Archive for May, 2012

The Academy as Bloodsport by Yaari

May 23, 2012


The Academy as Bloodsport (always in motion)

Suddenly it was easier to speak; it was easier to see.  It was as if I had been given new infrared glasses through which darkness was made transparent.   Fear had been removed with the gift of knowing.  Confidence took the place of insecurity and along with it came pride and the revealed confirmation that I was not alone.  I knew it had been lying just beneath my skin.  The smell of thick rich sweet-smelling blood clung to the air.  My suspicions were confirmed; they were not nightmares; they were memories.

Often it happens like this… I read a book like Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and/or see the movie and it loosens my tongue, unhinges a deeply rooted piece of knowledge – reminds me that it is not insanity.  If it is, then I am in the company of those I admire.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t stop talking by Susan Cain is a book suggested by a man who has dedicated his life to helping people maneuver in a world that no longer holds them steady.

Yurugu by Marimba Ani is a book recommended by a man who walks the earth close to his words; he walks with his lips to his heart as he keeps up a constant fight for minority and indigenous peoples.  He looked at me years ago and named me “warrior queen” when I only had vague answers to questions and when I had only just stepped on to a path; I did not even know I had purpose.  He has stayed with me all the way; he was there even when I was not aware.

Milissa V. Harris-Perry’s book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America gave me the four letter word I did not know would give meaning to my experiences; she gave me “tilt.”  My first encounter with Harris-Perry was around a book that also made an impression; that book was Marable Manning’s The Reinvention of Malcom XMilissa was on a panel with three other academics and her way of being caught my attention.

These books helped me to make sense of the academic world.  They gave me lenses that allowed me to examine skeletons picked clean by social cancers; these lenses magnified, for me, the extent of the disease and gave me the opportunity to understand how it had metastasized.

It was not hard to identify the history of colonization and its lasting impact; it was reflected in the academic behaviors ensconced in dialogues of social justice imbued with hopes of eventual equality.

Intellectually, if one pays attention to  the theories of psychology and learn how minds are warped by oppressors, these behaviors are not difficult to understand or predict.  Sad to say, the intellect seems to be at the mercy of the heart and the heart is in a long battle with pain; it has endured centuries of being skewered by racism.  And when women are included at the intersection the pain is layered as sexism steps in to close their throats with the intent of taking them deeper and into darker waters.

Francis Fanon and Edgar Mittelholzer raised their voices in their books – Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks and Mittelholzer’s Corentyne Thunder and others; they cried for help as they lived in a crooked world tilted by the horrors of racism.


I intend for this piece to be subjective on purpose.  Over years of observation and reflection, I am of the opinion that I should question not only what is happening in the world of “truth” told to me by the oppressors, but I need to be just as vigilant, if not more so, as I encounter the worlds of the oppressed who have had opportunity to gain a “higher” education and use it in multiple positions of “power.”

Subjectivity has become more important to me over time as I begin to understand how being “objective” contributes to my own oppression and marginalization.  I have come to believe that the structures of academia and the gatekeepers who maintain that structure – the descendants of oppressors and those who are descendants of the oppressed – are caught in a macabre dance of death.

The system is punitive in multiple ways.

In order to counteract what I know will be both passive and aggressive resistance to my view, I will tell my tale by using my own experiences at, what Patricia Collins calls, my “intersections;” it is a story of collisions, ones witnessed and ones experienced, in a world called “the academy.”

It is a particular and evolving culture of violence.

Before the tale begins I want to clarify what I mean by passive and aggressive resistance.

Passive resistance comes from those who do nothing!  They watch; they witness; they fear losing what they feel they earned; they do not really believe in change.  They are often in denial.  Passive resistance comes in the form of invisibility; they ignore.

Aggressive resistance comes in the form of public verbal and written attacks in so-called safe academic places.  Or, it happens when ideas leak; it takes place when professionals claim information revealed by others; aggressive resistance takes jobs and damages reputations; it takes lives.

This resistance comes from those who inhabit the spaces behind the walls and who intermittently gather at the intersections and congregate with others.  Here we have the men who maintain, or try to, gender dominance; we have the women who bifurcate themselves in order to be accepted; they believe they stand to gain from becoming participants in that dominance.  Hoping to maintain European order (conscious and subconscious hegemony), we have the oppressors in a variety of costumes hoping to “save” language and culture that supports a superiority they believe to be “true;” we have the predators hanging out here with the mocking grins of those who know that “gender power” will continue to support their actions.

And standing on the ever shifting fissures and volcanoes at this ring of fire are the lives trying to become a part of this academy while they also attempt to avoid certain death.

The Hunger Games:

I read; my business is reading.   When the younger generation devours books, I pay attention.  Rawlings’ books about Harry Potter grabbed the attention of so many readers of various ages at a time when my generation – many educators –  was enjoying their complaints about how much the younger generation lacked and not about their talents.  Our chatter was so self-centered that the air waves were full of noise about how to take them back to basics.  BECAUSE, they can’t write structured essays; they can’t spell; they can’t speak in sentences; they can’t focus; their brains are being eroded by the addiction to multitasking.

The popularity of Rawlings books said something very clearly.  Not only were they reading, but they seemed to be performing something very Frierian; they were reading the world and the word; they were finding the world in the word and on film; they were drawn to serious subject matter and they were thinking.  In her books Rawlings captures readers because she deals with child abuse, death of loved ones, depression, mental illness, outsiders, awkwardness, introversion, shyness, good and bad politics; the books deal with heavy social issues and children are reading and the reading is sustained; many of them read all seven books; and the books are five to seven hundred pages each.

