Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Reviews are In: All Confused and Such

I just received my evaluations. It's nice that I could have electronic copies, which means that I have them now, as opposed to finding them at some random point when I'm on campus again. Clearly, though, it would have been useful to have had them earlier. Or perhaps it just would have been confusing.

In general, the review are good. I had an overwhelming number of "Strongly Agree" responses for most areas. They reflect the vibe I got while the classes were going on and afterward, when goo-gobs of students returned for rec letters. It also reflects the number of students in the spring who enrolled in my courses as a result of recommendations from friends. But there are some stupefying moments:

  • More than one person indicated that they did not use the library--not even electronically! What?! We had a research paper! How does that work, without using the library????
  • Someone was unsatisfied with "revisions." But I have no idea what that means. Did the student not like the fact revisions were allowed? Or was he/she upset that she/he was not allowed to do revisions (in which case he/she did not read the syllabus, which clearly spelled out the revision policy and the "dissatisfaction" is really unfair.) One word answers are not useful!
  • More than one student indicated that they really liked a text from the very beginning of the term. I didn't think they liked it or that it was entirely related, so I omitted it from the list for the next term. Guess I need to think about adding it again.
  • I was glad that there were fewer personal comments than I sometimes get. Those are often not attacking, but I never really know what to do when students critique my personhood.

In general, I'm pleased with the feedback, and I'm so happy that students are saying that they learn in my classes! Mostly, I'm glad that many students are enjoying this almost as much as I am. Yay!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oh, boy

I'm not sure that I can parent a boy. Seriously. I don't think my heart can take it. My son just poked a huge metal whatchamacallit into a socket. It created a big flash, and he says enthusiastically, "That popped me!"

Yes, I just said that my 2 year old son nearly electrocuted himself.

This, after Hubby and I somehow accidentally left him alone, sleeping in a stroller at a state park while we both took off to separate restrooms and miscommunicated.

After he ran directly towards a moving car in a parking lot.

After he took off rabbit-fast, repeatedly into a crowd, forcing me to leave The Babydoll to chase him.

After he's eaten all manner of nonedible things.

After he had a concussion before he was a year old while learning to walk.

Seriously, this is just too much for me. I've been filled with angst since I discovered that the baby I was carrying was a boy. Raising African American boys, after all, is angst-inducing. Even more so if you pay any attention to the dismal stats about them. I've put my hands on his beautiful little head, asking God to take care of and protect him. And while I'm getting nervous about potential run-ins with the police when he learns to drive, or violent school yard fights, or poor test scores in school, he's finding 1000 ways to put the fear of God in me right now.

This incident tonight just rattled me terribly. I cried uncontrollably and tried every way I could think of to impress upon his little brain the seriousness of touching outlets. I told him he made me cry and worry. That touching outlets would burn his hands. That he broke the rules. Time out guidelines went out the window; I'm forcing him to sit on his bed for the rest of the night since he can't be trusted not to maim himself. Then I held his little body while I looked at every inch of him, tearfully imagining what it would look like to find a black electrical burn on his smooth brown skin (is that even what I should be looking for?). I thought of the other mothers I knew who had sons who made dumb and dangerous decisions or who fell victim to the dumb behavior of some other testosterone-makes-you-stupid boy. Honestly, I just can't take this. This kind of anxiety for the next 16 years (as if it will end at 18!) is just too much. I need a good boarding school.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hairy Situations

So, I've started this new hair plan: I'm going to stop relaxing my hair.

For an African American woman, this is a pretty major move. As Star Jones used to say on "The View" "Women don't obsess about their bodies; white women obsess about their bodies; black women obsess about their hair!" And we do. It's a primary source of pain and pleasure, a focus of beauty standards, and marker of race. The other thing is that we have so many choices about it. When I think of the black women I know, the hair ranges from weaves to wigs to Afros to braids to twists hot presses to letting-it-do-whatever. In fact, I discussed my hair care decision with some female students this semester, and many of them were in the process of an alternate hair decision themselves. One was in the middle of going natural and underwent "the big cut" (cut off the chemically relaxed hair down to the 3 or 4 inches of natural new growth). One had been natural all of her life and usually wore spirally curls or blew it out straight. One had stopped relaxing it but had it hot pressed regularly. One wore twists. One wore a weave (I think). It was a perfect setting to solidify my decision. They were excited and vowed to hold me to my promise to myself to change my hair style. Of course, I told them that I was not going to come to campus every day while this process unfolded. Who knows what my hair is going to look like with half relaxed hair and half new growth? No, I told them, I'll start this process in the summer when I don't have to stand up in front of people every day.

