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Wiley Wandering

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January 24, 2008

Midday Train to Albany: Part Two

PART TWO: Later, while on the train, I was awaiting my turkey and cheese micro-waved sandwich when the attendee and conductor started talking. They both seemed cool, relatively laid back, at ease with themselves, you know, not caught up in illogical actions/thoughts like homophobia, racism, and/or flaunting their societal position (elitism). Their conversation exuded an unpretentiousness that completely took all tension within my shoulders right out. Somehow I must have gotten very comfortable because I surmised I could get away with giving the conductor my opinion of him. I said “man, you are a youthful looking conductor. Are you a legacy? Does this line of work run through your family?” They were both surprised at my unsolicited opinion and bold questioning, and the attendee asked “How did you know this type of work runs in his family?” I thought from the energy he exhibited collecting tickets I just imagined he may have been that little boy who watched his father, maybe even grandfather, in this line of work. He may have been the little boy who loved trains! But he just projected an energy and appreciation that shouted out his enthusiasm for being on a train and perhaps even, meeting with people. However, I said, “You look like you love the job that you watched your dad do!” The youthful looking conductor smiled, acknowledged that both his father and grandfather had been conductors, and then started to really open up with me. He, the attendee and I then all fully stepped into a conversation.

We talked about train life, and their spending an evening in Montreal, then New York, then Montreal, then New York, over and over again. Granted, at the salary of the younger employees of trains, unless they come from wealth, Montreal and New York City will bite the budget hard, or you won’t be doing much. But how many people get to live between two international cities on an alternating basis? If you get the right networks going that could be quite the learning/living experience.

I connected with these two younger cats so well, it was amazing. We only talked about five to seven minutes, but while it was rapid, it was real. At one point they asked me where I was headed and why. They appeared a bit impressed when I mentioned I was on my way to consult to a college for an on-line course on social justice and diversity. I then mentioned I was from Los Angeles originally, and then responded to the heartfelt question extended to me about whether I liked being in the North Country with a bit of detail. I mentioned being an educator, the Press Republican’s Wiley Wandering blog, and the bullying film, Dissed Respect. I did it quick so as not to brag (though who am I kidding, I am proud and it felt good to say it). I was smiling after just summarizing how much I am enjoying my career and the young brother summarized his perspective on what I said by saying “You brought your city hustle to that small town!” My city hustle? I pounded him (for the slang impaired, a pound is somewhat of a handshake, or really more a fist balled tap to a friend/associate to indicate agreement) for the compliment, chatted with them a bit more, then returned to my seat, fully expecting to chat with the two of them later.

Now, I started unpacking the statement, “My city hustle,” the moment it was said. I wasn’t going to overreact, but his statement, while delivered with very positive affection, still could have carried a pejorative connotation with it. I have some thoughts on this, but so might you! What are they?

The attendee, a young black man, was quite an understated intellect. His assertion that my hustle had served me well during my career in the North Country was astute, if not layered. But the most interesting thing about the exchange for me was that I had prejudged this brother. After he dropped that bit of insight upon me, it made me realize that I had inadvertently, subconsciously stereotyped him as not having a whole lot of anything significant to contribute to a conversation beyond some soft frill stuff about the train, maybe some observations about women, racism, sports, or entertainment. Damn, have I somehow become an academic, intellectual elite? Have I somehow transcended analysis of “the man” and become the man myself?

I have always said that one of the things I was concerned about was the fact that “as we climb the social ladder, what is our perspective on the rungs we left behind?” What is yours? When you go back into your old neighborhoods or see old friends, and your lifestyles or economic means are not on the same level as they were in high school, how does this affect you? When you encounter that middle school acquaintance or high school friend, and they appear to be in much different health than you, do you feel happy or sad for them? More so, do you think of the happenstance or social conditions that contributed to them being situated the way they are? After talking with the attendee a while longer about my professional reality in the North Country being more advantageous for me because of less racial competition and his revealing tremendous insight about the realities of under representation I was proud and sad simultaneously. I was proud to recognize that this much less educated black man had at least as much wisdom as I did, if not more. And I was sad because when you consider all the work I put in teaching and learning about social justice and diversity, I had succumbed to my socialization again and judged this book/man by his cover/hype! You don’t do that, do you? When was the last time? Why don’t you share it with the crew?

