Race-work, Race-love

Posts Tagged ‘racial justice’

Revisiting Racial Passion In My Dissertation and Race-Work: Thank You, Professor Derrick Bell.

In Higher Education, Latino; Latina, New York City, race work, racism, Uncategorized on May 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm

“Why are you interested in this topic for your dissertation?”

*Sits in front of the computer – for hours.*

It’s my birthday and another year goes by — not just me getting older but also diving deeper and deeper into my dissertation topic.  Last year, I completed a year of emotional cleansing and clearing out the negative influences in my life. And, although one can never completely get rid of this negative stuff (like bacteria) I am learning to live with them and even use them to help me think through my values as a Race–Worker and a race analyst. I am in the process of doing this and probably why I am stuck on the question above and others such as:

Why are you doing what you are doing right now? What brought you to this point?  Why do you want to continue on this path?

This is the year to ask “Why?”


Courtesy of PhD Comics

*Still sitting in front of the computer. Crying my eyes out.* 

So I go back to the end of my second certification exam and the beginning of seriously thinking about a dissertation topic. To help with these memories, I read again a post from my friend Tara Conley who is beginning her search for a topic. 

I remember those days.  Nothing feels right. But you want to do EVERYTHING.  Everything seems so dang interesting.  You’re scared that you may pick the wrong topic.  Like going on a long journey and realizing that you took the wrong train. I thought then that a literature review could be done in a summer.  I pressured myself into finding a topic and getting it done.  There is pressure because you really do believe it can be finished in a summer. But at the institution that both Tara and I attend, this is highly unlikely.  The thought-process to arrive at a topic is a long and arduous one that is exhausting and deserving of a badge of honor – a thinking one that is.  No other process will allow you the opportunity to value “thinking” in the reading, writing, and researching process. One idea follows another like watching one slow moving train after another. And you are just sitting there waiting for the right one to jump on.

Until the day came when it hit me – that big idea that has been afflicting me my whole life:

Why are people so racist?  And what are we doing about it?

That’s the train!!! Music you listened to, movies you chose to watch, books lined up like soldiers in your personal library as if ready for battle when you are ready to say “FIRE!”  all of a sudden begin to make sense. 

YES!  I found it! That’s the train I want to jump in and the path I want to go on. Of course! But it’s a train ride.  We forget that this journey has multiple stops and can be a long one.

The bright side: We are no longer sitting in the station waiting to get on the train. We may now be on that train, but we are still sitting.  Going along for the ride. Because although we think we chose the topic, in reality, the idea chose us.  We are going along this IDEA’s journey. We haven’t mastered learning how to operate the train.


Oh, those days seemed bright…

The topic, like the train journey, obviously is very broad, but as you review the literature you start noticing patterns, like the ads inside the train and the occasional graffiti outside of the train, or the people who come in to stay or leave.  Those patterns become natural to you and if you just stay long enough they push you along.  Noticing these patterns are key to honing down your research agenda.  And guess what? You haven’t even begun to write.

You begin to realize that you will write multiple literature reviews, edit multiple versions, find new literature to include.

Think, review, write. Think, review, write. Version #127

You have your big idea.  Then you marry that with what is missing.  Ideas start to swirl.  Like a baby first learning how to talk, you start verbalizing those ideas.  Sounds crazy at first. Like when you ask a passenger for directions to a particular location but you aren’t quite sure where you are going either.  Those people, the nice ones, sit there patiently looking at you as you start talking, you take back what you said, then start again on your BIG idea.

“That’s too big.”

‘You need to read some more”

“Are you sure you want to do that?”


Then you wonder: Why am I doing this again? Why am I on this dang train, again?

I continue to write.  But as I continue to write and ride this train, I started losing touch with why I am interested in my topic in the first place.  The Race-Worker forgot?  I have a whole blog about this!  My friends thought I was crazy when I told them. “But that’s all you talk about!” they exclaim.

So the next step, for me, is to look to my heroes and talk to the other passengers on this train.  We may be going the same way, I think.  They may be able to help remind me of why I wanted to get on this train in the first place.

In this case, one of those passengers is Derrick Bell.  Derrick Bell is the ultimate Race-Worker.  He responded to the lack of faculty of color at Harvard University by giving up his own position.  His TENURED position! At Harvard!  Who responds that way to institutional racism?

