Race-work, Race-love

Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Racial intimacy and the Rainbow: Is love just love?

In African American, Hispanic, Latina/o and race, Latino; Latina, New York City, race and Latinos, race and love, race work, race, love, Uncategorized on November 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Racial intimacy. Intimacy in general is such a scary word. Deep knowledge about race. Familiarity. A knowing glance. A look of affirmation. A deep understanding that there is a common and shared experience occurring. How does racial intimacy affect who we choose to love? Is it necessary?

Racial intimacy, I think, can often cloud the emotional lives (and loves) of women of color. A friend of mine and I were talking about dating not so long ago. We wondered why it seemed so much easier for men of color to date outside of their race than it felt like for women of color. As women of color we are simultaneously accused of being silly and lauded for historical racial understanding because we tend to be more loyal to men of color than men of color seem to be toward us. The feelings come up as a metaphorical slap in the face, punch in the stomach, or strike in the heart when we see men of color date outside of our particular race. At least, for some of us this is our initial reaction.

Some men of color report that love is love. But how can love just be love when we inherit very real trends in cross-racial desire? Policymaking prohibiting cross racial love, at one point made these decisions a very conscious one – sometimes actions that have cost the lives of Black and Latino men. Did they forget? Do they not know? Today, these actions seem to be more unconscious, aside from the stares or maybe even questions from our friends or families – there are fewer consequences to dating and loving across race. Hence today’s “love is love” theory.

Perhaps for these reasons, women of color feel that love cannot just be love. For women of color, we understand that we are the carriers of racial truth, of our cultures, of our histories. We desire love but, for some of us, our love has a racial dimension. Through our race, through our culture, we carry the stories of our mothers, our fathers, our ancestors, their languages, their sadness, their marks on their backs, their desires in their hearts. We inherit the stories of triumph, our very own cultural wealth, that remind us that we are the survivors of conquest and slavery. We bear a lot before we even have our own physical children.

Some of us seek racial intimacy. We seek that understanding, that racial/cultural specificity, that knowing glance, that sigh on the other end of the phone line when we describe the racist encounters at school, at work, on the train ride home. We seek that strength to be passed on to our children when they come to us and ask “Why did (insert racist encounter here) happen?” We hope that we won’t have to be alone to answer this question. But some of my sisters are.

In an article written by Jill Scott, she explains why there is an initial reaction when we see men of color dating white women. She describes that inner gut reaction that makes us wonder why? She got a backlash for describing this feeling – but it is so much more than a feeling. It is a tradition we see replayed over and over again in a world that is not racially conscious, where we have to live under the love is love credo because otherwise we all go crazy wondering, is he only dating me because of my skin color? Are we only dating men of color because of theirs?

Nothing is ever that simple. Especially love.

Being a race-conscious Latina, means that I am also race-conscious about dating and loving. Although I identify as a woman of color, I also am looked at oddly if I date outside my race-specific culture. But my race-consciousness is not just skin-deep. It is the race-connection, race-love, race-work that sometimes comes along with the skin color that I consciously choose. Can we engage in a conversation about race? Do you get just as hyped as I do when we see movies with racist themes, overt or subtle? Can we share that knowing glance, the shared sigh over coffee, or a joking nudge about race? Can we be racially intimate?

Some of us seek racial intimacy in our friendships, too. Being racially intimate with White allies begins with their understanding. They listen and learn and don’t say things like “It’s all in your head”. Perhaps the working on racial trust is a way to build racial intimacy.

Racial trust can be tricky. Even for race-workers. During a time I was dating an African American man, a colleague asked “How do you deal with the language issue?” The assumption here was that since I was raised by immigrant parents from a Spanish speaking country, that I also needed for my partner to be of the same linguistic background. I replied to her that while language was important to me, I did not feel it necessary for my partner to speak Spanish. As long as my partner was ok with me being who I am and he was willing to take the time to also learn some words in the language I grew up speaking, I was just fine with “the language issue”.

I thought this was a pretty healthy response. Until I told my partner about it.

My partner (at that time) was offended by the question and was even more confused by my answer. He could not understand why language was important to me. He explained that he had no idea that this was a value that I held. All I thought was, how could he not? I spoke in Spanish around him sometimes because that is the culture in which I live in. Going back and forth between Spanish and English was just the kind of world Latino New Yorkers grow up in. I thought he was fine with it until we had to be more specific and open about it. Racial trust wasn’t fully developed within this Black-Latina binary.

So racial intimacy is multi-dimensional. Skin-deep is just surface level conversations. Language, immigration status and other factors come into the mix. How do these factors shape our value for racial intimacy?

I wish love could just be love. But for some of us, specifically race-workers, we are very conscious of the history behind race-love, the consequences to our families, the conquest written all over our faces and skin color sometimes…all of this gets translated into the knowing glances, that nod of affirmation, that familiar sigh on the other end of the phone line when we describe the racist encounters at school, at work, on the train ride home…but is this enough? Or even necessary? Within our conversations, between women of color, we encourage each other to not stop ourselves from loving because the person who wants to love us happens to be outside of our particular race. But can we do this without that racial intimacy? Could these individuals be carriers of racial intimacy too?

Lady in purple: My love is too sanctified to have it thrown back on my face.
Lady in blue: My love is too magic to have it thrown back on my face.
Lady in orange: My love is too “Saturday Night” to have it thrown back on my face.
Lady in red: My love is too complicated to have it thrown back on my face.
Lady in green: My love is too music to have it thrown back on my face.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf — Ntozake Shange

That is race-love. Some of us wish love could just be love. My hope is, like my friend Elizabeth Bella Tarpley reminds me, that my rainbow is enuf.

A Tale of Two Novembers: The Ecuadorian Massacre of 1922 and the Mirabal Sisters

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I have quite often recovered pieces of Ecuadorian and Latin American history through literature. Being born in the United States, daughter of immigrant parents, I have the fortune of inheriting multiple histories, but the misfortune of not being formally taught Latino literature in school. When I discovered Latino literature, a whole new world opened up for me. For example, I learned  history from the Dominican Republic and Haiti through writers such as Julia Alvarez and Edwidge Danticat. I became familiar with Cuban, Mexican, and Puerto Rican history through Latino literature.

Ecuadorian literature was a little different – very few of its finest pieces are translated into English and thus less accessible to the US public and consequently – me. Still, I go hunting to recover pieces of my Ecuadorian history from the inspiration of Dominican, Haitian American and other writers with the hopes that one day this can be done for Ecuadorians, too. In this hunt, I learned about the importance of November. I learned about the murder of the Mirabal Sisters from the Dominican Republic and the largest massacre to occur, some would say, in Ecuadorian history – also known as Las Cruces Sobre el Agua or Ecuadorian Massacre of 1922.