It is a message to us that the younger generation is aware; they are fertile ground for critical thinking activities; and by their willingness to open themselves to books at a time when the competition for their time is at its strongest, suggests that they are agents of free will.  The attention to those books is a call to us  educators; it iss a way of knowing; it is an out of the box and out of the classroom self-education.  It happens in spite of the “distractions.”

This time, The Hunger Games trilogy should have drawn us educators to the books and the movie.  What does this writer reveal and explore that draws such a wide audience?

It is the future;  the period is post-rebellion.  The hegemonic Capitol has crushed it and recreated an ancient form of punishment – gladiator type sport using a male and female from every district to fight; there can only  be one victor.  The scene looks very much like ancient Europe; they even use chariots.- The war on terror seems to be a new kind of war; it is endless and it seems to be borderless.  Waiting to see the movie I was subjected to a long ad for the youth to join the military; signing up today with all the attractions for the poor and unemployed often means years of killing and watching others die.)  Traitors to the Capitol have their tongues cut out as a warning to others and a silencing.  (Again the ongoing talk about holding terrorists indefinitely; stories of outsourcing torture; stories of creative cruelty in the torture chambers; creating arenas to hunt and kill “dictators” for public consumption;  this is America today.)  The districts are kept Hungry; this has multiple meanings.  The Capitol, on the other hand, wallows in excess of all kinds.  One of the consequences of this excess, this all consuming greed, seems to be a loss of empathy, a loss of a connection to the “other’s” humanity and, therefore, they develop a blood lust in fertile minds; they salivate at the smell of blood.  In their separateness they justify the bloodsport.

The Academy:

It starts at birth when the boys and girls are separated by color and behavior is groomed.  This still works in 2012.  At school, the heart and intellect are separated slowly as competition is rewarded and a form of bullying is revealed.  Of course, like the Capitol, certain groups are groomed in certain schools, while, like those who inhabit the pauperized districts, certain groups continue to pay for their “rebellion.”  These schools and neighborhoods are kept so “hungry” that they begin to feed on each other.  And, as the society slowly inhabits our minds with falsehoods, at the same time using a ghettoized system, they parade the gladiators of the day to day sport through the criminal system.  The schools play a part in this preparation.

Over the years of schooling some things become clear.

Code of Conduct
In the academy, is there a code of conduct!  Of course, there must be one and it must be one that satisfies the majority. It is, after all, a capitalist democracy.  It is a well protected group and, not surprisingly, like any culture with a valued code any voice that challenges is quickly set aside.

I was told, and rightly so, that I must find an arena more suited to my ideals.

I want a shift in thinking,  a different future.


Crooked room ‘isms and anecdotes

Graduate student

I was angry; and I didn’t know where to hold it long enough to manage it.  Chu walked into to my life then; he walked in just in time to save me. Tall, black, and Ibo; he was everything I admired.  He spoke many languages; his voice was soft and compelling; he was a scholar and at the university for a while.  He understood my anger and he folded it into his voice and coaxed me to calm often.  Chu gave recognition always to the crooked room.

At the time, I was the only black woman in the year’s cohort of hopeful teachers.  I had met and befriended the only other black female hopeful in the year ahead.  She and I shared the unique quality of trying to walk in the direction of young black children with not much as guidance.  The university’s department had somehow not achieved a substantial amount of literature related to people of African descent, developed a list of black instructors in the community, or hired professors to fill the needs of students whose main purpose was to deal with the overwhelming odds facing that community.

Time folded in and wrapped us together in the rise and set of the suns.

She was the concerned mother of two beautiful children searching to find a clear path to healthy success.  Our paths crossed and I pulled her into a project focused on young boys in an elementary school and we collaborated and managed progressive success with a group of boys and over time we produced a number of meaningful poems.  She and I observed this healing and it helped us as be exposed bruises that were often being damaged again and again; we discussed how much it was a part of the culture; we thought it might be different.  Our laughter at that niavete was threaded with the black and blue of pain.

And then it happened; I heard about it as I left one of my university classes.  The students were in an uproar and they were concerned.  A professor, a white man, had taken the “liberty” of using her, this young black woman, as a guinea pig for his experiment/classroom activity.  As I was told, he tried to prove the results of racist discrimination.  The activity was laced with liberal racism and it traumatized the young woman; it shocked her classmates, who removed by color, could not possibly have suffered the same trauma.  This added isolation.

A crooked room it was; a crooked room filled with poisonous gas; she stumbled out of that room damaged at the core.

She broke; I watched.  The tears started as we worked; she could not check them.  She struggled. Before I knew it, she was cowering under a bed; her mind cracked; she saw fear in everything; and that included her family; it included me.  No longer could she study.  The cushion of time and similar interests ripped at its seams and spilled us in different directions.  Soon, for her, it was medication, and psychological incarceration.

The anger grew in my throat as my mind was bombarded by the constant nightmare repetition of the bloody wounds cleaving their way through black minds.  I was thrown into the past and I crashed into the memories of my father.   I again watched someone who could not tilt and instead shattered in so many pieces I could not hold them steady.  Guilt, reared its ugly head and sucked me into the darkness of despair.


“I don’t  date no bitch blacker than me.”






Rules of Engagement


Hope as Triumph!    She walked with head held high; her memories were blaring their beauty and in all her glory she trumped the sport

The Novel as a Bridge to Understanding Violence and Oppression