted to throw my hands up. I needed to write something, but didn’t want to write another “scared for my sons” kind of blog…but I ended up doing it anyway. The names keep multiplying, we are adding too many names to the list of victims, that I feel like I cannot keep up and that is not a good thing. I am hoping that these incidents do not make some of us become complacent, for now is the time to stop this from becoming common place.

I cannot be complacent, I grew up in New York during a time that spanned the regimes of Mayors Koch, Dinkins and then Giuliani. I knew police brutality first hand and so did all of my friends. All of this was before 9/11 and all of this was when there were no campaigns to get to know your local police officer or campaigns to help you connect with your local precinct or see the NYPD as allies. It was the age of plungers and 41 shots, and it was scary. It has tainted how I feel about the police to this day and I am feeling those brutal dark memories resurface.

Today, the town I live in is really small and ironically, I know my local police and they know me. There is no hate and my children know them and see them as people that are around to protect. However, I still teach caution. They are still young, but it doesn’t matter, I need them to know the truth and that truth is, that their trust in the police – even from their town can lead to death somewhere else, even with their hands up.

Missouri protestors with their hands up!

Missouri protestors with their hands up!

So, after I put in a day’s work toward my goal to meet this pending deadline. I came home and hung out with my children and I turned on James Brown. It was quality time. We danced and we sang and we danced some more, because sometimes, you have to breathe,love your children and remember to bring truth to power and keep moving – with your hands up!

So, I leave with this, its not James Brown, but a song that we have been singing around the house over the last few days. The Bob Marley song, War, based on a speech originally given by Haile Selassie I’s address in NYC to the United Nations in 1963:

“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war and until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation, until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes. And until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there is war. And until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained…now everywhere is war.”

blog out…

Making the Time for What Counts

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So, it’s just another TBT (Throw Back Thursday), right? Well, I have never really indulged the whole #tbt thing, but today I was feeling quite nostalgic. Part of my nostalgia (and sadness) was sparked by some recent posts by two friends, Marc Anthony Neal and David J. Leonard. These two men, who I admire on so many levels, posted some Facebook statuses over the past few days that really started me to thinking about my own life and balancing act between family and the academy. They were not just talking about family balance, but real-time and consequences and privilege. It really hit home.

I decided to write down my thoughts sooner than later on my blog for once, because I am at that moment of a “could be crisis,” where I have some choices to make.  I am not going to get into details about the differences between men and women in the academy, the varying demands on our time, how these issues affect single parents or people of color in ways that are not always clear or transparent. I am not going to detail how race, class, or hetereosexism affect us all in the academy in very different ways. That would be too much work right now, at this late hour, I am just getting my thoughts onto the screen and wondering if I am making the right choices.

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My entry into the academy was quick, constant, scary and fluid. I finished up that dissertation, got a post-doc, got married, had the first child during my first year of marriage. Post-doc ended and boom, a job (it really wasn’t that easy, but I am summing up to get a point across). This is what we all dream about, this was the way it is supposed to happen, right? I am not really complaining, but I am saying that time flies and that is the scary part. My first son was only 15 months old when we first moved to the Amherst area, he is now 8 years old and we are well on our way to being here for a decade. I have been in the game of archaeology for 20 years and I have had my share of ups and downs and doubts and stumbles, but the central question is now that I have tenure, does the pace ever slow down or do I just keep going and increase it to get over the next hurdle (and there are more, believe me)? I think about conversations I have had over the past few months, like: What is your next field site? Are you working on an article? When will your second book be out? Do you already have a contract? Will you start to be on those cable shows? What is your next big move? Makes my head hurt just to think about one or two of those questions on a cool summer night in July.

Then I ask myself a very simple question. Have I lost the ability to be there for my family when it counts? I am there just about every day to pick up children at 3:15 and attend special programs and events and run from ballet to basketball to track on weekends during the school year, but am I really present when I am there? What is on my mind? Am I checking emails or fielding calls quietly because there is some minor crisis or issue at work or with a student, etc.?

Note to self #1: I don’t make octopus shaped hot dogs anymore.