The months of August, September, and October  mark  months in which many Latin American countries won their independence from Spain. Lesser known are days when battles for justice have been fought. November is an important month for Dominicans and Ecuadorians. Although not widely known, these stories of political struggle remind us of our collective responsibility to combat injustice everywhere even if it means death. These events are part of our social justice history. This work contributes to our genealogy of justice.

In the Dominican Republic, you have the infamous Mirabal sisters. Four sisters who are mythologized as Las Mariposas were said to be the beginning of the end of the Trujillo dictatorship. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic not only to was the champion of genocide and racial cleansing in the Dominican Republic; he was also the leader in the Massacre of 1937 in Haiti. He ruled the island for close to forty years. It is taught that the Mirabal Sisters developed an underground system to overthrow the dictator. Several failed attempts caused for the Trujillo dictatorship to uncover the work of Las Mariposas. No one knows exactly how they were murdered but the story is that the women were traveling from the prisons where their husbands were incarcerated for their political activism. After their visit, they were ambushed and killed. They were savagely killed and believed that they were led into an ambush. Their assassination occurred November 25th 1960.

The slaughter of the Mariposas, their murder, haunted their survivors and these survivors were inspired to continue to overthrow Trujillo. Trujillo was killed not too long after the murder of the Mirabal sisters. While there is much controversy over their lives and their participation in plans to overthrow Trujillo, they are best remembered for the beginning of the end of the demagogue Trujillo. They inspire all women, particularly Latinas, and remind us that our participation in revolution is necessary and an imperative.

Bloodshed is often the only way a government listens to a distressed people. Hiding this history gives the same government the opportunity to minimize the chance for a future revolt. Ecuador is no different. On November 15, 1922, workers in Ecuador protested the labor conditions under a dictatorship, regime-like government. During this protest, a struggle that united workers from across professions, countless Ecuadorians were killed and thrown in the River Guayas.

The president during that time was Jose Luis Tamayo. Ecuadorian economy depended on their cacao industry. The exploitation of obrereros of all kinds, but in particular agricultural obreros, was serving and enriching the monetary coffers of a political oligarchy – in which few families actually held power in Ecuador. Ecuadorian obreros and workers organized under the La Federación de Trabajadores Regional del Ecuador (FTRE). This union initiated the protests. Soon electrical, agricultural, and railroad workers joined the movement.

Before the protest they wrote a worker’s manifesto in which they charged the government with mistreatment of their people and provided a bill of rights to ensure that they gain protection. For three days they protested. There is much debate about what happened the third day. Some report that 20,000 people gathered to celebrate that the workers’ demands were met. Others report that President Tamayo ordered his military to kill the protesters. What is known is that this movement did not only consist of workers, but also their wives, their children, elderly people, and students. What is known is that the military did indeed fire at the crowd resulting in a massacre. Bodies were strewn everywhere and the military decided to throw the bodies in the River Guayas. It is reported that over 300 people were killed that day. Others report that the number of people killed that day was actually over 1500. The government says only 100 people were killed. Today, this protest for greater justice to workers is memorialized by placing crosses over the river. A cemetery in the river, thousands of bodies were left unknown. This memorial is called Las Cruces Sobre el Agua, or the Ecuadorian Massacre of 1922. Evidence of this history is written in literary form by Joaquín Gallegos Lara.

When one recovers a bit of their own culture history, an emotional roller coaster ensues. For one, you wonder why didn’t you know this already? Secondly, now that I know about this history, what can I do to make sure others learn about these two novembers, too? Finally, what lessons can we learn from these tragedies?

Not all of us can be an Edwidge Danticat or Julia Alvarez. Not all of us can find a piece of history and put a name like Steven Spielberg to a film with a historical theme to it and make it accessible. But I do hope that one day, even amongst smaller communities, we can make this information more available for others to learn, become more whole in our history of our people, and recognize that it is in our genes to continue to fight for racial justice and other forms of social justice. We are one with those ambushed, murdered, and slaughtered, like the Mirabal Sisters. We are one with those bodies in the River Guayas.

When did Kanye West become a racist?

In African American, Latino; Latina, race work, race, love, racism on November 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Something is rotten in the world today. Something is racially rotten when we can shame Black and Latin@ people to think they are racist for making racial accusations. How is it possible that Matt Lauer was able to shame Kanye West into believing he was racist because of the temper tantrum thrown at Taylor Swift and at the same time apologize to George Bush for stating that Bush doesn’t like Black people?

For a while I believed that this world was colorblind. I am not sure what this racial shame is about though. When for almost 30 years, we have now heard cries from dominant populations about reverse racism and today media shames Black people into believing that in fact Black people are racist. A racial accusation turned into a racial boomerang. Who ever smelt it dealt it kind of deal. Playground antics. If I accuse someone of racism, then that must mean I am a racist too. And I should be ashamed of pointing out Racist Truths. Or even implying them. A psychological and emotional lynching, when now Black, Brown, and White allies can be hung for pointing out the simple and plain Racist Truth. What strange fruit will we see hung in today’s age of racism?

Our miner’s canary here is found in the media. I take examples in media because my students, as many of us, are in touch and receive messages from this medium. They tell me what they see and I go out to investigate. The examples provided in this post come from The Real Housewives of DC, Matt Lauer’s interview with Kanye West, and The View.

On the Real Housewives of DC, a cast member — Stacie Turner — implies another white female cast member, Cat Ommanney, of being racist because of Ommanney’s discomfort around Black people. However, this is not the only reason. The host of this event, Andy Cohen, also asks about Ommanney’s description of Black people as “colored people”. All the while, Turner, a Black woman, defends herself and retorts that she never accused Ommanney of being “that word” (i.e. racist). Turner keeps saying “that word” as if saying the word “racist” would imply that Turner is the racist for accusing Ommanney of being one.

Real Housewives of DC — on Ommanney and Turner conflict

In the Kanye West example, Matt Lauer asks West about his (and many others) frustration over the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. West stated that Bush does not like Black people. Five years later, Lauer reminds him of this incident, tells West of an angered Bush who did not “appreciate” being called a racist and says to West the following: “You did take it across the line and you said, you made it a little more sinister that the federal response to Katrina was because of race”. While West grapples with this question Lauer continues to shame West by telling him and later showing him how affected Bush was by West’s statement that Bush doesn’t like Black people. West replies he knows how Bush must have felt because he was accused of being a racist because of his temper tantrum toward Taylor Swift. Lauer shames. West takes. West tries to retort. Lauer shames again. Having his morning show as his podium, Lauer continues to explain his perspective and magically makes it “our perspective”.

