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Wiley Wandering

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August 20, 2008

Wondering While Wandering: Tripping in LA? – Part Two:

Okay, so it was the wife. Upon seeing this vivacious young woman with me the wife looked as if she was holding her breath and couldn’t find her way to exhaling until I introduced Tamarah as my goddaughter. Not once did she say anything rude, and she wouldn’t, because she doesn’t roll like that. However, that is all the more reason why this story is somewhat profound in its simplicity as well as simplistic in its profundity. There is no secret formula that transforms good people into jingoists, sexists, racists, homophobes, etc. If there is a prototype of the type of person who will say and or do socially unjust things it is the person who has not had much experience being immersed in conversations that engage otherness. That description fits most of us. In an ever changing world where we will face so many different people those of us that want to represent our selves best to everyone we meet pursue opportunities to engage caring people outside of our comfort zones as an excellent opportunity for growth. I could understand the concern that someone might have about the corruption of our youth. I teach Philosophy and have started every ethics class I have ever taught with a discussion about Socrates being condemned to die for allegedly “corrupting the youth.” It is a serious offense and still is a significant concern in our society, as it should be. But is it so serious that we predetermine behavior before tangible evidence has been made available?

I haven’t even gotten to what was the true motivation for this blog posting. So, Angel and I are sitting in our seats, “straight up chillin.” We are talking about life, family, school, career/life aspirations, and yes, how unbelievably “off the charts” my seats are. Now, not to boast, but to give you some insight into how Angel and I mentor one another (without giving you too much detail about the intricacies of me and my little brother), I shared with Angel how I just took the time to build a relationship with the tournament director over the years of having a phone conversation regarding improved seats. I had consistently called trying to improve my seating. A respect grew out of those conversations and subsequently when they opened up a new row of seating around the stadium in an effort to be more accommodating with wheel chair accessibility, they inserted/created Row AA, and I was offered the opportunity to have two of what are essentially floor seats. So, I also share with Angel, after his response to the fact that we are sitting on the floor of the stadium and can practically and literally lean forward and touch the athletes on their back if we choose to do so, that the seats really came out of two people (the tournament director and I) finding a nice rhythm in our conversations, because we both wanted to achieve it. To this day I have never met the tournament director.

Anyway, Angel and I are rapping and all of a sudden a man and his three little children approach us and the man says “Excuse me, you are in our seats!” I look at the man and somewhat pensively respond by saying simply “No, you are mistaken!” I then turn back around prepared to further my conversation with Angel, when I am interrupted again by the man with a reassertion that he is right. Appearing irritated that he has to reassert himself he says “Are you sure those are your seats?” I turn once again and say to him “Believe me, more sure than you are! You may want to discuss this with an usher.” He then turns to greet an usher who spies the situation and decides to get involved. When he realizes that he is in the wrong section, he says “Oh!” and then moves on to the correct seats without any apparent after thought or acknowledgment of his assumption of correctness.

What is your take, your analysis on why I was approached in this fashion? Was there anything wrong with his approach, or my response? Does the incident take on more significance, or a different significance, when I tell you that the man was White and that Angel and I both appear Black (Angel, who actually is a dark skinned Latino from the Dominican Republic with a fairly large Afro perhaps even more than me). It might also assist you to know that I have had this happen almost every year to me, and had it reported to me by various friends I have shared the tickets with from time to time. It might also help you to know that there aren’t a great many underrepresented people who appear to own box seats to this tennis tournament and I haven’t seen anyone else sitting on the floor. While my guests and I are already prepared for a certain amount of scrutiny, with people wondering who we are to have such sought after seats, it is further exacerbated by the casual conversation with other box seat holders who aren’t good at cloaking their curiosity in knowing what I do for a living (that allows me to afford these tickets).

So tell me, if you wonder about these wanderings, what are your thoughts? Was I tripping or was anyone tripping during my trip in L.A.?


August 9, 2008

Wondering While Wandering: Tripping in LA? – PART ONE

I recently had the pleasure of attending the UCLA Tennis Tournament with SUNY Plattsburgh's student body president Angel Acosta (it's actually titled the Countrywide Tennis Tournament, but with Countrywide's recent notoriety allow me to frame it more favorably). Angel just happened to be completing an intensive summer film program at USC and we had planned to connect since our schedules were in sync for a California rendezvous. My first wondering/wandering moment relative to this trip occurred around the fact that Angel and I rendezvoused at all!