I remember how hard I tried to be everything to my little guy (when there was one). I wanted to know what he liked, if he was allergic to anything, or was he a picky eater, etc.  Then I had a second one and she was such a small thing that I wanted to make sure all was perfect for her. Time passed and I realized that I had this thing down, but is it habit or is it that I am busier and I know how to fake it better? This week I have had some pretty sizable deadlines. Important things that had to get in. I spent almost 2 days (off and on of course) in front of my laptop fine tuning abstracts, making travel plans for the next trip to my field site, reading and carefully reviewing grant applications for a panel I am sitting on (due at the end of the week), in other words, I was busy – at home with the children, but busy. Am I really present for my children? The truth is, there is always something else to do, and someplace that I may need to be, and some meeting that is really politically important for me to attend and I am starting to get a little weary of it all.

Note to self #2: I don’t put chocolate chips or strawberry slices to make happy faces on pancakes anymore.

I worked so hard to get to this point, and that is the point. I have worked hard because that is the type of person I am. But, I do not want to look up and notice that there are no more diapers or car seats or children who want to cuddle, just much taller individuals who would have loved for me to be around a little more. I am not panicking, just taking stock of the situation at hand.  I will admit, this is a bit of a rant and I am just probably in summer mode with children around me all day every day, but there is some real talk in between the nostalgia and the terror of missing out.

Note to self #3: I am really good at pinpointing details of each of my children’s likes and dislikes, from colors to music to food and snacks.

All is not lost, these days at home has made me smile in wonderment to see three children playing in harmony (most of the time). Playing on the slip and slide, the trampoline, with dolls and action figures, just running around in the back yard, more water games and then (as an afterthought) those electronic devices when they are a little bit tired. All in all, we are having a blast, and that may also be why I am thinking along these lines.  This is not normal for us, for me.  This week has been harder than most. In trying to have fun and just hang out, things fell behind, emails piled up and I forgot for a moment that the work never really stops, but my children, my small ones will also not stop, they will grow and need and learn and teach my husband and I that our presence (our real presence) is the most important thing we can do in this world, for the rest of our lives.

blog out…

 

The Archaeology of Microaggression

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Microaggression…a theory that hypothesizes those specific interactions between folks of different races, cultures, genders or sexual orientation. The most important part of these exchanges are the small acts of mostly non-physical aggression that in many ways psychologically assault the victim of moments. The term was coined by Chester M. Pierce in 1970.

I begin this entry with a very brief glimpse into my thinking (I promise I will not expose you to too much of this).  By trade and training I am an anthropological archaeologist. This means that I focus primarily on the excavating stuff from the ground to recover and interpret the found artifacts (both above and below ground), in other words use the material left behind by people of the past to tell a story.  The one thing an archaeologist can usually do pretty well is to dig deeper (every pun intended), look beneath the surface, find the hidden meanings or even question what appears to simply be in front of you.  So, this is where I begin my little story about how the reality of the age of microaggression has impacted my life (at the moment).

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Moment went #1:

One morning I was brushing my 5 year old daughters hair. I really take the time (most of the time) to keep her loving her hair because she can wear it so many different ways. We braid it, ponytail it, twist it, cornrow it, and even blow dry and straighten it on rare occasions– it is a labor of love.  So, on this day, I was going to do her hair the same way I had done it the day before, for when she left for school she was happy with her hair and thought it was really cute. Well, this day, she held her head down and asked if I was going to do her hair like I did yesterday. I said yes, and then she asked me not to. I asked why? And she said, “they made fun of my hair yesterday, they said it looked crazy.” She was hurt (really hurt), these are the moments that she does not tell her teacher, she does not know exactly how to. In many ways, she doesn’t know why it hurts so much. It’s just hair, right? I am just glad that she is able to tell me, to share with me, so I can use it as a moment of healing and learning and building trust with each other. The layers are there, it will take our life together to make sure she grows up an learns to navigate these seemingly innocent moments.