How did this happen? When did Matt Lauer become the authority on race?

While not specifically abut race, in a similar instance, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set of their show “The View” after Bill O’Reilly accused Muslims of murder in the World Trade Center bombings. This rationale, O’Reilly believes, is the reason why there shouldn’t be a mosque in the area. Hearing this anti-Muslim rhetoric caused for Goldberg and Behar to walk off their set. Barbara Walters immediately chastised Goldberg and Behar saying that should never have happened in their show.

In the latter two instances, the people doing the chastising were the journalists. The ones with the mics. The ones who could perhaps sympathize with their brethren being accused of racism.

And in today’s day and age, they are the media – the ones with some power.

West, Goldberg, and Behar all had to defer to them because after all the show belongs to Lauer and Walters. In the first example, Turner had no idea how to handle the accusation that she accused someone of being a racist. Despite Andy Cohen bringing in more support for Turner’s response, Turner is too ashamed to even use the word “racist”.

There is something more that just the physical symbol of power (i.e. Matt Lauer and Barbara Walters) going on here. And it goes beyond White people fear of being accused of being racists. Not only do they fear being accused of being racist but now some people are shaming those who accuse them.

What kind of racial hunt is this?

On the one hand, I think it is healthy for White people to feel remorse or guilt or fear of being accused of racism. Racism is not a good thing, to put it mildly. So being accused of being one should not feel good, either. But for these individuals in power, those accused of racism, have allies who can help them shame their accusers. So Bush does not have to go on a rant about how bad he felt for West’s accusation. Instead he has Matt Lauer, a journalist who is respected and viewed by millions to do it for him. Bill O’Reilly could say that the walk out was great because Walters after all did her share of shaming her co-hosts too.

Then we hear the backlash – should Kanye West retract his statement? Should Goldberg and Behar have walked off? Should Turner have accused Ommanney of not being comfortable around Black people?

Media, like education and religion, has become a powerful tool in letting us know who has authority. Journalists embody and share the values embedded in media. Like dictionaries, journalists like Lauer and Walters can reinforce beliefs, state definitions, reproduce inequalities, and now even shape who is a racist and who is not. And the viewing audience adheres to their authority rather than question these journalists own racial intentions. If they can shame others into calling people racists or walk off stages for making racist comments, then they themselves are in some way protected from being called racists too – because then NO one can be called a racist.

What is the Racial Truth here?

I will venture to say that these journalists don’t even know what racism is. Additionally, neither do people like West and Turner. If they did, perhaps they would reflect on how the phrase is used and may not be scared to use or defend the term. Many of these people understand racism to be a “feeling” and not an action. They do not understand that racial systemic power is held by White people in power. Those who look like them but feel they have no power sometimes subconsciously contribute if they are not racially conscious.

So here Lauer is going by the feelings – “I want you to look at his face…this is the most emotional he [Bush] got .. just asking you if you look at his face what would you say to him?” It is obvious that Lauer is determined to shame West and castigate him into an apology. Even though West already gave one.

It is highly important to problematize West’s response and Turner’s comments and Goldberg’s and Behar’s actions. But I believe that is as equally important, if not more so, to problematize Lauer’s interview, Walter’s response, and Turner’s castmate ‘s reactions as well. These are people in the position to authorize who is a racist and who is not. Why? Because we, as an audience allow them to without ever questioning these journalists. And if we do, it is in the comfort of our own homes. Or we think, who is going to listen to them anyway? But many people do. Journalists, regardless of racial consciousness, are respected.

Still among this group, there have been journalists who have engaged in truth-telling. Some journalists are race-workers. But rarely do these journalists get the opportunities that people like Lauer and Walters do.

Lauer’s racial castigation of West, masked as journalist protocol, is more difficult to problematize or dissect. Lauer is under the veil of professionalism. Lauer is protected by his continued presence in the lives of many directed in many homes. Lauer is responsible for racial shame – what he calls “hub-bub” at the end of the interview.

Racial shame. Racial castigation. On Black and Brown people? On White allies? What is happening here?

Folks being accused of racism can’t just say you know what let me think about that for a minute. Let me talk to some people who study race, who talk about race, who understand this a bit more than I do and see why they think I am being called a racist. If you heard this accusation once, maybe it is not a big deal. But if you heard this accusation a couple more times after that, perhaps there is something to inquire about, don’t you think?

And for my Brown and Black brothers and sisters and White allies in the struggle for racial justice, it is time we help lift this veil of racial shame and talk to each other openly about what race means in America. We need a Ghetto Messiah

We need race-workers to work with our brothers and sisters in journalism, the media, film, etc to help them understand what the terms race and racism really mean and not what they think these term can mean. We have to educate people like Kanye West to help him explain his stance back in the day without having to completely depart from his original statement. We have to stop hiding within this veil of “diversity” and “multiculturalism” when some of us really mean race! To have a racial lens does not mean you have a negative perspective. KKK members and subtle racists have ruined our ability to see that a racial lens is a lens, a perspective, a way to encourage others to think a bit more about how we identify ourselves and each other — how this society structures our opportunities and our outcomes. The Racial Truth, the Racial Divine is what we seek to make our society more whole. Rather than evade it, we should use it to better understand all people in this society. We all have the racial lens – we just don’t know how to use it, have been shamed into seeing through it, don’t understand it, and continue to scratch it out.

Scholars and writers, even Chief Justice Sotomayor have been shamed into adding their racial/cultural perspective into their work. There is a fine line between hiding and feeling ashamed (see Portia de Rossi on Oprah) and those of us who are interested in understanding race and talking about it need to help others not feel ashamed to do the same things. In order to confront racism, we have to know what it is before we dismantle it, live with it, change it, endure it. In so doing, we continue true race-work, engaged by Black, Brown, and White allies not the kind of racial shame that Matt Lauer is imposing on the likes such as Kanye West.

My final question: Did you hear Lauer do the same thing to Bush?

And you won’t either.

There is a lot of race-work to be done out there gente. Let’s get to it.

Radical Thinkers: Hopeful Artists

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Artists. Some people write, paint, sing, cook, talk, dance for a living. Those who do it well are often deemed artists. These people perform their art to activate, inspire, motivate, create. They don’t keep it to themselves. They share, teach, preach, and love what they do – despite cynics around them.

There are poets like Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz. She is known as the first feminist of the Americas. A seventeenth century nun living in Mexico (New Spain at the time) her desire was to study and learn. Stuck between being a hooker or a wife (adult options for women at the time), she chose to be a nun. She didn’t want to be a nun. In fact, she questioned religion all the time. She fought to be a nun because the other alternatives would not have allowed her to learn. So what happens to women living in the seventeenth century who question men and their society around them? They get accused of being cynical, inappropriate, sinful. Eventually the powers that be burned her library down and made her promise to stop writing about secular issues. Despite all this, she left behind valuable and inspiring work.

