Saturday, January 21, 2006

Leviathan

I am having a hard time today. I am depressed about New Orleans and worried about my cousins' welfare in Slidel. I have only meet a couple of them. It was the Christmas when I was 14 and my cousin Annette took me to a bunch of bars and we got drunk, then went and saw the Eddie Murphy's movie The Golden Child. I was not that tall, but I could carry myself pretty well in a room full of adults. All I needed was a cigarette, and my cousin just had a cup of white wine. She wasn't legal either. I drove home from the movie cause she was sleepy.

I am worried about my grandmother in Picayune, which is located on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain and East of New Orleans. I just don't think America cares about the Gulf, and is willing to show more optimism, support and cash to Iraq than to us.

But is that really the case? Friends of mine in Europe say that through Katrina, they see why Iraq is a disaster. This is the way we manage our wars and disasters in America, without a plan and by the seat of our pants. Sometimes it is a good idea, and sometimes you come up with craps.

New Orleans is a whole world that is falling into disarray. Its francophone remnants will be swallowed by the sea I am afraid, but time and migrating generations have already eroded much of that underlying fabric. Sometimes I wonder if the spirits have ordained it. I wonder if they are claiming it back, if their moment there of preeminence is long gone, and there is something in our lethargy towards the spirits that is causing this shake down. All this commercialism and the turning of fetishes into mere gimmicks has punched a whole in the levy. Maybe the spirits are inviting Our Lady of Guadaloupe (who is a synchronization of the Aztec Goddess Tonantzin) to take up some of the slake caused by the Anglo invasion. She is an earth goddess and I think that the marsh lands are in need of some serious sexual healing after all this erosion. . .

But what do I know. I am just babbling. For right now, I just can't get over the parallels between Gonaive in Haiti and New Orleans. Rivers. Honey. Hurricanes. Erzulie Frida. Erzulie Dantor. Neglect. Pandemonium. Poverty. Floating black bodies. Bloated black bodies. And this feeling that the Anglos never understood or cared about the creoles . . . really. That strange and Firmin feeling I got when I was growing up. People talking about us because we ate so much fish in our house. In Germany sitting with many African-Americans and listening to gospel music and talking about how "we" shall over come and what "we" want for "the people", and there being something else in the back of my mind. Something about our prosperity and a floor wash I found in my father's closet next to his shoe shine polish. Watching him pour rum and read book after book. Telling us it is time to "go make groceries" and pushing us around in the cart when we were small enough to fit. His baby blue blue jeans from Sears and the flip flops on his ashen feet that he was not ashamed of made everybody turn at Winn Dixie. He walked and carried himself with a jiggle, that I think I have inherited. Something just mud ridden and cast iron about him then as compared to now. His youth and vitality is still intact, but now expressed with an austerity that is broad and silent like his shoulders in a suit that fits and falls perfectly. He still has room to grow, but such marks of the Delta have been erased. He is and is still becoming an American cosmopolitan. It has taken me sometime to see that my father actually immigrated from the coast into mainstream culture and has not really looked back except for moments when he brought us ginger beer and sugar cane on a summer afternoon, or put molasses onto my pancakes. Red beans and okra were all right for everyday.

----

Today I read over my blogs and decided that I did not like the one about my trip to Atlanta and the party at A's house last week. Too many "cools" and repetitive sentence structures dot its progression. I have also been glancing over the blogs of other black writers and academics. It has been "cool", but sometimes I think it is a world that I somehow remember being in, but left a little while a go to get some air. And now that I am sticking my head back into the rooms of chatter and dealing with the students and administrations of various university, I, all of a sudden, remember that I could not breath in those "spaces" (and I mean that in the full cultural theorist and just plan "theorist" sense of the word).

Mind you, I did all of this Africana blog surfing while listening to the song "I Am Afraid of My Cum" by the group Pissed. Had the demo on repeat. I downloaded it from Jockohomo's blog. I was also thinking about the next time I am going to shave my head.