I think I may be directly impacted because of several factors in my current life are different. First, I am married and attached to an educated, nurturing man of African American/Haitian descent that is there for the family and doing things in the community. I say this because I have had those moments when people complimented me on marrying someone that is so incredible (why? Because it is rare for a Black man to hold all of these balls in the air?). My husband, as incredible as he is in not as rare to me, I have had many men in my life who fill these roles and many more and so does he.  Second, I am a mother of three children. Two boys and one girl. We live in an environment that is very different from the one we grew up in. Pelham is not the Bronx and Pelham is not Brooklyn.  Our children are often the only ones that look like them in their classrooms. I listen very closely to what my children bring home. The things that they may see as normal.  We as a family talk about race – for our children to successfully navigate this country (and where we currently live), they have to have to skills to understand who they are and what is not okay. We do not have a choice in these matters. Third, I am a professor teaching at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). I teach about slavery, race, gender and class (and sometimes all of these together) and I have to understand that the stuff I teach can be painful for some, shocking for others and even angering to some. My students have reacted in a variety of ways. I am getting used to not having every class I teach (mostly smaller classes with 30 or fewer) filled with folks that love what I do or what I am teaching. The honeymoon is over and now, I have come across students who are downright hostile and see me as scary, angry, racist and sexist.  And let us not forget the often heard label of “making everything about race.” I have observed that the students are changing. They are more angry than when I arrived at UMass Amherst only 7 years ago. The subtle ways in which aggression is exercised is deep, much deeper than a surface analysis would reveal.

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Moment #2:

My son, who will soon be 8 years old on Friday, asked me why there are not more Black people in his class or school? He felt that things would be a little bit different if he was in school in a place like Ghana or Brooklyn (he thinks globally). My son is absorbent (in other words he soaks up everything around him). He is quite thoughtful and has had his experiences of being singled out and made to feel different. He is longing for less work, I think, by less work, I mean, it takes a lot for our sons and daughters to not see the difference, even if everyone around you is telling you they do not see color.  We all see color, even as children, because of the houses we come from, the television we watch, the ads we are exposed to, the activities we participate in.  Color is everywhere, and it is for this reason that I often feel sad for my son, because he is right, why aren’t there more people that look like him in his class. He too has come home with some really insensitive quotes from his classmates. Sigh.

I have been trying to keep my anger at bay. I have tried to curb the pure rage I feel on a regular basis. I know that at moments the work I do is difficult and the results will often have consequences. However, as I completed my first year as Undergraduate Program Director for my department, I reflect on the stories that I heard from anthropology majors of color that sat in my office, as if in therapy, to just share with me their experience at UMass, in our department, in Amherst, in Western Massachusetts.  These talks ranged from angry seniors who could not wait to get out of here, struggling underclassmen asking for help to navigate to crying and painful testimonies that hurt me to my core.  Many of these students had or have resigned themselves to just expect living with microaggressions in the classroom, it is a part of life, they just lived with it. How is this okay? And how is this okay that they are not telling too many people (or no one).  This creates a pain that is not easy to explain, or fix quickly in counseling, or even tell your parents or friends. Our children are losing the ability to tell us what is happening, they are losing the vocabulary because the methods of these subtle aggressive acts impact the heart and the soul and makes you wonder if you are not crazy. Is it because they don’t have the vocabulary or we have neglected to continue to teach them how to talk about it out loud?

 

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Moment #3:

This is a reflection of that initial uncomfortable feeling of being a woman of color in a predominantly Euroamerican environment and never knowing where to get your hair done. Then when you finally take a chance because you are desperate, you realize as soon as you walk in the door that all the stylists in the salon are praying that you are not their next appointment. You are being shot looks of an interesting variety. The first instinct is to leave, but you stay.  Someone is washing your hair and not knowing which, if any, of the products they use will work on your hair, so they just use what they can. Then you walk over with your hair ablaze and watch them just continue to touch your hair over and over again, moving their heads from side to side as if they are studying what lay before them, and you know they don’t exactly know what to do next. Then the stares and glances from the other women in the salon continue.  They are trying to figure out why your hair looks that way. Then, ultimately, when it is blow dried, flat ironed and clipped at the end, laying flat down my back and a stylist (who also happened to be the owner) walks by and says, “Wow! Your hair is so long, I could not tell when you walked in. It actually looks nice.”

The final moment is about me. It is about coming into my own and being able to recognize these microaggressions when they are thrown directly at me.  I have worked hard to be where I am and now, having just been awarded tenure, I feel as if my power (or at least my permanency) is a real thing.  I have never been soft-spoken and have always contributed to most conversations and meetings I am a part of. However, on so many occasions, I get the distinct feeling that some of my colleagues still see me as either a child, someone who has just arrived on the scene (clueless), or someone who snuck in the room as a favor to someone else.  Not anymore, I will begin to call these moments out, but also begin to develop my own language to navigate these moments, for they are now a part of my everyday. And in creating that language I will also be able to create a language at home to help my family and my children.

And to end with a few random last comments and moments (ad-lib):

Don’t be so passionate about things. Everyone is not as strong and opinionated as you are, they could take what you say in the wrong way.