So I've just skipped my first touch-up. Normally, this is when I start to run to the salon for some chemicals. And when people start to ask when I have a hair appointment. My roots are thick and it's harder to comb my hair. The curls from my roller set won't hold very well anymore. But I'm trying to stick to the plan. After each of my babies, my hair fell out in scary amounts. I know that it was normal, especially since my hair was so thick and full and shiny while I was pregnant. It had to end, right? But after the shedding I expected, it just kept right on falling out. Until I was practically wearing a comb over. All around my hair line I was completely bald. With my daughter, I went crying to my hair stylist, afraid that the hair loss that older women in my family had experienced had been jump started by my pregnancy. "You need to go to the doctor, now," my grandmother told me. So I did; I made an appointment with the dermatologist forthwith. It helped, and the hair did eventually grow back, but it took about a year, and by then I was about to be pregnant again. I was really afraid that I was going to be bald. Now, with my hair all unpretty as it is now, I'm feeling a little panicked again.

This weekend, another interesting hair situation came up. The Babydoll graduated from preschool--so exciting by the way, there was a cap and gown and everything--and I noticed how much trouble the moms had gone through with the four-year-olds' hair. Many of them had straightened it or had curly braids put in. I wondered if I should feel guilty because I had not gone to such lengths. We had been cautioned not to put ponytails on the top or sides of the girls' head because the caps wouldn't fit if we did. So I put two thick braids in The Babydoll's hair and left the ends loose, thinking that it would look festive and cute and sort of grown-up. She likes that style, so she had so complaints. But I still wondered if I should have taken her to the salon for curls and hot combs and let her wear it hanging loose like a grown up. I think maybe I just wasn't ready to let go of her little girl-ness, even in her hair. I'm guessing that most of these girls will be getting their virgin relaxers in a year or two. And they'll probably keep doing it for the rest of their lives. That was basically my experience. There's nothing wrong with that, but I'm going to try a different way. If I can learn to handle my own hair, I can teach The Babydoll to do hers, too (although her hair is thicker and more compliant than mine).
A big part of the weirdness is that I don't really know how else to handle my hair. But even though I've decided to stop forking over hours (and hours and hours) of my time to sitting in hair salons, and goo-gobs of my money as well, I'm just sort of standing around confused. Ultimately, I'm probably going to keep visiting the salon until I can figure out how to take care of it myself on a much more regular basis.

So, here's my new hair journey. It feels rather risky and I'm not a risk-taker. At all. Maybe I'll go completely crazy and put some pictures up. Maybe.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Arizona, Your Dixie is Showing

Is Arizona losing its mind? I thought Arizona's new law allowing police officers to require papers of people suspected of being illegal immigrants was harsh and wrong and wide open for abuse. I understand that they have a problem with immigration, but I don't think demanding citizens to prove themselves (because let's face it, that's gonna happen), is the way to eradicate the problem. Especially when there are no standard ways to determine who looks illegal, who doesn't belong, except that they look brown and/or poor. But maybe, maybe, I could chalk the law up to what Republicans keep saying is Arizona's desperation surrounding what to do about illegal immigration. Until I read this. So now they can't have ethnic studies classes? Because Chicano students learn that they are oppressed? Forget that there's some truth in it. Now, you're going to oppress them by not allowing them to learn about themselves, but it will be okay because they won't learn that this is a way of oppressing them? Smart. And racist.

My goodness! Every time I talk about racism in my classes here in Biblebelt, my African American students have story after story about their individual experiences with racism (though sadly, none of them recognize the institutional racism that affects them all), but all of their encounters take place in the South which leads them to believe that the South is the hotbed of racist activity and all other areas of the country have evolved. I think Arizona is trying to say, "No, we haven't. Remember we didn't want Dr. King's birthday either. We don't want people of color here."
But Arizona is not alone, as I try to tell my students. Sean Bell's death happened in New York. The Compton Cookout Party happened in California. And now that we have a nation experiencing massive economic hardship and its first Black president, this type of xenophobic, racist vitriol is happening all over the country.