You see I recall once lunching at one of my favorite eating spots, Broadview Cafe (best soup in the North Country) near West Plattsburgh, New York with Ms. Marvelle Roberts, an exceptional female student who would go on to win the Chancellor's Award before she graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh. Marvelle had taken two classes from me and twice been a Teacher’s Assistant for me as well. She also watched my children for me and was very good friends with my wife Adrienne, who at that time still lived in the North Country. Not that any of this should actually matter, or should it? Well, should it?

Anyway, that day Marvelle and I were laughing and joking when all of a sudden a fairly high profile Plattsburgh woman—that I had only recently met—approached our table insisting I introduce Marvelle to her and even further insisting that we share with her how we knew one another! Neither one of us were prepared for this inquiry! It literally dismantled our sensibilities (yes, that means blew our minds). What would be the reasons someone would approach a couple and passionately question them about their relationship? I was dumbfounded. Marvelle actually said she had never been “so befuddled in all her life.” Marvelle could be a bit pretentious at times (relax Marvelous, I’m just kidding). The bottom line though is that Marvy and I may have been prejudged as being either lovers, or on our way to Loveland or at least Lover’s Lane. Why would that be?

Why did I share this story? Because I am blown away at how we prejudge. I can’t eat lunch with Marvy in a public restaurant and visibly enjoy doing it without being perceived as having overtones of romanticism! Granted she was/is an extraordinarily intelligent, witty, charming, and beautiful young woman. Perspectives on my attractiveness could be so relative what is the point of engaging them, except to say that obviously this woman must have surmised me attractive enough to get Marvelle’s attention. On the other hand, I can basically hang out with Angel, a very intelligent, witty, charming, handsome young man for days, all over Los Angeles, and not come under scrutiny for any relational improprieties relative to our age, or professional status (professor/mentor vs. student/protégé). Perhaps the problem lies so deep that elements of it can be ascertained in even my description of the two students. I described them exactly the same way until I offered an assessment of their physicality, labeling Marvelle beautiful and Angel handsome. Perhaps embedded within that distinction are contributing factors if not additional evidence as to how we are predisposed to unfair and socially unjust expectations of one another’s behavior. Is this true? Can you offer some other examples?

Then there is also another dimension to this scenario. Has anyone focused on the heterosexual privilege on display here? In a heterosexual society it is assumed that Angel and I are heterosexual because we both must project some stereotypical notion of masculinity that is adequate enough for us to not be labeled otherwise. Obviously there are measurable degrees to masculinity and femininity that aren’t quantified, but somehow qualified. I understand this but am lost at the same time. Can someone enlighten me as to what are those measurable degrees for both/either genders?

That wouldn’t be the only part of this that is intriguing. If that isn’t enough for you to consider, let’s take it a bit further. At the same tennis tournament I attended with Angel I also went with my daughter Autumn one day and my goddaughter Tamarah on another. Now, Autumn— who is a very intellectually mature little eight year old— is often said to resemble her father, and she is so young looking that most people would imagine, or dare I say, prejudge us as father and daughter, or possibly uncle and niece. Tamarah, my goddaughter, on the other hand while also being quite intellectually mature for her age, is more physically mature than the average young woman her age. Couple this with the fact that as a result of her being a burgeoning soccer phenomenon on the Southern California sports scene, this young woman has virtually no body fat. So, from a distance she could easily be construed as a mature woman. Well, on the day Tamarah and I attended the tournament there were multiple occasions that we encountered couples that I knew. Along with having had these box seats in my name since the early nineties, I also have quite a few friends active in Southern California Tennis circles. On one of the meetings I had with a couple (a husband and wife) it was very evident that one of the spouses slipped into prejudgment mode rather quickly. PAUSE HERE FOR A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Guess which one you think it was, and how was it they were prejudging. If you do please share with all of us why you think it was the husband or wife (two other politically loaded terms).

IF YOU HAVE ALREADY GUESSED, then PROCEED (though hopefully you will share why you guessed the way you did).

Oh, also, I haven’t even gotten to what motivated me to write this two part blog posting. You will have to read part two to really get to the incident that Angel and I need your help to unpack and make sense of.