When I think about the limitations imposed on women of color, in particular those in the ivory tower, the academy, I think of Sor Juana.

There are artists like Frida Kahlo. She digs in her gut and puts on display the gut-wrenching moments in her life that women understand but have a difficult time sharing. Often called harsh, difficult, tortured – Kahlo still inspires others to do the same. Go in your gut. Explore what is in there. Share with others. Encourage others to do the same. Put it on display.

When I think about race-work, I think of the painful gut-wrenching moments in our society that people want to continue to sweep under the rug, call it the past and say it is not worth exploration, say things like I don’t see color so move it along, and call those who do see disparities depressing. I think of Frida, who wasn’t afraid to show her gut and make people face that gut. Her work helps us explore that “funk” – as Dr. Cornel West would put it.

There are artists like the Black Panthers and The Young Lords. They took protest and power to the people to a whole other level. Not only did they fight for a better more just society for Black and Brown people, they also worked to provide school breakfast and lunches for low-income children, tutoring to young people, and distributed information to the community about what their current rights were and what their potential rights could be.

When I think about taking writing, talking, and educating to another level, I think of them. When I think about how our history books, government, and people tarnish if not obliterate this part of history because they misunderstood these two groups, I think of them. They weren’t afraid to serve their communities armed with information and at the same time arming themselves from a government all too willing to help us self-destruct – economically, socially, academically. I think about the power of groups – the people – when I think of the Black Panthers and The Young Lords.

Back in the day, it was unlikely and difficult to keep up with these artists. Unless you knew them personally, your connection to them was through their works of art. Today, in the age of the internet and Facebook, you can follow these artists. And you learn in more detail why they work on their art. Tim Wise, for example, teaches me about White Allies, people who show their racial-gut and share their work to help others along an anti-racist agenda. Others like Miriam Jimenez Roman continue to teach Latin@s and everyone else about the Afro-Latin@ community. Another one is Roberto Lovato, journalist, writer, activist whose personal background (being from El Salvador) has made him a champion for the education of Central American issues and the ways in which the US has contributed to the country’s painful deterioration. Out of the rubble comes out a writer whose work brings out the gut of the US’s shameful hand in the economic and social destruction of Latin America.

Indeed, his work is sometimes hard to read. He has coined the term Juan Crow to help us understand the current state of undocumented immigrants in the US. His stance on the Obama administration is also a rather difficult one to digest. Pointing out how destructive the administration’s policies are on certain groups is radical information to me. Until a conversation I had with him recently, I didn’t understand why he would be so against another personal hero of mine. Too radical perhaps for me, I was probably accusing him of the same things that people have accused me of – too depressing, too sad, to cynical.

Radical. Revolution. Report. Respect. React. Race. Work. Love.

Lovato provided me with a little bit of what his opinion was on the Obama administration, why he points out the ills of the administration, why we are blind as a people to information that might help us rethink our opinions.

Radical right? God forbid we should have more information to better inform our opinions.

I often hear that radical thinkers are often cynical, negative, doomed. Instead, what I learned in this conversation was that while some people have hope in one man, he has hope in the people. Given the right information, people might possibly even react, revolutionize, demand. He firmly believes that if more people understood what exactly was happening (which probably be more apparent in a McCain administration) then perhaps the people would finally revolt, take charge and change things. Bring us “back into balance” as he writes in his latest article.

So in the end who was the more cynical one? Me, who has little hope that THE PEOPLE would change, demand, react and placed so much hope in ONE MAN. Perhaps because the people have disappointed me. Perhaps because picking up on some of the work would be time consuming. Or maybe because I still believe that this one man can do it all.

This thought – a hope placed in a community of well-informed people — gave me hope in a different way. I realized that “radical” thinkers are not so fatalistic as we are often taught to believe. In fact, this is the total opposite: they have more faith than we give them credit for. They are the ones that truly understand that one man cannot do it all – and that by putting our faith in one person – we are relieved as a people to do less work. We put the blinders on — we want to believe that this individual can create miracles , heroify him, put him on a pedestal, bring him down when he makes mistakes, and wipe our hands clean of the mess left behind.

Lovato, like the other artists mentioned, help us identify ways we heroify individuals at the expense of our own created fantasies of how we would like things to be rather than face how things actually are. They help us put our gut on display. They distribute. They talk. They write.

They recognize the dangers of heroification. And at some level, we “the people” know this too. We do this in many areas in our lives. Love-relationships, mentorship, even putting these artists themselves on pedestals – call them heroes too.

In essence, the work of the artist, then, is of vast importance. Understanding the limits and questioning society and one’s own profession (as Sor Juana did), do some gut-wrenching work, some down and dirty funk created by our society (allowed by us) and putting it on display (like Frida Kahlo did) putting all this information and spreading it like wild fire (like the Black Panthers and The Young Lords did). And then creating the space and dialogue between individuals who wish to continue this work – one who knows more to one who desires to know more and start all over again.

Creating new knowledge is the work of artists. Passing along that information is also part of the work. Acknowledging what is today, is the precursor to our imagination to what could be and allows us to move forward in Racial Truth. To recreate our Racial Divine.

But that is my hope. My race-love. My race-work.

“For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf” — the movie

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2010 at 11:05 am

“For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”. The movie.


I think those of us who read the book in college would have never guessed this day was coming. Tyler Perry, went beyond Madea and used his Hollywood Prowess to bring to light another writer’s important work in colored girl history. Those of us who were too scared to define ourselves out loud back then walked into the movie as women of color — nervous and scared — but intrigued – how was Tyler Perry going to pull off this choreopoem? A play is one thing, but a movie?

I went to the 7:35 pm movie on opening night. Believing that the movie was going to be played in one of the larger theaters, I held spaces in the line for my sisters and friends 1.5 hours before the movie started. I was disappointed to see that the movie theater I frequented didn’t think FCG would sell enough seats. The movie was held in one of the smaller movie theaters.

Standing in line, you could tell who read the book. The ones that did, whispered to each other, talked nervously, wondered aloud about Tyler Perry and his motives for re-imaging the choreopoem into a movie. When I asked some of the women why, I was told “It’s Tyler Perry honey. It’s Tyler Perry.”

I laughed. I got it. I felt the same way.

The ones who did not read the book, just found out it was. “Really?” was heard a couple of times.

Surveying the crowd, the majority were Black women, then Black men, and I might venture to say that my friends and I were the only Latinas in the small theater that seated 140 (we were told).