Not to digress, but I think that the other part of me that can't find a place to express itself in the reading groups and woman dominated classes on Caribbean literature is not so willing to disappear just yet. -- this half of myself many people find to be weird, or as Das Experiment says: "It does not match the rest of you (me)." A lot of people think that when I say I lived in NYC, that I am from NYC and that since I love hip-hop music, rap, house music, etc . . . , that I don't listen to punk or rock music. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee that should give a couple of mofo's a major hint.

I mean I sat through the first semester of my 9th grade English class with 19-year-old white boys that smelled like Marlboros and wet hair. I learned a lot about sex from a curly red hair grease monkey who was on the wrestling team. The guys that I liked and had crushes on in physical education were a bunch of 15 -year-olds that hit puberty early and drank cokes in the parking lot only to disappear during 3rd period. I remember that they would shower and laugh and play after swim class; meanwhile, all the black guys were very modest and maybe they were scared. Conversations switched to Brass Monkey by the Beastie Boys (who no one could believe were white) when we finally all put on our underwear, before putting my underwear on my heart just pumped like a hummingbird. I was very shy. The only thing left in my head concerning those brief naked times was everybody speaking so slow. Guys calling each other "dawg" and stuff like that. The white guys did not act that way. They were still busy screaming and laughing under the shower heads.

I remember smiling at one of these "white" guys, the darkest one. He smiled back in "that" way, and I guess he knew that I like him. But he did not go any further. He seemed straight but not to care. And I think that has influenced me in a way. I had crushes on both black guys and white guys in high school, but I could only smile that way to the white guys. The black guys would simply call me faggot and with time I became an outcast until I hit puberty and grew up like a vine. Then, at seventeen, I heard less of the name calling.

But anyway, I am moving to something I have to think about more later. I could develop it into a nice essay I think, but I need to remember that world.

To sum up the post, I don't always feel comfortable with all the definitions of what it means to be black in the academe and at this point I doubt if I ever will. And just like the locker rooms of 1986, it is the boundaries built by the black guys that make me feel uncomfortable. There is a code of conduct concerning black professors and our various projects in the Western Cannon that baffles my sensibilities. If we can't talk about the spirits, drink beer, learn about the punk and ska movement, and kiss white boy grease monkeys I am not sure if I can participate. But of course, I do participate. Just in another way.

5 comments:

Kai in NYC said...

Those black boys in the shower room (and the black ones, so in the minority, in high academe) eventually internalize a sort of hyperconsciousness of a judgmental white gaze. In some ways their (our?) own bodies, spirituality, and sexuality become estranged from them, so that there's a sort of rigorous policing of one's own behavior (masculine! rigorously rational always!) so that questionable ideas and behavior don't escape into public view. If you live that way long enough, it's second nature, or, in fact, just nature: you are now the sort of man who always goes home after his workout to shower (never takes his drawls off at the gym); would not dream of looking twice at another man however hot you think he is; and have never let any mention of spirits or straightforward raw emotion creep into his academic writing, however anguished, sublime and seething his private thoughts are. Those of us who didn't spend our youths submitting to gaze and censure and political exigencies of Graduate School advisors (or the gaze, censure and p.e. of black peers we longed with all our hearts--for decades--to fit in with) now find our grown ass selves strangely free and strangely alienated. Try to keep your mind on the "free" side of equation, is my advice.

Kai in NYC

Littlemilk said...

Kai,thanks for the post.


I will try and keep my mind on the free side of the equation. I have read your post a couple of times because I am starting to wonder about my feelings concerning two places . . . home and the university. Your advice hits on both places.

I have spent a lot of time being uncomfortable in situations that were totally foreign: trying to make a dream tanigible; or, following someone down a certain road without a map, a needed language, or a fucking clue. And in the course of all this running and trying-to-get-my mind-around I have turned out to be the kind of person I wanted to be. So it is all interesting. This homecoming is interesting.

I just think home is a complicated place. I have not lived in Nashville for 15 years. So far it has been very Christian Black Baptist church with all the fixin's:

Very Tyler Perry Family Reunion except I am saying all the wrong lines and missing my cues.

