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Wiley Wandering

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October 26, 2007

Was Prince Correct? Are Parties Meant To Last?

It might surprise many of you to know this, but about a year ago I was approached by a group of students who had been informed that a theme party was being planned that I might want to know about. These students were visibly upset, and after listening to their concerns so was I. I left that conversation with them with my stomach in knots. Looking back on that time period I discovered that I really walked around in a fog for a while trying to find a perspective in which to place that potential party's chosen theme. Try as I might I was unable to do it.

Now, if you have never been to a college party, a theme party more specifically, you don’t know what you may have missed or are missing. I remember during my undergraduate college days throwing one myself. My mother went out of town on a business trip and it just became apparent to me that it was the ideal time to do it. (Oh yes, I still live in fear of my mother to varying extents and am fairly confident she won’t see this blog or I wouldn’t be telling you this story). I had just finished pledging my fraternity, was now a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and was ready to party after having done without a social life for too long a period of time.

The theme parties that I had previously attended were always Toga, Beach, or Sports gear parties. Always looking to do something different I decided to host a pajama party. Suffice it to say it was off the charts. People arrived in bunches around 8:00 p.m. and didn’t leave until 3:00 a.m. No neighbors complained about the noise, everyone made it home safely, there were no fights, no one got excessively drunk, and more importantly, my mom didn’t discover that there had been a party in her absence. On some level, that party made me a legend at Cal State Long Beach (not too far from the legendary status imparted upon Tom Cruise’s character in Risky Business). The party was so off the hook that a year later I actually met the woman who would become my wife when a group of women who had heard about the party and now lived in the same apartment complex as me in Culver City, California asked me to come over to their apartment and share with them my insights and strategies about throwing a pajama party. In that group was an out-of-towner who would return to attend the party, and then return to party with me. The rest is history!

So, as theme parties go, I know a little something about kicking a party off. I also heard that SUNY Plattsburgh students know how to party as well. So, I was blown away when I was told that the theme party that they were preparing to throw was a “retard party.” Yes, you read that correctly, some students were going to throw a “retard party.” I guess many of you are out there thinking to yourself, what is a retard party? Well, I was informed that it is a party that only grants access to those who portray themselves as retards. In other words, to attend the party you have to dress and act like a retard! I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I was to hear this. At the Center for Diversity at PSU we work so hard to educate our students about social justice and respect for diversity. It was heartbreaking to discover that there could be a population of students on our campus that could even believe other students would even want to attend a party with such an insensitive theme attached to it. It was apparent that none of these students throwing the party had a disabled family member because if they did how could they begin to even conceptualize such a party?

Well, fortunately the party didn’t occur, largely in part to a large number of the Examining Diversity through Film students (both past and present) who decided they were going to take action to make sure that it didn’t. They created such a fuss about the party that they may have shamed the students who were planning the party. When asked why they would even host a “retard party” some of the students planning the party laughed and claimed it wasn’t that serious. So, my questions to you are:

1. Was their throwing a “retard party” something I should be taking serious?

2. What is it that could even make students host such a theme party?

3. How could that group of students not have one amongst them who would step up and challenge the idea?

4. How is it possible that not one of those students would emerge as a voice of reason to end such a horrific idea for a party theme?

5. How many of you might have attended or did attend a party as disturbing as this? Why? Is this truly a social injustice, or just a party that college age students who are not necessarily fully mature yet attend along the way to achieving maturity?

6. Though I am describing a party, are there other moments that you have encountered that mirror or resemble the basic level of inconsideration about to be exemplified by these students as they planned to host their “retard party?”

7. What do we tell our children as they grow up to better ensure that they will never participate in such a party?

Please recognize I don't have any expectations that anyone will answer all the question, and that some may want to only answer one or two. That is fine with me, I'm just looking for answers! Believe it or not, sometimes I am badly in need of second and third opinions!!!

October 18, 2007

Owning Our Ignorance Can Be Therapeutic

Years ago I had the opportunity to engage synagogue Temple Beth Israel in a diversity enlightenment session, which is a conversation about diversity and social justice. I expected it to be quite a challenge in terms of the intellectual exchange because the person who invited me was Dean of Library and Information Services at SUNY Plattsburgh, Cerise Oberman, one of my mentors whose style and professional grace is only surpassed by her intellect. I also knew other supportive colleagues would be in the mix, like historian Doug Skopp and sociologist Lynn Schlesinger, both members of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Center for Diversity’s Task Force, and fellow philosophy professor Henry Goldenberg. It was a really pleasant moment for me because often I walk into educational conversations with groups where I don’t know a soul, who have members who are either adverse to the underlying message of the workshop/session or think it is a waste of time because they already know everything about diversity (which is a joke in itself since I haven’t figured it all out myself and I get paid to know and teach it). Suffice it to say, the members of Temple Beth Israel were extremely receptive to the conversation I attempted to create and thoroughly engaged in the dialogue.