Derrick Bell did.  

His response to racism was one of the reasons why I was inspired to delve into my dissertation topic.  I research responses to racism particularly by colleges and universities. I wonder about the ways we choose to respond to racist incidents. How do we confront racism?  How do we teach others to do so?  I wanted to talk with him about this and other things.

Unfortunately, my hero died on October 5, 2011.  Having never had the guts to meet him personally, I thought I could at least attend his memorial in New York City. Image

At his memorial, Professor Derrick Bell was remembered as the “last of the race men”, “climate changer”, “a hero for choosing principle over prestige”, “teacher”, “father”, “confessor”, “mentor”. He was best known as someone who “always brought blankets” for student protesters, someone who believed in “radical inclusivity” and a man who’s alter ego was a woman named Geneva Crenshaw.

His teaching was described as “student centered” – someone who always put every single one of his students at the heart of his classes, someone inspired by Dewey and Freire, who taught classes up until the last week before he passed away. His students denounced anyone who called him a pessimist, explaining that his insistence on the persistence of racism actually provided him with the kind of humanity that allowed him to never run away from a struggle. He was described as a man who deeply loved his students and enjoyed karaoke.

His students one by one began speaking with strength but ended up tearing, some crying, almost as if the realization that he was no longer physically with them really hit home. Many of them said “I do what I do because of Derrick Bell”; “I am a law professor because of Derrick Bell”; “I study and think about race because of Derrick Bell.”

In the end, he taught others how to be Race-Workers, too. The ultimate response to racism.

His courage, along with others, made me seek that ingredient, that antidote to racism and inject that to our colleges and universities. I want to help in the fight against racism by figuring out who is doing this well – and perhaps helping colleges and universities with these lessons.  The stories I heard at Professor Bell’s memorial made me wonder, in the hustle of writing and producing and conferencing and all that other jazz, how are future scholars, future administrators being taught to fight against racism, to develop anti-racist values?

I am still on this train ride – the train ride a Race-Worker jumps on hoping to find ways to confront racism every day. One of those ways is hopefully through this dissertation.  And, while everyone talks about the good dissertation being the “finished” one – which I completely agree with – as a Race-Worker and Race Analyst my values are linked to this dissertation.  I was never told that fighting racism was easy – that it would be one of the most difficult fights that I would take on – but I guess I and Race-Workers before me wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think I remember why I jumped on this train.

Prince Charming or the Racial Justice Warrior: Choosing Race Work as a Core Value

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm

ImageNo one has made more sacrifices to realize the completion of this work than Leith Mullings. For more than a decade, she has been my constant companion and intellectual compass as I have attempted to reconstruct the past.  This work is hers.  ~ Manning Marable, 2011.

Swoon.  Intending to read another analysis on the life of Malcolm X, a long awaited work by Dr. Manning Marable, I found this.  I really love reading dedications. But this one took me by complete surprise. The ability to support another in their life’s work is a tremendous attribute.  The ability for two souls like that to meet and like each other – seems almost miraculous.Image

The miracle, I think, is in understanding one’s own values ranging from the general to the specific, and sharing that with a life partner.  For people who truly value racial justice – or social justice in general – this can often be a hard find.

For the fourth time this week, I was told by a friend about a new love interest.  And what excited them was the value of social justice my friends saw in their potential new love interests.  Instead of hearing the following:

“He is so smart!”

“He is so kind!”

“He is just wonderful!” 


I was told this:

“He fights for racial justice!”

“He believes diversity is important.” 

“He is involved in issues of social justice!” 

“I don’t have to explain why I hate “The Help” so much”

Tall, dark, and handsome are what we are taught that we should look for.  Prince Charming also had to be rich and willing to help poor girls out of their socio-economic misery.  Novelas (both in the US and Latin America) taught us the same. Not much more was known about Prince Charming, well, he also had to be wanted by many women. And he may have dabbled with those women, too.

“The idea of falling in love with a good man still lingers. But now I look forward to falling in love with a man whose goodness brings out the goodness in me. The rest is insignificant.” ~ Doris Tan

About a year ago, I wrote about racial intimacy.  In this post I revealed the importance of race-work and racial justice as core values for me.  I am very aware that this should not be the only value I seek in future partners.  But, it is just as important as kindness, desire to learn, ambition, and self-love. It is a mutual understanding and knowledge about a particular value that many have or may have the desire to build:

“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.”