January 19, 2008

Midday Train to Albany: Part One

If you’ve never ridden on a train before, what is that all about? Okay, chill! Before you try to crowd me about my somewhat class-ist statement I know that everyone may not be able to afford a train ride. Yes, I know that I shouldn’t assume everyone has my financial freedom, whatever that means. My point is that if/whenever you are in need of travel and have time, why would you not be taking the train? I was recently on a train to Albany. Along the way I had many intriguing experiences. As always I would like to share some of them with you so that I can get another perspective on certain occurrences or hypothetical occurrences. During my travels I had a pseudo conversation with a Latina inside the train station awaiting our train, and had a nice chat with two younger men, one the Black snack bar attendee and the other a White conductor. This alone is quite a rarity. Other than the Underground Railroad (which brings to mind Harriet Tubman and the pioneering couple of Northern New York, Don and Vivian Papson), I don’t recall seeing on any previous train rides any underrepresented people. What I am about to share with you next though may give you some insight into my mind that could truly scare you. Regardless, I have an analysis of a conversation I had with these two men and the pseudo conversation with the Latina that I want to share with you. I will share both of these conversations in two parts across two blog postings, hence the Part One reference in the title begins with the lovely Latina.

Part One: On some level I felt like I was Rick Blane (Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca). Unlike Rick, I was not in a moment that immediately followed a heart break served by an outrageously charming, stylish, beautiful woman (Ingrid Bergman portraying Ilsa Lund). I had never bootlegged arms, never owned a Casino, and never been smooth enough to look a woman in her eyes and say “here’s looking at you, kid!” But I was feeling that Bogart cool, that Bogart rugged handsome. I had on my form fitting Calvin Klein jeans with my stylish dress-up/dress-down wingtip boots. That morning I had worked out (pushups, stomach crunches, weights, and thirty-minute bike ride) so I was feeling like quite the fit specimen. Similar to the old 80s R&B singing group, I was “ready for the world.” I entered the train station that would allow me to embark upon my trip to Albany expecting to have some adventures to chronicle, but little did I know the party was about to start immediately.

A beautiful, dark haired, athletic looking, shapely, long legged, averting eyed, succulent lipped Latina was the only person sitting in the station. I haven’t traveled on trains that often, but she was quite beautiful, and unbelievably sexy. So this is where my mind intrigues even me. On any given day, soon after entering a train station I would immediately immerse myself in a book, send texts out to the crew, watch a movie on the laptop, grade papers (listening to John Coltrane of course), or read some article that will help me grow or one that I wish I had written. On this day I was mesmerized by her presence and had to struggle not to stare the majority of the time I was anywhere near her. I watched her go outside to smoke a cigarette that I could not imagine would, by any stretch of the imagination, adversely affect her lungs. After all, doesn’t beauty give you a down payment on most everything in life? Okay, I acknowledge I am being a bit preposterous here, but indulge me! I understand that the problem which results from beauty privilege is, after the down payment, can you make the other payments? Whether the Latina could make additional payments or not, I started to imagine that she could have a crush on me and simply be sitting over there hoping I would say something. What I wanted to say to her after witnessing her playing with the ends of her hair for approximately ten minutes was this: “It was fascinating watching you truly fascinated with your hair!” It would have been quite a lyrical entry into a conversation with someone inclined toward an intriguing conversation. However, someone not inclined, might have declined attempting to appreciate my prosaic entree into conversation, leaving me with frustration. I wasn’t having that!

I thought about all those movies where two strangers meet on a train and the intensity just heats right up. I got up to purchase a water and asked myself should I offer her a water just to start a conversation, or perhaps, at the very least, to have the opportunity to hear her talk. I thought of how that type of action could make her nervous, anxious, though it didn’t have to mean anything, or could be the catalyst for a flirtatious conversation between two people who could just get caught up in one another’s conversation on the way to getting caught up in one another. She could literally be sitting there hoping I would say something because she is too shy to do it herself. I also thought of how she probably didn’t know I existed before I came into the station, and wouldn’t attest to my existence after any exchange we might have. Doses of reality don’t come cheap!

Yes, I thought of what it means for me, a married man, to even have thoughts like this? President Jimmy Carter once admitted he had lusted, so if a peanut farming, Olympic boycotting president could admit it, how much will I get beat down for it? There was also an age differential of some years, though exactly what that might have been I am not sure. Her age could have been anywhere from ten years younger than me to ten years older than me. Did I just blow your mind? Okay, but she probably was about ten years my junior. So, with a potential generation between us, was there anything I really could have said to her that she would have been interested in hearing. Okay, and then there was the racial/cultural divide. She was Latina, I am a black (say it loud). While both of those cultural groups are reputed to have “flava,” so does lip gloss and a Marlboro cigarette, but everyone isn’t trying to put them both to their lips.