When the 5 o’clock movie let out, many of the audience members were crying. Phenomenal, some said. Wonderful. You’ll cry. And cry some more, some said.

These comments made all the people standing in line even more nervous – even the ones who didn’t read it! I was asked “ Is it going to be that deep?”

The book absolutely is deep. Hits you in your core. The title itself makes an impact. But I couldn’t be too sure about the movie.

Tyler Perry had a lot to live up to – many expectations to confront. It became clear to me that I could not go in the movie thinking that I was going to expect the book. For one, I am a different person then I was at 20. I was beginning to confront my identity as a woman of color then – as a Latina woman of color – engaged in the nascent stages of race work in a world caught within a Black and White war. Brown was drowned out. No matter how loud, persistent, insistent I was the war I encountered was between long standing structures. I chose to align myself with Black. Colored. Civil Rights. Affirmative Action. Opportunity programs. Marches. Protests.

Within that history I found Brown history as well – but it was minimal and I had to chase it. Recover as much as I could.

That is how I encountered the book.

I am encountering the movie as a woman of color living in the 21st century, tired with racial battle fatigue, contributor to race-work through education, having experienced many heartbreaks of my own at this point. As a young woman of color, I identified with issues that were exposed by the young woman in the book. As a adult woman, I identified with many of the adult women in the book.

Despite the movie not living up to the book, I feel strongly that it should be seen. Now, I am not sure if the movie is supposed to live up to the choreopoem.

Still, the movie is important symbolically – the book is finally out of our dusty shelves and within reach to many people. The movie is important historically – it paints the picture of life in the seventies for women of color facing all sorts of abuse (by each other and with men). The movie is important politically – it creates a space for discussion about the racial designations 40 years ago and today, a conversation between younger and older women about what it means to be a woman of color today, and the hope that more women will create more work like FCG. The movie is just important – it brings to life the words that were so powerful when I first read the words in the book.

All of this does not mean that the movie succeeded in living up to the book. And its flaws make me wonder if it was intentionally done that way. The book had few moments of laughter – if there were any moments they were knowing smiles, sarcastic laughter, or wonderment of what the future could bring. The movie had too many moments where I wondered “Should I be laughing right now?” and I couldn’t decide whether Tyler Perry created these moments because heartbreak on film is often harder to watch than to read.

Additionally, the themes were very time-specific – yet they were portrayed in a very modern world. This was a little jarring to see as well.

Finally, Perry made the mistake of evoking characters from other movies into the characters in this film (e.g. Whoopi Goldberg bearing a resemblance to Celie in the Color Purple). These moments should have caused more thought provoking sentiments – the idea that the manifestation of racism in women, particularly if you are a Black woman in the US, can be similar whether you were born in the early 20th century or latter half. This historical trend is very interesting to explore. Instead, these moments caused laughter in the audience, some nervous, some just straight up funny. At inappropriate moments, the laughter seemed to be only encouraged by Perry himself.

I would like to give Perry the benefit of the doubt and think that he knew the book was heart-wrenching and why he chose to insert those moments of laughter. After all, reading about abuse is not easy. Even when disguised as a poem. A poem adequately portrays the process of abuse. Broken moments of trying to understand what happened over and over again. A film has to flow. Abuse does not flow. It is disruptive. It creates chaos. It breaks your heart. How can that be put on film?

Perhaps the flow can be created through laughter. While I am not sure Perry executed these moments appropriately or intentionally all the time, at the end of the day he had to do something to help us survive the film.

I also think the actors all played their parts extremely well. Yes, even Janet Jackson. Usually her flat demeanor in her roles are disturbing – but her flat tones actually worked in FCG – except when the role begged her to be different. She spoke aloud how “un-flat” she would be by describing to her husband how she will react due to her heartbreak – but couldn’t actually do it. Still, I thought it worked.

I wondered if the actresses read FCG when they were younger. I think about Phylicia Rashad and Whoopi Goldberg – the oldest ones in the ensemble — I wondered if they understood the women in the book because maybe just maybe — they were them at some point too.

The biggest reason why I support this movie: because it brought attention to a piece of work that is canonical for some of us – that as women of color we will always treasure in our libraries. That we have the book that predated the new and improved cover today with Tyler Perry’s name on it now. Movies, whether we like it or not, have the ability to bring this kind of obscure work to a larger audience. And while Perry may not be a favorite for some, you cannot discount the power he has to bring in an audience. And this work is too valuable to be kept in our shelves. Too valuable.

My hope is that this piece will inspire women to say ‘Wait a minute – we don’t look at rape that way anymore” or “Abortion has a different place in our lives now”. Ntozake Shange did an excellent job describing the issues that were present in the 1970’s. But in the 21st century – while we may be dealing with the same basic issues – they are also handled differently. And perhaps a young woman, or many women, watching the movie, can say “I want to write something like that for my generation”.

My biggest disappointment in the movie actually had nothing to do with the movie at all. So excuse my departure for a moment.

As in most movies that depict a “racial” theme, previews of future movies are provided within the same genre. So here comes a “Latin@/Mexican” themed film called From Prada to Nada. The preview was riddled with Mexican-American stereotypes, Latin@ buffoonery, and an instant laughter from the audience. For a pain – full 5 to 7 minutes (which seemed like forever) my sisters and friends and I were left with our mouths open. And we all turned to look at each other and said – “No, we don’t have a Tyler Perry – that’s for sure”.

It is one thing to laugh with a movie because you can identify or say damn did he really have to put that out there about our people? It is another to laugh at a movie because of straight up stereotypes.

We don’t have a Tyler Perry in our Latin@ community. We look to books and leaders in the Black community and share in their inspiration. There is no one trying to put Sandra Cisnero’s House on Mango Street in film or Junot Diaz’s Drown or Piri Thomas’s Down these Mean Streets. Instead we have Beverly Hills Chihuahua and From Prada to Nada. I guess Edward James Olmos could only do so much and was only accepted so much in the film industry.

So as a Latina, woman of color, a race-woman – I can’t say enough about the importance of people like Tyler Perry. I know I know I know – he needs to depict more Black women (and men for that matter) in a better light. I know. But supporting films like FCG can perhaps inspire him and other directors to bring out books out of their shelves once and for all and inspire others to do the same with their works. Perhaps it will inspire some of my Brown brothers and sisters to do the same. Perhaps it will inspire Tyler Perry to stop buffoning us with Sofia Vergara type characters and instead look at films for our community too.

Needless to say, we shouldn’t look to Tyler Perry to do this for our Brown communities. Tyler Perry and Edward James Olmos can only do so much.