People do not even try to say your children’s names correctly.

People are surprised when you are out and about (restaurant, meeting, lecture, conference presentation, cultural event) and your children are well-behaved.  

People cannot believe you were awarded tenure.

 Wow, you were really good at that program.

 Oh, I didn’t know you were invited/I didn’t know you knew/surprisingly, I heard your name brought up at this or that meeting.

 I have to admit, I am still learning. I am still trying to figure out how the shift is happening and how our lives are changed because of it. I do not have the immediate solutions, but the beginning is to know that these microaggressions exist and they do, they really do.

 

Blog out…

Prominent Anthropologist Welcomes Football Team Name Trademark Cancellation

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Whitney Battle-Baptiste:

To think that this could have gone on sol long!

Originally posted on American Anthropological Association:

In a move that was hailed by the anthropological community, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced on Wednesday morning that it had canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name “Washington Redskins” citing testimony and evidence that the Washington, DC- based football team’s name is “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus in violation of federal trademark laws banning offensive terms and language.

While the decision today means that the team can continue to use the term, the phrase is no longer owned by the organization, meaning it will be difficult to stop others from using the term, and thus limiting its financial benefit to the club.

Dr. Bernard C. Perley, a Native American and anthropologist, released the following statement in the wake of the government’s decision:

Today, I am celebrating the US Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to cancel the six trademark registrations of the NFL Washington professional football…

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‘Microaggression’ Is the New Racism on Campus

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Whitney Battle-Baptiste:

In the coming weeks, I will be exploring the idea of microaggression on many levels, here is just the beginning.

Originally posted on TIME:

Think everyday, interpersonal racism is a thing of the past? In progressive politics, most of the action has moved on from the Civil Rights struggles of the past to a focus on societal or “structural” racism. But, wait, not so fast — there’s a new word on the street that the old-style social racism is still with us, 24/7. That word is: microaggression. And you’re about to start hearing it everywhere.

A student at McGill University recently had to apologize publicly for the “microaggression” of “emailing a doctored video of President Obama kicking open a door” as part of a joke about midterms. Campus newspapers have begun denouncing the evils of such small, apparent slights.

Here’s what they are: The concept of microaggression has leapt from the shadows of academic writing into the bright light of general conversation, especially in the wake of widely consulted work by professors Derald Wing…

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When I grow up.

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When I was much younger, one of my favorite things to do was to sit down and lose myself in a good historical documentary.  I loved how these shows made history come alive, how the facts seem to be filled with vibrant color and texture. I soaked up every minute of these talking documents. However, the best part of these films were the academic experts. The fact people. They seemed larger than life, they seemed to know so much about the topic, they were brilliant.  It was what I wanted to be when I grew up. This was because I had to drastically alter my original “when I grow up” aspirations. Primarily, I wanted to be a Black female Quincy M.E. (a show about a Medical Examiner, starring Jack Klugman – just in case anyone reading this has no idea what I am talking about). I realized that this career path was not going to work because my lack of tolerance for blood and guts on a daily basis was going to stand in the way. The back up plan was to be a police detective, which could be a slight problem with my growing up in an age of New York City style police brutality and having complete mistrust of “New York’s finest.” And I wanted to go straight to detective, not walking the streets in a uniform that I did not find the least bit attractive.  Plus, I just wanted to go straight to solving intense mysteries, doing research on the crimes, a Black female Sherlock Holmes (USA style).  That also seemed a dead end, and I realized I might have to see bodies, bones, blood and other such things that were not going to work for me in the long term. So, the alternative was to not be a detective of crime, but a detective of history. I remembered back to sitting for all those hours watching the experts on those historical documentaries, that was my calling.   179205_10151743364457571_891472591_n So, I became a history major and after a long story about the ups and downs of my love and hate relationship with the archive, the historical text, the inherent racism, sexism, classism, etc. I was introduced to the world of historical archaeology. Wow, the best of both worlds. I had the document, I had the material, and I had the ability to be a real time detective! But now what? I am an Assistant professor on the cusp of getting tenure, I teach from the huge class to the intimate seminar, I have a lot of community connections that I have to keep fresh, I am conducting research at at least 3 sites, I am an Undergraduate Program Director invested in making sure our program is tight, and I am a wife and mother of three. So, as I get caught up in the every day, the inability to find a moment to finish that article that I have been working on for a year and making sure I know what I am talking about in those lectures I do multiple times a week, I realize that I have not been on one of those historical documentaries. And I can’t figure out why?   Recently, I have watched so many friends appear on CNN, the Cobert Report, The Daily Show, Melissa Harris Perry, MSNBC, writing for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, Crunk Feminist, the Feminist Wire, Essence, and many other popular venues that I follow on Twitter or Facebook, etc. And each time I see them, I send congrats and I am so happy that it feels like I am on there with them. I watch every clip with pride, but to be honest, there is also some envy. I have come to wonder why not me? Do I have valuable things to say? Am I doing all this slightly in the wrong way? Do I need to step up my blog posts? Actually work at my Youtube page? Get a Public Persona Facebook page? Create a webisode series? Damn, what does a sister have to do to get “invited?” 8900_10151821079307571_1910996168_n And then I take a break and a breath. And remember, that to appear on these shows is not the only reason I do what I do and that is okay. Maybe it is not in my immediate path and the only people who ask me why I have not been in or on these venues are my family, because they love me and I love them back for their love and confidence.  I have a lot going on in my life with a bunch of stuff on many plates (while technically I only have two hands).  I still hold hope for the call about that historical expert moment, for I know it will come, even if it is a short 5 minute Youtube video project.   1382400_10152278280952571_872431532_n I want my identity as a Black Feminist Archaeologist to be taken seriously, not lightly. I do not want to be a novelty, I want to represent the real thing. I do not want to be trivialized and made into a sound bite, I want to add value to the conversation. That is my hope, but if I get that call, believe me I will be putting that right on Facebook and Twitter and letting the world know. But until then, I can keep my integrity and stay humble. However, if you want to book me, feel free to look up my blog and my email. I am more than willing to give it a try. Blog out…