Is it natural, healthy, sexy, problematic, dysfunctional to see someone that you find quite alluring and then cast them immediately for a starring role in one of your dreams? While I haven’t had flights of fancy like this often, I have had them often enough to know I can’t be alone. Is this that feeling they call having a crush on someone? I have had fantasy become reality before, and once you have experienced a dream, do you quit on other dreams, or believe more is available to you if you continue to believe? Am I still talking about gazing at a Latina from afar, or have I somehow transitioned into a more profound discourse? What are your thoughts?

January 10, 2008

May I Quote You?

As many of you know I often have the privilege of doing presentations at various universities, businesses, and conferences. One of the things that occurred to me recently when I was doing a presentation is how many sayings and quotes I often use to accentuate my points. Somehow it further legitimates a thought or better frames a message if someone else also said what it is you are trying to convey. My students, colleagues, and close friends know that when they use any of my original quotes (not to imply that there are that many, but the one’s I use are “tight.” Don’t hate!) they are expected to give a verbal footnote, a J.W. shout-out! It isn’t anything extraordinary, just a whispered acknowledgement that the poignant thought they just dropped isn’t there’s.

An example of this is when one of my young bloods (who has just ascended to Student Association president at SUNY Plattsburgh), Mr. Angel Acosta--once during a break in a class in which he was a Teacher's Assistant--looked at and commented on two women who we both respect greatly, Professor Deb Light and one of the most outstanding students I’ve ever worked with who was also a Teacher's Assistant for us, Ms. Dana Lutters. We had just finished talking about how most everyone has multiple identities that situate them as both oppressors or oppressed, in differing contextual moments. Angel threw his arm around my shoulder and said “look at them, ‘swimming in privilege, yet drowning in oppression.’” I was flabbergasted! His statement was the perfect frame for two white women who have racial privilege in a hegemonic culture where white skin is dominant. However, those same two women, as women, lose privilege in many cases because they are women in a culture designed for, and dominated by men. So, whenever I use Angel’s phrase I say “swimming in privilege, yet drowning in oppression,” and follow it with a very low “Angel Acosta.” Now, people look at me and sometimes wonder did I just say something, or even wonder what I just said. I don’t have to repeat it though unless I really want to. I have fulfilled my responsibility to the original author by at least pseudo-silently giving the verbal footnote.

Below are some of my favorites. Also I include the authors name when I know it, though many were passed onto me from adults and they would use them as if they coined the phrases, without any mention of a verbal footnote. Shame on them! Oh, please feel free to include any quotes near and dear to you!

Only the educated are free. -- Epictetus

I am more afraid of an army of 100 sheep led by a lion than an army of 100 lions led by a sheep. -- Talleyrand

The mind is like a parachute - it works only when it is open. -- Author Unknown

The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression. – W.E.B. DuBois

Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined. – Albert Camus

Most Individuals are plastic to the molding force of the society into which they are born! -- Ruth Benedict,

Forewarned is Forearmed – Author Unknown

Truths are like other people's property. -- Charles Fried

Men are only poor creatures ... They would not seem to be dwarfs if they had not been asked to be giants. -- Simone de Beauvoir

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking. -- George S. Patton

The most powerful means of sustaining the moral hegemony of the dominant gender ideology is that the process is made invisible; any possible alternatives are virtually unthinkable. -- Judith Lorber

The level of consciousness of young people must be raised; they need enlightenment. -- Frantz Fanon

Ability is a poor man's wealth. -- John Wooden

Other people are the mirror in which we see ourselves! -- Charles Cooley

Condemning people out of habit is easy! Overcoming deep seated prejudice takes courage! – John Corvino

There is no sun without shadow and it is essential to know the night. – Albert Camus

Herein lies the tragedy of the age; not that men are poor--all men know something of poverty; nor that men are wicked--who is good? Not that men are ignorant--what is truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men. – W.E.B. DuBois

Truth fears no trial. -- Proverb

I Believe in the soul, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, long foreplay, show tunes...I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap, that there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, voting every election, soft core pornography, chocolate chip cookies...and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft wet kisses that last three days. -- Kevin Costner in Bull Durham

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step! -- Confucius

The social is the natural. -- Judith Lorber

Normality is culturally defined! -- Ruth Benedict

I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out. -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The problem of the 20th Century is the problem of the color line. – W.E.B. DuBois

In the depth of Winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible Summer. – Albert Camus

The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." -- Albert Einstein

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. – Anais Nin

America taught my son's killer to hate blacks. -- Camille Cosby

An oppressed class is the vital condition for every society founded on the antagonism of classes. – Karl Marx