We can’t say that we have the same in our communities. If you want to see real buffoonery, go see From Prada to Nada. If you want to see more, go see Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

Did Tyler Perry give justice to the book? No – but did he bring it out of our shelves – YES! And now maybe more people will read the book (I am certainly making my students do so).

And for my Brown brothers and sisters out there – who among us is the next Tyler Perry? Who among us will work to bring our beloved books out of our dusty shelves?

There is a lot of race-work to be done out there…we gotta have enough race-love to do it.

From Heartbreak to Heroes: Lessons Between Revenge and Redemption

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Heroes are made out of broken hearts. This lesson is often a hard one to learn. Despite the many examples we have witnessed over time, until we have had our own hearts broken – we cannot feel the impending triumph.

How does one move after a suffering from a broken heart? The choices sometimes seem bleak. Stuck between revenge and redemption (as my sister calls it) we often seek revenge. I’ve been on the receiving end of the call to revenge once. “Your-man-was-with-me-this-whole-time” type of call. And when I hung up the phone I not only felt bad for me, but I felt bad for her because she chose revenge rather than using all that energy to devote to her personal redemption.

Sad. “Wasted Talent”A Bronx Tale

We see this in politics. People get angry that undocumented students are getting a benefit they think they deserve and are not getting. People get angry that affirmative action exists. So they protest, change policies, and then wait for the next time they feel politically taken advantage of. Note to self: When people in power get angry, they change laws.

The link between these two examples is that in each case, they felt personally offended by a situation they may or may not have had enough information. In both cases, they did not plan their attack based on trying to find a solution for everyone involved. They were directly involved in trying to hurt the ones from who they felt hurt. And they effectively get what they want.

For those of us in the business of personal/political redemption, how do we move from a personal/political heart break?

According to books on heartbreak, we are often told to let go of the past.

I think this idea needs to be modified a bit. I think we have to review the past, learn from its lessons, accept that it is the past, and understand the new reality.

Mourn. Sometimes warriors need the space and time to reflect on what happened. Healing is necessary. And that is hard for some of us. Some of us are considered to be the strong ones. The president of the country is supposed to have the face of bravery – and if he shows weakness we get upset. Our families, similarly, may be taken aback when they see the warrior in their families retreat. But sometimes the warrior needs to rest, too. When the warrior has been in battle for so long, keeping up the mask of bravery becomes the last thing they want to do. Warriors need rest too.

We are also taught to surround ourselves with friends. Coalition building, in this sense, is key. Talk to people who share similar views. Figure out your strengths, their strengths.

Volunteer. Using these strengths, what can you contribute to the others’ needs? It can be as small as a social worker who brings a group of her girlfriends together to talk, or an educator forming a book club for her students. A dancer putting an exercise program for young people. An expert in finance, sharing her expertise to others on how to be financially responsible, or a pastry chef making baked goods for her neighbors. These are how heroes are made out of heartbreak.

Come up with a plan. Is your goal revenge or redemption? If it is redemption, personal/political salvation, figure out what is left to salvage? What is there to liberate? Sometimes we see the larger issues looming ahead of us – as someone who has written on in-state tuition policies and undocumented immigrants, I feel a personal responsibility to sharing information on this little known policy. So every time I am asked to speak on a panel, I always try to insert that information.

It may not cancel out the disastrous repeal of these benefits. But I try.

After a personal heartbreak, I asked my friend, ‘Why is this happening to me?” I will never forget what she said: “Because one day my daughter may go through the same thing and she may need you to help her get through a similar experience.”

Indeed, we live in a world where all we want is to eradicate the bad and never feel the pain. Acceptance that pain is inevitable, whether personal or political, is part of the process. We may be called to task too. We may be called to discuss how to overcome this current political climate. Why is this happening to our people? What can we do about it?

“Your own healing is the greatest message of hope for others” – Julia Cameron , The Artist’s Way

Many have done it before us. Segregation is a political heartbreak. Lynchings were disastrous. Anti-immigrant sentiment has turned violent. But our country has seen these things before. What can we learn from those who helped identify these problems, bring visibility to these issues to the public, help legislate policies to stop the perpetuation of these issues, and continue to stand strong in the face of opposition? We can also learn from those in power – not resort to their revenge tactics – but definitely understand some of their ways that allow them to continue their power, their movement.

In my work, I am directly faced with the next generation. Before I leave my office I remind them “Leave the office better than how you found it!”

Better? I thought it was the same? – I get this many times.

I tell them “Better!”

In a similar way, we need to leave our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, our worlds, better than how we found them.

There are the people who want revenge. The “They don’t deserve it because *insert population of choice here (e.g. undocumented, poor, etc)*” camp. They seek payback, they want to settle scores, they are out for themselves and those who look like them.

And then there are some of us that want redemption. The “They deserve it because they are human like me and you” camp. They seek release, emancipation, liberation.

Yes. Heroes can be made out of heartbreak.

Latina — a story of continued racial/ethnic construction

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2010 at 11:06 am

On November 1st, 2010, I posted this message on Facebook:
Dear world: Please stop calling people of Latin American descent “Latin”. Latin is a language not an ethnic designation. Just like I don’t call people who speak English “English”. Same goes for Spanish. Some of us have never been to Spain. Thanks world for listening.

On November 2nd, I received this response:
“This post is wrought with contradictions. Latin is used as a noun and an adjective. One of the definitions of Latin is “n. -A member of a Latin people, especially a native or inhabitant of Latin America.” Which you effectively admit when you call them people of Latin American descent. As an adjective it describes the same people as in “adj. -of or relating to the countries or peoples using languages, especially Spanish, that developed from Latin; of or relating to the peoples or countries of Latin America”
Though not ethnic, English IS, in fact a designation and so is Spanish. Which you concede by the implication that some of us have never been to Spain and are therefore probably not Spanish. The contradiction exists in your distinction between language and geography. A distinction which you affirm in one sentence and exclude in the next.
Another contradiction exists in the claim that your term is based on heritage one moment but then not in the next.

It would be wrong to call an Albanian a China-man. It would even be more silly to call him a kangaroo. Ultimately what you are dealing with is language. What word do you use to describe any given group of people and based on what criteria? No one deserves to be called something they are not and it is certainly wrong to offend anyone by calling them something derogatory, but if you’re going to argue purely on the basis of semantics I just think you need a better case”.

At an immediate glance, this response is a provocative one. The respondent’s use of the dictionary as his source of authority, use of derogatory descriptions such as “China-man”, and the ways in which he interpreted a short Facebook message to be an argument based on semantics while at the same time claiming I used other factors to support my request (i.e. language, geography, heritage), makes for an interesting attempt of a well-thought out response. This response, while limited, is probably a reaction or response many would have on this topic and why it is useful to continue exploring. Particularly because, semantically speaking, conversations on definitions of particular terms such as Latino/a or Hispanic during times of racial, economic, and political changes in our society are useful debates to have – a limitation of all dictionaries.