How important is racial justice as values we seek in a potential partner? For journalist and activist Almena Lomax (1915-2011),this value was very important. Lomax was founder of the Los Angeles Tribune and reported on the Civil Rights Movement. Lomax is a woman who can be identified as a race-woman, a race-worker. Her husband, Lucius Lomax, disapproved of her trip to cover the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. After realizing over time that her husband was not only un-supportive of her choices but that he also exhibited some qualities of being disinterested in racial justice, she chose to divorce him.  In her words:

“I faced it at that moment: Montgomery meant nothing to my husband. He hadn’t heard the signal to rise. “The brother” meant nothing to him. He didn’t feel the emotion pulsing rhythmically under his skin when the halting, crippled words of a front-line fighter like Moses Wright, the ancient uncle of Emmett Till, were lined out like a hymn at a mass meeting…He could only say pedantically that it was all part of the ‘struggle against man’s inhumanity to a man’. But he could not exult in the struggle.”

 A race-worker — so committed to her values that she divorced her husband who did not share the same passion for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Probably those of us who value racial justice also have a tough time finding compatible educational institutions and work places.  During a talk I gave on racial incidents, a young Master’s student asked me a question that continues to linger in my consciousness. We were discussing the inappropriate ways students often behave when hearing about race.  When these topics are raised, students roll their eyes, laugh, or exhibit some type of exasperated behavior.  Exasperated about the topic. As if they hear “it” all the time.

 She asked “How do you change people so that they become interested in discussing race in the classroom?” I honestly did not know how to answer.  But I did respond as best as I could at that moment: “You can’t.”

She said “You can’t?  But there has to be a way to stop them from rolling their eyes or laughing or get them more interested in the topic.”

 I said “You can only control your own behavior.  Racial justice is a value of mine. It is part of my everyday life, a value that I uphold in my public and private spheres. Because of this, I will continue to bring it up in discussions even at the risk of being mocked or laughed at.”

 But that evening, I realized that my response was not enough. I realized that our institutions, Imagealthough espousing commitment to “diversity” in their mission statements, do not admit students or hire faculty and staff whose values are aligned with these public declarations. Their programs may or may not have core course requirements ensuring that students engage in classroom discussions about racial justice. So the few that do have a commitment to racial justice – will encounter a hostile racial environment. And we are left to think “We can only control ourselves.” This is how we heal ourselves and each other in the same predicament.

This kind of passivity never sits well with a race-worker. And why I was so bothered that I even said that publicly.

The truth is there are not many institutions with a cultural value of racial justice. They may say it, write it up in their mission statements, but these good intentions do not translate into action, into race-work. 

Similarly, we pick partners who may not have a commitment to racial justice — so, we end up creating and producing more environments, both personal and public, that do not foster or nurture racial justice or race-work as core values.

How many of us can say that our value of racial justice is that strong that we could leave our partners, our jobs, our institutions that do not stand just as strongly for racial justice?

On the other hand, how many of us are all too willing to stay with a partner who’s only compatible value is racial justice while all other values – are not ? 

Slowly raising hand…

ImageI must admit – I do not have much faith that many people include racial justice as a core value in their value systems. Men like this, I think, are very few.  Institutions and programs who strongly espouse racial justice and race-work as values are very few.  In my humble opinion, anyway.

But I have hope. I find it very heartwarming that my friends are finding social justice warriors – or at least – partners with social and racial justice as core values. They don’t just say they have this as a core value, as in the superficial “like” that has been popularized by Facebook.  They actually do work to create environments that are infused with racial justice values. 

So I dedicate this piece to my friends – my friends who are brave enough to choose racial justice as their core values – and are braver to wait for their racial justice warriors – even at the risk of being alone.

This is for those racial justice warriors, those race-workers, who continue to pressure institutions and organizations to include racial justice as a value.

This is for those of us who do not sit well with the notion that you can’t change anyone or anything, but who understand that in order for others to see race-work and racial justice as important values, that we must work at these values in ourselves, too.

And that, my friends, is race-love.


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