No person can put a chain about the ankle of another [person] without at last finding the other end fastened about his [or her] own neck. -- Fredrick Douglass

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The sword does not feel the pain it inflicts. Do not ask it about suffering. -- Phillip Hallie

No jailer is ever a free man, himself. -- J.A. Rogers

Between the superhuman and the inhuman is there no place for the human? -- Simone de Beauvoir

The middle of every successful project looks like a disaster. -- Rosabeth Moss Cantor

The more regularly a lie is repeated, the more plausible it it likely to appear. -- Josef Goebbel

Most of the early information we receive about "others" -people racially, religiously, or socio-economically different from ourselves-does not come as the result of firsthand experience. The secondhand information we do receive has often been distorted, shaped by cultural stereotypes, and left incomplete. – Beverly Daniel Tatum

Victory has a hundred fathers... Defeat is an orphan. -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Ultimately, social class determines how people think about social class. – James Loewen

As we climb the social ladder, what is our perspective on the rungs we left behind? -- J.W. Wiley

Agenda after Agenda after Agenda after Agenda, you can never get into your agenda for having one. – Author Unknown

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. -- Helen Keller

A vision without a plan is an hallucination! -- Salome Thomas-El

Watch your thoughts , they may become your words. Watch your words, they may become your actions. Watch your actions, they may become your habits. Watch your habits, they may become your character. Watch your character, it may become your destiny. – Author Unknown

It is often a better strategy to apologize than to ask permission! – Author Unknown

Concepts without percepts are empty, Percepts without concepts are meaningless! -- Immanuel Kant

The very compulsiveness with which certain lies are repeated can reveal not only the degrees of their falsity but the extent to which their authors understand them to be false. -- Homi Bhabba

It's never too late to be who you might have been. -- George Elliot

It is when the well is dry that we know the price of water. -- Ben Franklin

She has never had a lover like me, one who puts a lot of thought into our sensuality, because I want her to revere me! -- Anonymous

Covenants without the sword are but words. – Thomas Hobbes

Romance is about the possibility of things.... it's about the time between when you meet some fine-ass woman and when you first make love to her... when you first ask a woman to marry you and when she says 'I do.' When people who have been together for a long time say that the romance is gone what they are really saying is they've exhausted the possibility! -- Darius Lovehall in the film Love Jones

They enjoy black culture as they grow up, but at a certain point, as soon as it's time to get a job and move on in their life, they'll throw this culture aside like they had never participated in it. -- Dave Chappelle

The institute of marriage makes a parasite of woman, an absolute dependant. It incapacitates her for life's struggle, annihilates her social consciousness, paralyzes her imagination, and then imposes its gracious protection, which is in reality a snare, a travesty on human character. -- Author Unknown

It is better to be thought an idiot in your silence than to speak and remove all doubt. – Author Unknown

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me. -- Pastor Martin Niemoller

You can't be neutral on a moving train! -- Howard Zinn

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. -- George Carlin


January 5, 2008

Romance, Sex, Love, & Marriage: Necessities to Negotiate

When it comes to teaching courses that reflect different dimensions of diversity I get all kinds of responses to various things I do or would like to do. At first glimpse a reaction that might arise from people discovering the fact that I teach a Philosophy of Romance, Sex, Love, and Marriage (R, S, L & M) course is why a philosophy professor that directs a diversity center would think he is qualified to teach such a course. Well, you can’t separate elements of gender, socio-economic class, heterosexism and privilege from the subjects of romance, sex, love, and marriage! Even racism and ability visit these conversations readily. So, when I first cogitated teaching a philosophy course on R, S, L & M there was anxiety that the take on my desire to teach it would be that I was seeking to teach a titillating course, but one without substance. Yes, unfortunately, haters abound! Yes, regretfully some people live to find fault with others as a defense mechanism for their own inadequacies (lack of confidence/courage). If doers don’t because haters won’t, then doers don’t and haters won’t. Who wins? No one! Who loses? Well, if professors get too wrapped up in what some of their colleagues possibly say, then they won’t “do” what they should do, and those “haters” won’t do it either, thus the students lose. Well, we just can’t have that, can we!