However, there was a moment in the conversation that I will never forget. I had never addressed a synagogue, and hadn’t really thought about the fact that a certain moment would arrive in the conversation, or I would have prepared for it. Well, the moment came when I went to refer to the group in its entirety by their cultural-religious-political reality, and became overwhelmed with anxiety that I was about to refer to them incorrectly, or more so, insultingly. You see, I wasn’t sure if I should call a Jewish group “Jews.” I think I had heard anti-Semitic remarks that were framed with the term Jew as I was growing up that somehow convinced me that the term Jew may have been a disparaging or offensive term. I know, I know, it is somewhat hard to believe that I actually had this concern, but how many of you know for sure whether to address me as African American, Black (or simply a very handsome, witty, caramel colored man, which is actually my preference).

Of course, as a presenter, you don’t want to offend your audience, and I don’t think I had ever referred to a Jew as a Jew before. Think about it, when I am talking to a group of lesbians I don’t necessarily have to refer to them as lesbians during that exchange. When I look back on it, perhaps I should be ashamed of that moment, especially since I am a director of a university’s diversity center and am supposed to be adept at language and at least somewhat sophisticated about varying cultures. Well, at the moment when I was at the epitome of my anxiety, the moment when I was poised to say it, or not say it, I took a deep breath and asked, “Is it appropriate for me to refer to you as Jews?” This classy group of people patiently smiled supportively and allowed me to grow right in front of their eyes. It just goes to show that no matter how sophisticated we are, a moment of discomfort is only one sentence away!

Have you ever had a moment of anxiety in not knowing how to address someone different from you? What did you do in that moment? Do you feel you handled it well, or would you like to have that moment back? Should we be ashamed of not knowing, or should we own the fact that we don’t know? What advice do you have for others who will inevitably experience a moment like that themselves?

October 12, 2007

Is A Kiss Just A Kiss?

I must start out with a shout out to Shay! In a recent posting she said "This is a weird question for me because I have been kissing the same person for the last 10 years but, as I dig deep into my memory I am not sure I ever thought about this. I just kissed the way I felt like kissing." Well, I asked the question about kissing from both perspectives (see questions #10 & #11 in blog "I am curious as to ... women and men") because I don't think it would hurt for lovers to think about their love making (kissing being one of the many things lovers can do with one another) instead of just engaging in it. Shay's statement "I just kissed the way I felt like kissing" is quite intriguing. Many of us look at kissing and other intimate acts as stand alone natural reactions. They may be just that, but they also could be so much more. Is it possible that your kiss of her/him recently is connected to some childhood drama, a movie you watched, the way you wanted someone to kiss you, or the way you have always wanted to lip-lock with someone, but never had the courage to do it, until that moment? I don't know if I agree with Bogart's Richard Blane's singing piano player Sam from Casablanca. Is a kiss just a kiss? Well, is it?

Not that all men kiss aggressively, nor all women passively, but if we are socialized to carry out certain behaviours (many unconsciously) why would aggressive or assertive men not be carrying that energy into the bedroom with them as well, or even that momentum into a kiss with a woman. Think about it! And I am really talking about heterosexual relationships here, because I think there is a gender dynamic that plays out in something as non-gendered as a kiss. I mean, when two women kiss passionately gender doesn't have to be a factor (though arguably the influence of gender could still be present). When two men kiss passionately (like in some of the scenes from Brokeback Mountain) that moment also doesn't necessarily have to be gendered either. But is it possible for a man and woman to orally, yet silently speak to one another (a very sensual exchange of oral energy) and only be speaking in their voice? In other words, when I kiss you is it unattached from the world I live in?

So, realizing how confident I am in most things (not all) that I do, why would I not want to be more modest here and there to perhaps discover that as a heterosexual male, my lovers may have been deferring to me in ways that I would have never noticed because they were comfortable letting me take the lead (perhaps also succumbing to their socialization).

Oh, it is complicated living inside my own head, but where else can I go? However, is there something to what I am saying, or do I see a phenomenon that others don't see?

October 7, 2007

Neighborly Gossip: Dissed Respect or Just Down Right Un-Neighborly?

Many of you know I had the pleasure of making a film with Rich Allen and Mountain Lake PBS titled Dissed Respect: The Impact of Bullying. Since that time I find myself thinking a great deal about the different ways we bully one another. After talking to a couple of friends recently about neighbors and gossiping I found myself wondering "Is gossiping a form of bullying?" Now this is an intriguing question. When we get away from the target of our gossip and retell tales or fabricate stories about people that are not present, it isn't a heroic act. It is simply a juvenile antic that really should have been left behind in high school, perhaps even middle school. So, why do mature adults gossip? I inquire about this a bit later, but I do wonder if it could be because the one who is being gossiped about is different enough from the gossiper and the group she/he gossips with. Is the victim of gossip somehow the Other? I often wonder what would be a solution to ending someone’s gossiping, especially gossiping of a mean spirited kind. After all, there is gossip that is put out there that is really more inquisitive (like discussing with others if mutual friends may be getting married) than incredulous.