As for the academe, things would be alright if my job security and future did not depend on what I say and how I am perceived, which is part of the game anyway. No?


I have worked in a lot of different fields with a lot of different people and I just think the academe works in an antiquated fashion. Or maybe it is the fact that it is more like a military lifestyle with Erasmus Professors being 4 star generals, and undergraduates being privates. Everytime I enter a corporate office I feel like a civilian again. And in my assignments as a consultant to different companies, many managers have said that university professionals are the hardest to work with and work for. They say we don't know how to work as a team.

I must agree. I remember my first job after grad school. I had to learn a whole different way of working.


Add to that, certain ideas and politics about being a black body in the university itself and it is hard for me to handle. Most of the time I do not want to think about the relationships between black women and black men . . . I want to simply be in a relationship. And I think that is where is started, real life against the backdrop of proclaimations concerning Tropes and the Cannon.

I digress a bit.

I guess my point is that I did enter NYU graduate school at 21 years of age during the time of all that cultural theory and the Sokal/Ross incident. In a way, I did spend my youth submitting to "the gaze and censure and political exigencies of Graduate School advisors", and maybe simply some bad advise administered from home about a world they knew nothing about. And that was the first place where I felt "uncomfortable" and "out of my skin".

Good experience. And at a price. And with me still wondering about where I fit it. I am coming back home to find things have not changed that much. And in ways, I am coming back to the academe and seeing that "the language" has not changed that much and since that is what I do, I wonder . . .

John K said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John K said...

Yoops, didn't mean to delete--

Hmm, I'm not sure what academe is getting talked about here but the police are in the minority, at least in my experience. I don't see the boundaries imposed by the "black boys" operating where I've been in school, not even when we were in school together.

Among colleagues quite a few actually speak out of turn, let raw emotion in, literally act out on the page, sometimes to great acclaim, since the discursive straightjacket ain't what gets contracts or sells books anymore. But then what kind of performance are we talking about? Even the black "peers" want some ugly fly, they don't want you to sound like, oh, Frege or even Adorno. Unless you can justify really high theory, in which case you can also probably justify ugly fly too.

Back at the ranch we were both at, I was a "black boy" who didn't know how to behave and wrote about all kinds of things and had classmates in workshops sort of saying, HUH???, and talked back to Denis Donoghue, challenging him on his right-wing bullshit as my black classmate sat silently watching, and Donoghue never gave me a bad grade and actually engaged me. I remember those days fondly. Then there was EKB who I worshiped and still do, especially because he did everything EXCEPT what was expected, from conducting his classes as he saw fit to giving impossible assignments to jetting off to Barbados as the drop of a hat to being impenetrable to making his own books to you name it. My idol, one of them. I remember you liked Walcott's poetry better, but then most people did. Talk about conforming to the judgmental white gaze--and he was duly rewarded, DW was--now they've turned against him viciously, or at least a few young wolves have.

I try not to police myself; I refuse to always smile or look happy or presentable or shave my nappy beard or be RATIONAL EVEN THOUGH MOST PEOPLE OPERATE BY EMOTION or speak calmly and rationally when people are making racist comments without "realizing" it; etc.; my students hear about a Black homosexual man who is interested in Joy Division, Cesare Pietroiusti, string theory, Dimitry Shostakovich, Cecil Taylor, "Making the Band" (P-Diddy's versions), Afrobrazilian literature, and whatever roils in and under my consciousness. I've even seen students wink at or imitate my mannerisms, but hey, mimesis starts at home.

Here's another thing: just see how many Black gay men in academe have a Black or other partner of color. That 9th grade white boy has not only left the coin of his gaze, but his imprint too. I'm one of a few at my institution (the Black lesbian sistas are a different story). To be a self-affirming Black gay/sgl man in academe is really not an easy trip. "No one has imagined us," as Adrienne Rich wrote 30 years ago. STILL.

Really, there's the outward performance (and performativity, in its various guises), and there's what's going on inside you. That's key. If that's free, that's what matters, though everything is socially implicated and imbricated. So what is *free*? And believe me, there's a lot of acting (out) and it ain't always revolutionary (not that you said it was)....