Fortunately for me, as a young professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, my confidence was intensified from mentors like Dr. Beth Dixon, department chair of the Philosophy program and Dr. Dave Mowry, director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Honor’s Program, who both were extremely generous in granting a young brother an opportunity to hone his teaching skills. There is a specific relationship between my confidence in engaging a wide array of audiences and Dr. Dixon giving me my first teaching opportunity, followed by Dr. Mowry allowing me to design courses with exceptionally talented Honor’s students. When I think of the timing of certain events in my career it scares me sometimes. If I had arrived at a different time at SUNY Plattsburgh, in terms of teaching, I might have never developed my pedagogical techniques because of stodgy academicians who would have felt it necessary to reel in my creativity instead of encouraging it. You can’t possibly doubt that such egocentric personalities exist on college campuses. There isn’t anyone of us that attended college that couldn’t round up the usual suspects to fill out that lineup. Some say that luck is the residue of preparation. If that is the case, I don’t know how I prepared to meet Dixon and Mowry, but I was lucky I did. Oh, and if anyone wants to blame someone for the R, S, L & M course, start with Dixon and Mowry for giving me the opportunity to teach at SUNY Plattsburgh, and Dean Dr. Kathie Lavoie and Provost Dr. Robert Golden for assisting me in keeping the class alive once it became necessary for me to start teaching it as an interdisciplinary philosophy course. While I am framing colleagues as scapegoats to get myself off the hook, I must also blame Dr. Tom Moran for consistently believing in my vision. Now, my hands should be fairly clean having affixed the blame on this heavyweight cast of characters!

My thinking also was that those same students that I had the pleasure of teaching about diversity and social justice who had never been immersed in constructive conversations about diversity and social justice might also never have been immersed in proactive conversations about romance, sex, love, and marriage. I had never had any structured opportunities to discuss romance, sex, love, and marriage in a class room setting with others interested in the subject matter. How might my perspective have been different if I had an opportunity to consider how the two lovers Heloise and Abelard, John Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, Socrates/Plato, Martin Buber, Arthur Schopenhauer and others had engaged these topics. How might my perspective have been different if I had discussed many of their perspectives through the lens of Mel Gibson’s ability to read women’s thoughts in What Women Want? How much more skilled in the art of seduction/romance might someone be if they had access to how some men/women interpret the infamous hotel bar conversation between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, or the opening encounter between Denzel Washington and Sanaa Lathan in Out of Time? Would I have more/less appreciation for the extremely different type of romantic sensuality portrayed in Nine 1/2 Weeks or Secretary? How different might my interpretation of marriage have been if I had extensively discussed the intricacies of the relationship between Tea Leoni’s and Adam Sandler’s characters in Spanglish?

I hope you feel free responding to any/all the various questions I have implied/asked above and the more specific ones I am asking below. The R, S, L & M course begins in four weeks, so I am getting in the mood for it. Join me?

ROMANCE: Most of us would admit to having been romanced, but what does it really mean to be romanced, or have romance? Is the concept of romance a universal notion that everyone somehow intuits similarly? What is your definition of romance? When does friendship transition into romance? Must friendship end or necessarily suffer when romance begins?

SEX: Most mature young college aged students have either had sex, or are thinking about it because they anticipate it happening. But how does sex differ from love making. What is the difference between sex, and love making in terms of gender or heterosexism? Can they all occur within a given moment in a relationship? Under what circumstances do they occur separate from one another? Is romance a prerequisite for sex or love making? NOTE: Keep in mind this is a family show so creative phrasing is paramount if you choose to elaborate/explicate sex!

LOVE: Who hasn’t been in love, desired love, or lost love? Who hasn’t declared love and wished they could take it back, or regretted the opportunity to express it, though being too cowardly to say it? Who hasn’t given up tremendous opportunities or made humongous statements about what they wouldn’t do for love? Was this ever you?

MARRIAGE: Many of us are the products of marriage. If we aren’t, in a relatively Judeo-Christian society we are judged as less than, when in actuality we were underprivileged this way by birth. Many of us point to marriage as the end-all, be-all moment of our lives because our society prepares us for the monumental moment of matrimony without any thoughts on marriage’s devilish downside, divorce. Marriage is often considered good or bad, based on certain societal criteria, but marriage affords many the social trappings to express themselves with others in ways that they may never be able to express themselves outside of a marriage. Marriage also further sanctions procreation, though many attempt to create without being a pro. What might be some of the other societal underpinnings associated with marriage that might assist/undermine the advancement of social justice?

Do you think there might be value in taking such a class in today’s society? (Apparently the students belive there is. The course is currently taught as an upper division elective and it filled almost immediately with my phone still ringing off the hook with students jockeying me for the opportunity to take it.) What is the upside/downside to such courses? Assist me in romancing this sexy topic that more of us would love to engage if we weren’t married to societal convention. I’m waiting!!!