Despite all of this, the respondent does identify some interesting points. The respondent relays three important areas that can help address the Latino/a experience: language, geography, and heritage. The respondent uses these issues to say that these reasons, although not explicit, were ineffective because they contradicted each other. Then he concludes by reducing my request to not be referred as a “Latin” person to an issue of semantics. Semantics, in the respondent’s mind, is the wrong reason for my personal request to not be identified as Latin.

Essentially, I am being asked to provide a case to define myself (and others in my racial/ethnic group) using someone else’s standards. Broadly, this poses interesting questions: how does one define a Latino/a? How do Latinos/as define themselves? According to the respondent, Latinos/as should not define themselves, at least not by standards Latinos might want to attempt to create. No. Instead, we should look to the dictionary and find out how “they” define “us”.

The respondent continues the process of oversimplifying the power and perhaps importance of designation. He uses the example of an Albanian who shouldn’t be identified as a chinaman (a derogatory racial term) and then an animal (kangaroo). The extremes between a racial slur and being categorized as an animal is very historical. The founding fathers felt the same way about Black people in the U.S. Black people were defined by a derogatory term (the n-word) and being 2/3 human and 1/3 animal. So are these the parameters we should use? And if we do use these parameters should we ignore all the factors in between?

Or should these be the precise reasons why people who have been historically oppressed in this country have the ability to define themselves, before a dictionary (or the people who wrote it) can?

Ultimately this is a perfect example of how people in dominant cultures or populations want to define, create parameters for that definition, and impose this thinking on others.

Rather than allow us to define ourselves, we are told “Go ahead define yourselves, but make sure that definition matches OUR standards and meets OUR approval”. But who has the authority to define a people? Who has the power to create designations? A dictionary? Perhaps we, those of us who want to think and create our own labels, should start asking people “Who makes you the authority in defining us?” Maybe I should start requesting ID’s.

“Let us see your ID” says Ice Cube to a campus police officer in Higher Learning.

This respondent might then argue and state that he has no political power. He is not a politician and he didn’t write the dictionary. Right?

And here we meet the power of education. This is the precise moment where education comes in and reminds us who is in power and who is not; who historically has had the power to define and who has not; who can say who is a human and who is not. So that one does not have to hold that power per se, but simply be aligned with, look like, talk the same way, and express similar sentiments as those who do.

Education provides the tool of language, for those in dominant populations, to assert power without overtly doing it. The respondent exemplifies this when he says “No one deserves to be called something they are not and it is certainly wrong to offend anyone by calling them something derogatory, but if you’re going to argue purely on the basis of semantics I just think you need a better case”.

So the question is why not? I could provide a historical, economic, political, racial perspective on why the term Latin is not appropriate. Perhaps that will be for another paper (and here begs another question – will people take the time to read such a paper?). But before I do that, I would like to know why Education has empowered certain groups of people and certain books (e.g. dictionaries) to be authorities in how I wish to define myself or how I may propose we should designate a group to which I belong?

Here are my parameters: Tell me what you have done to advance a population of Hispanic/Latino people. I hear some people say “Well what more can I do — I know some words in Spanish, learned a few dances, and eat some “Latin” food, and some of my best friends are Hispanic. What else is there?”

Contributing to the political, economic, educational uplift of Hispanic/Latino/a people. Exploring with others ways to provide better opportunities for historically disenfranchised, and the continued disenfranchisement of this group. I think it is ok to start there.

Maybe I should start requesting ID’s. The same way we are asked to prove our credentials. How well would that work?

The difference between those of us who quote the dictionary and those of us who use the dictionary as one of many sources, is the ability to create new thoughts, new knowledge. I respect the dictionary. But I also respect the works of Latino/a intellectuals who have argued for and defended against the oversimplification of a racial/ethnic designations. Some thinkers believe that Latino or Hispanic is still not good enough because the term provide allegiance to European influence and domination while neglecting African and Native heritages. In this debate, many others would prefer the term Hispanic and not Latino/a. It is time to put all these thoughts together and continue the conversation. Continue the knowledge. Continue the race-work.

To begin, it is important, and perhaps easier, to identify what we are not.

I argue that the term Latin is being dangerously used as Oriental was once used. As an ornament, a rug, a salsa dance, a latin dance, a latin food, a latin people – objects in our society. I am not saying I am right or wrong, I am just calling it like I see it. And I am not comfortable with what I see.

I argue that Hispanic/Latino is still not a good enough term. Neither of these designations give visibility to my African and Native heritage. Instead I am being miseducated about what it means to be Latin American – that we can only possibly come from a people who speak Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. What about Quechua, Nahual, Aymara? What of the African languages lost due to Spanish and European domination?

For now, Latino/a will do. For now, Latino/a helps identify people with some common experiences in the United States, often descendants of Latin Americans, often speaking Spanish, very often being identified by Others.

And if none of that helps, in Spanish the letter “o” is used to designate men, and “a” for women. Hence Latino or Latina and not Latin. Of course — for simplicity’s sake.

There are no final answers in these questions. But as the Latino/a population continues to grow, there is a continuing need for more Latino/a intellectuals to enter this debate. Other allies who can contribute to the discussion. Other thinkers to educate us on this argument. That is the beauty of scholarship.

But for now, if you are going to identify me by a racial/designation, don’t call me Latin. I am not a food. I am not a dance.

I am ok with Latina — until my colleagues and I get together to come up with a better term. And we may entertain dictionary entries, but understand we are going to question who wrote that dictionary and will consult other sources as well.

That is how I do race-work.

That is what I mean by race-love.

The First Time I Read “Drown”: Normalizing the Race-Worker

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 11:26 am

I remember the first time I read Junot Diaz’s book Drown in college. A Dominican-American writer, there was not one italicized word in sight.

Not one.

Not when the word was in Spanish. Not one when it was in Spanglish. No explanation. No translation.

This book was for us primarily, for the rest of the world secondarily.

I oddly felt at home in literature. For the first time, I felt like I could belong in the literary world.

For years I was reading The Babysitters Club and The Sweet Valley High Twins. I went to high school and had to read books like Catcher in the Rye and For Whom the Bell Tolls (to name a few).

Then I took a class in college during my junior year. A Latino Literature course at Brandeis University. Actually it was called Latin American Literature in Translation. We all knew it was not in translation at all. This literature was written by Latinos/as in English. Latinos/as like me.

This class made me feel like I was in our own kind of Romper Room. Do you remember? When they called every name at the end and you kept wanting to hear your name but never did? Maybe because your name wasn’t Anglo enough?