I toyed with the idea of what I would say or do to a hostile gossiper that might reside in my neighborhood and whom chose to take aim at me. I finally realized that what I could do is send a letter throughout my neighborhood with the ultimate intention of it being read by the potential character assassinator/bully. The letter would go something like this:

To My Neighbors,

It has recently been brought to my attention that one of our neighbors has felt it necessary to personally attack me. This neighbor, in a conversation with some co-workers, upon mention of my name started spewing unsolicited, venomous unfounded accusations about me. Well, whether the neighbor is wrong or right, it is even more problematic when it comes from a neighbor of mine who was not identified to me other than as one of my neighbors. Couple that with the fact that I learned of this gossip from a friend of a co-worker of my neighbor and neither that co-worker nor my neighbor was identified. All I have to go on is the fact that I know the profession of the co-worker, so I can surmise the identity of the neighbor, but am not sure.

I do know that there are reasons why people would make-up vicious untruths against someone. While I don’t know all those reasons, I can surmise some.

1.) The neighbor doesn’t have a life and must therefore achieve some status from attacking others who have developed a vibrant life that possibly excludes them.
2.) The neighbor is an extremely petty person that endeavors to denigrate others because the neighbor feels, perhaps subconsciously, that she/he has gotten a raw deal in life and misery loves company.
3.) The neighbor is racist/sexist and does/doesn’t know it, but somehow can’t deal with someone different from them being more successful.
4.) The person is accurate in their description of me and feels that the world needs to know the type of person I am, in contrast perhaps to what I project.

If #4 is the reason, something is still a problem with the neighbor’s decision. Based on this choice, I should be disclosing the identity of the neighbor to the public for the very same reason(s) the neighbor may have done this to me. After all, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, correct? Doesn’t the world deserve to know about a neighbor that is as far away from the concept of neighborly as you could define it. Wow! Am I wrong in believing that I am doing the same thing my gossiping neighbor did by revealing to the world that my neighbor is a gossip? What should I do here? Should I turn the other cheek just so my gossiping neighbor can talk about that side of my face as well? What would you do?

Well, the primary purpose of this letter is to let you know that we have a snake in our midst. If there is a neighbor in our community that would fabricate untruths like this about me, what would one do if she/he had access to the truth about any of us? I want all my neighbors to be on their guard for this neighbor who probably doesn’t have a life, is quite petty, possibly bigoted, and quite hypocritical. Again, I say hypocritical because she/he obviously didn’t consider how she/he would feel if the same thing occurred to her/him. It could be quite interesting to see her/his reaction when it occurs.

My neighbor, thanks for taking the time to read this correspondence. Please be cautious of whom you talk to and what you do in our neighborhood. There are people who will already construct reality for their own ill-gotten gain. Beware giving them something tangible to talk about!

First, please feel free to use this letter as a template or weapon to fight un-neighborly neighbors. Also, do you have neighbors out there who resemble the neighbor I described in this blog? Do you think this letter would be effective if such a neighbor actually read it? What approach would you take if not this one? Are there reasons beyond the ones I gave that you could suggest that describe why neighbors (or people in general) would do such nasty, mean spirited things, or is it just that those actions simply reflect a nasty, mean spirited disposition? Should the victim of this type of bullying feel disrespected, or sympathy for the poor misguided miscreant that engages in this type of behavior? What are your thoughts?

October 3, 2007

I am curious as to….... women and men!

I have really enjoyed the conversations over the last month or so. We covered romance, sex, movies (all that was missing from those two was the popcorn), interracial dating, love as a social construct, weight, activism, and gang violence, I decided I wanted to go somewhere different with this blog. So I am hoping that respondents will opt to answer at least a few of my questions, if not all. Okay, drop it like it's hot!!!

1. I am curious about people’s perspectives on men whining. Why is it not okay for men to whine?

2. I am curious why women can share a bed on a sleep over, hold hands running across a street, or fall asleep on one another’s shoulders, while most men wouldn’t be comfortable doing any of the above, including crying in front of their friends, something many women wouldn’t give a second thought about doing.

3. I am curious who people may think are most vain, men or women?

4. I am curious what people think about the phenomenon of the keg at college parties that are thrown by Whites, in contrast to the usual occurrence of “no keg” at college parties thrown by Blacks.

5. I am curious as to why college women seldom if ever have keg parties when it is just women in attendance, but college men break out the kegs with no hesitation with or without women.

6. I am curious as to why in today’s society men are still cast as the initiators/instigators of romance when women know (as Chris Rock once said in a stand up routine) whether they want intimacy with a man upon their first meeting?

7. I am curious as to why men don’t get tattoos on the top of the back of their waistlines as opposed to many women who do.

8. I am curious as a matter of fact if women know if they want a man sexually upon first sighting.

9. I am curious why so many of us play the bystander role when our friends or associates are doing something socially unjust (like picking on someone that embarrasses us or them).

10. I am curious as to how many men actually ask themselves when they are kissing a woman if they are being too aggressive or not aggressive enough.

11. I am curious as to how many women ask themselves when they are kissing men if they should be more or less aggressive.

12. Lastly, I am curious as to why more women respond to my blogs than men. What is that about? I can’t wait to hear your answers!