The writer in me is dying…or is she?

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On any given day there is a lot to do. A lot to manage and organize.  Between meetings, obligations, teaching, preparing an exciting and engaging lecture, learning the magic of making a hot Prezi presentation, meetings, office hours, keeping up with the details of a new course, socializing with colleagues, reading emails, thinking about answering those emails, and more meetings, I am still trying to figure out how to make a moment in my daily schedule to write.

It took me so many years to call myself a writer. It took me even longer to consider the fact that I am an author. The ability to claim, comfortably the authenticity of my own writing voice was a long and hard struggle. However, now that I know that I am a writer, the issue is not what to write, the issue is that making the time and space for the writing process to happen seems to be harder and harder to come by.

I need to write, to live!

So many of my posts have been about how tired I am of racism, sexism, racism again, etc. But this one, this blog right here, is about forcing myself to write again. Damn, who knew that as soon as I began to regulate my inner stress, find ways to love and take care of self, enjoy the down time and talk to my children every once in a while, be downright happy in my relationship (read marriage here) I would loose the ability to write. The one thing that has always given me a boost.

I think at this point the challenge is not about publications, and meeting scholarly deadlines (which for some reason is no longer possible for me), but now because I am caught up in the every day, my mind is bursting with material, shit I need to get rid of and out of my head. In other words, I am backed up in a way that only a writer can understand.  Then, if I am not careful, the thoughts and threads of my ideas begin to get garbled, confused and crossed and then it seems like it is too late to sort things out.

I need to write, already!

Words are starting to blend and morph into other things that make no sense, because the thought process is becoming inconsistent. Take for example this blog entry. It has taken me at least 5 sit downs, working on a paragraph here and a paragraph there to get to a point where I have something that I feel I can post. This is my current reality. I have found the methods to write in the past, but something has got to give. The writer in me is dying and I am performing triage right now. It took me way too long to get here and I refuse to go back, to go back to a moment when my voice was so low that I could not hear, recognize her strength, the beauty of her prose, the power of when her words came together and fit just so. I miss the rush of just writing and writing so hard at moments, that I get lost and then sit up, look back and read a bit and become amazed at myself and reminded just how good the rush of a good writing session is, have I really lost that?

I need to write, again!

Then I wonder, I wonder if the writing has stopped because I have changed. I am a different person now, I am a writer and an author. I have bigger things to consider, more expected of me and bigger expectations for myself.  Maybe writing was my means of survival, now it is a part of life, entwined in who I am and how I move through the world.  I need to write again, just after I cook dinner…

blog out.