But I did find this name in Latino/a literature. And my friends’ names too. It felt great.

It felt even better to be in a room full of Latinos who appreciated these books too. The power of critical mass in higher education. Makes me wonder if this is the reason why policymakers deter this from happening…

In that class we learned many things. There, we had a lesson in literature. We also discovered how people other-ed Latinos. One student, a non-Spanish speaking student complained that she couldn’t understand Diaz’s book Drown. When the professor asked her why , she said because Diaz did not translate a particular word. When we looked at the word, we discovered the word was in English – she just did not know its meaning. Rather than feel like she didn’t know something, she chose to blame it on the Spanish-speaking-guy-who-wrote-a-book-she-has-to-read-but-can’t-understand.

Good Lord. Do we laugh or do we get angry at this?

So no italics. No where in sight. And I knew this was where I belonged. This was what I wanted to do. For Ecuadorians. For Latinos. For my students. To make one more person feel comfortable in academia.

Those of us who did not grow up with The New York Times at home or discussions around the table about the news on CNN, those of us who come from the worlds where parents had to work double shifts, graveyard shifts, books were minimal, conversations were scarce, those of us who come from these worlds and also enter the world of the academy – we live in two worlds. We don’t feel totally comfortable in either, but know we belong nowhere else. Part of this comfort level is acceptance of our personal backgrounds and bringing it to the light, not hiding our personal stories from the world.

This era of colorblindness has done a wonderful job at making people feel bad about being people of color. We are shamed into feeling good about being Latino/a or Black or Asian. We hear rhetoric like “I don’t want people to think I’m in college just because I am Latina” — but you never hear a white kid saying that. Ever. Some of my students , who attend a private institution, are ashamed of being known for coming from a low-income background. We are shamed into hiding.

“There is a fine line between hiding and feeling ashamed” (Portia de Rossi on Oprah).

Our current climate of colorblindness makes us walk this line.

We used to live in an era where slogans like “Black is Beautiful” and “Viva la Raza!” were accepted and sung and written and said like mantras. Today, our race-love has diminished into shame. And our young people are being punished for it.

So when I read books by Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Sandra Cisneros, Sofia Quintero, Ernesto Quiñonez, Toni Morrison, (to name a few) I am reminded of the power of personal stories , the audacity of telling them, and the pride instilled in those who read them.

It’s how we do our race-work.

It’s how we promote our race-love.

One On 1: Author Junot Diaz Translates Local Immigrant Experience Into Acclaimed Fiction

Detractors and Supporters in Race-Work: The Dissertation

In Uncategorized on November 1, 2010 at 10:59 am

“Why the sigh Blanca?” My dissertation advisor asked after a long discussion regarding my dissertation topic. Correction: on the literature review that comes before honing down on the topic.

When I finally got to the point where I thought I can finally work on my dissertation, the process proved me otherwise. You can’t just jump into the topic. You can’t just start writing and delve into your research. No. I learned that first you have to figure out where that idea came from. Who has been writing on your proposed topic? What are the other factors that affect this particular topic? Then you have to write up what you found. Show your advisor. And have him come back and tell you go back to the drawing board. Go deeper into the forest. So why the sigh? I just want to get to work already!

As far as I can see I made it to the threshold
Lord knows I waited for this a lifetime
And I’m an icon when I let my light shine
Shine bright as an example of a champion

The Roots – The Fire

Instead I said, “At the end of the day all I want to do is good work. Work that maybe someone can use” But what I really meant was I feel like this is the moment I have been waiting for my whole life. I have been thinking about race for as long as I can remember – since I was a little kid – and I have been thinking about higher education since I was in college – and now I can finally write about it. Do some research about it. Of course I did not know back then that a doctorate was even possible. I had no idea how a professor became a professor. I had no idea that an interdisciplinary study such as Higher Education existed. Back then I did not know what I could do as an anthropology major. Instead, I became actively involved on campus and worked on issues that affected students of color. I thought perhaps being a college administrator was in my path. And it is. It is how I support myself financially. I wanted to do more.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a Higher Education program at NYU and Teachers College. I found that people actually did research in this area. And I thought maybe I can do this too. Today, I tell my students that a doctoral program allows you to explore the questions we have as children. They don’t think it is possible until I actually sit them down to write this question out. They go out and do some research and then they present their findings. Some of these projects are sometimes the most beautiful projects I have seen.

A dissertation is a bit more detailed than a college research paper. Learning this process is frustrating. There is no manual. No one hands you a pamphlet and says here is what you need to do. Sure there are books out there that attempt to guide you and market themselves as “Get your dissertation done in 12 months” but with my professors—that is near impossible. But that’s ok — while the process is tedious, I know I will be a good researcher at the end of this work. So you learn the structure as you go along. Like trying to run in jell-o. Eat your way out of it.

So I sigh. I was just told to go back into the forest and get more information.

This race-work is killing me.

There’s something in your heart,
and its in your eyes
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn

The Roots – The Fire

While I want to do good work, I also feel the need to use my work to provide a little bit of peace in this racist world. This sounds like a lot – but it also sounds like not enough. I am often told I think about race too much. That I do too much. In relationships, one partner told me “It is not that you are not enough. You are too much. I need someone simpler.”

HA! Sounds funny. My good friends all said at this – “Too much? He hasn’t seen nothing yet!”

Takin the advantage never coppin out or cancelin
Burn like a chariot, learn how to carry it
Maverick, always above and beyond average
Fuel to the flame that I train with and travel with
Something in my eyes say I’m so close
To having a prize
I realize I’m supposed to reach for the sky
Never let somebody try to tell you otherwise

The Roots – The Fire

So there are detractors – the process of the dissertation itself, people around you.

But these are the same things that can help propel you – the process of the dissertation can be ameliorated by committing to a dissertation group. You take the negative people away from your life and all of a sudden a crop of new positive people enter. Music helps that fire continue to burn. Statistics can either detract you or push you forth. And then there is you. Can you be your own worst enemy?

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, in 2008, 3199 Latinos in the US were conferred a doctorate in some discipline. So how can I give up now?

I can’t.

This is the way I do my race –work. This is how I can help race-love progress.

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” – Cesar Chavez

See how much race-work we have to do? In 2008, 114,979 Latinos graduated with a college degree. This is out of 48 million Latinos that live in this country. So much more work has to be done. We can’t have the largest minority population be the most uneducated.

So while I sigh because I want to do “good work” – I also know that I am part of a larger battle that refuses to abate. The war against the education of people of color. Earning this doctorate means a lot more to me than just doing good work.

In the mean time, I’ll continue to dig deeper into the forest. Who knows what I will come up with?

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