Littlemilk said...

J.

It is funny. I have not really talked to anyone about my graduate school experience because I just ended and started working in the publishing industry. Did that for 7 years. I went to the Africana department now and then and to a couple of conferences but everybody was a bit snooty.

I guess the real problem I had was the fact that I wanted a bit of the acadame and a bit of the other world. I got the label of being "young", "resistent" and "not serious" pretty early with a couple of students, but for the most part I did not care at all about those words except for the last one. Yeah I was young. Yes, I was resistant to theory and I still am very restaint to philosophical thought that turns everyones thought into the same LANGUAGE!. But that did not mean I was not serious. And that hurt I guess. I just did not understand what that word was in that context and how it was being used. It meant I was not dedicated because I had work in an office or was searching for it.

The other thing was that I would make a simple statement and a bunch of women would accuse me of being sexist. Then, it would be me being "gay". Then it would be, god only knows what. I was too phallic one time for saying "God, he . . .", I was interupted before I could finish. When she said that God was an "it, at least in my mind", I told her that "it is an inanimate object, the higher vibration of he and she is 'we' or 'us'." she was shocked. She then told me she was tired of games.

That is what a good number of my conversations were like at NYU for 3 years.

Most of these things were from students, but looking back, since I took a year off and finished when I was 23, it was pretty hard for me to take. Also being alone in the city, and also without a real mentor in Africana. My mentor came from CLACS, and from there I guess my trajectory was set.

I hope that makes sense. The alienation that I felt was more how I was being viewed by "strong, independent, black women". And on top of the heavy politics, there were the office politics. And you know how it goes, where the crumbs are so small the people become oh so vicious.

I came from Hampton University, your home by the sea. Wonderful middle class non-confrontational university. Gays, dykes, Foucault, Audrey Lourde, foreign language majors and Meso-American politics were not available. So I walked in thinking that we were suppose to be happy that Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize. On a night of one acts I played Makak at Hampton. I liked it. I was happy he won. I was happy Morrison won the next year after picking her for my senior thesis project.

I went to NYU the following year. I was a baby. I meet the "academe" for the first time. The ideas of cannon formation. I discovered the text. I saw teachers through impossible reading lists in the air and students scrambling after scattered syllabus pages knocking each other out. It was my first time being black in a predominately white institution. And I think I was just alone in the process.

When I got out, I was just happy to be done. I went on to work in a Caribbean archive for a while on the upper Westside and that was that. Back to the publishing world because I needed insurance, then an invitation to Germany and a language mastered. But I don't recall a real community at NYU. I made one up as I went along with my mentor, and with other students at other programs at other universities. But I have always done something else for money, and for a feeling of accomplishment and being part of a team. The university has not been that way for me ever. As a teacher or as a student.

Well Hampton is the exception.

Now I am like you, and have been I guess for some time really. Happy and nappy and ashy if I ain't got time to get some Nivea heavy duty skin treatment. And I approach people on my own terms with my own plans. I guess EKB is a good role model. But I just remember the weirdness of looking for the History of Barbados by Hillary Beckles. I found another book by the author at the publishing house where I interned. I pulled it out so we could talk about it. He, just said, no, that is not the one. I put the book back in my bag, and I remember a couple of students looking at me with a weird look. I just wanted to discuss Beckles. I guess I was naive.

I remember reading Castle of My Skin and a student saying that she found it sexist and patriarchal and I remember thinking "write your won fuckin't book then." And it was in the 1950's when George Lamming wrote it.


Oh, and I had just started my first job on Madison Avenue. I was too scared to go on this trip. I had no vacation time. I wished he had put that in the course plan earlier. EKB! I asked my bosses, and they said yes, but I knew it reflected bad on my sense of teamwork.

I could not go.

I think it turned out to be only women.

I just remember turning in my Master's Thesis and talking on the phone at my desk at work, and being finished as Hootie and the Blowfish sung the song "Time" on my radio.

I was happy.