History has shown us that when resources are scarce, the population becomes quite territorial. I think the Holocaust is an extreme example of this fact. The Germans were suffering and they began to believe the Jews were responsible. Enter xenophobia. Here, in America, we have the event of a lack of jobs and lost houses/shelter; combine that with a new face in authority and we have a perfect storm that rallies Tea Partiers to yell "Give us our country back!" And although they like to dress it up and say they are calling for the return of their country from the government, when the government seemed to be in the hands of a White man who said it was okay to spy on their phone conversations, check into their library book selections, hold them for weeks without benefit of counsel and declare war without their permission, they didn't ask for it back. But when a Black man (who, by the way, is half White and was raised by White people) tries to bring about health care for the majority of Americans, then they want it back. I think they are saying we want it back from the minorities. I think Arizona is striking now before the minorities can take over completely.

But the thing is, the minorities aren't taking over. We still have massive oppression to overcome (even though apparently Arizona and others would rather pretend they don't exist). Minorities are still disproportionately incarcerated; percentage-wise, they have the highest infant mortality rate; minorities were the largest percentage of people losing their homes in this housing fiasco; there are only two people of color on the Supreme Court and one is certainly not working for the good of other people of color; and how many minorities are there in the Senate? Plus, I don't know what the fear is (Glenn Beck), but Obama is really not working toward empowering Black people at the expense of Whites or anyone else. Ask, Tavis Smiley. According to him, Obama is pretty much ignoring Black issues.
If America is to live up to its ideals, what's wrong with minorities being on the come-up? Why can't it actually be about the best being the victor, regardless of color or ethnicity? So, there's a job up for grabs. We shouldn't be like, "They are taking our jobs." The jobs shouldn't belong to anyone except the person--male, female, black, white, brown, etc.--who best meets the qualifications. I realize that it becomes complicated because our history has determined that some people will be in a better position to meet the qualifications than others. So, things like Mexican-American studies should be taught because that will help those individuals become better prepared to meet the qualifications. Studies have shown that when students learn about themselves as a people, they do better in school and thus in life. This wouldn't give them a leg up on the competition; it would just help them get on even footing so that the race would be fair.

These are scary times. Yesterday, on one of the Sunday Morning Talk Shows, the host said 70% of the people supported Arizona's new immigration law. (He went on to say that when they polled non-white people, the numbers were turned upside down against the law.) Apparently, we need to be ever vigilante because I don't think Arizona is the exception. If we're not careful, America is going to march itself right back into the Victorian era.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Can't Help Myself

I sure wish cable channels would stop airing 27 Dresses every five minutes. I am powerless against it and have to watch it every single time . . . .

Monday, May 10, 2010

Losing Lena

In a cultural moment when the beauty and value of black women and their bodies is so much still up for discussion, the loss of the lovely Lena Horne is poignant.

She was rare for a number of reasons:

  • She had a career in which she remained in and out of the public eye for decades, never disappearing or becoming irrelevant. She was recognizable and beloved by generations. Grandmothers who sang "Stormy Weather" every time they saw Horne on TV had grandsons who tilted their heads in mannish admiration of her enduring beauty. Her episode of "A Different World" in the 90s is remembered fondly by most of my peers.
  • She spoke her mind. As an actress, a woman, and a black woman, telling folks where to get off was not supposed to be in the cards. Yet, there are many stories about her outspoken opinions about race in Hollywood.
  • She didn't run from being black, even though she could have. She probably could have "passed" (maybe?) but was very clear about the way she identified herself. She didn't need to come up with contrived categories or separate herself from other actresses who were also confronting the difficulties of discrimination and inequity.
  • She was a sassy singer and a wonderful actress. Many of those today who try to do both clearly need to stick to only one genre. Halle Berry was right to include Horne in her Academy Award acknowledgements.
  • She was the good witch in "The Wiz." That performance is mesmerizing every time I see it. I remember seeing it as a little girl and thinking that she looked like an angel, too beautiful to be real. When she sang, "Believe in yourself as I believe in you!" I cried.
  • She was sexy. The road to recognition for black women has been filled with pressures from within and without that often forced them to strip themselves of sexuality altogether; or they were relegated to a simplistic portrait of hypersexuality that was one dimensional and dangerous. (This happened in literature as well, hence the need to prove black respectability.) Horne, with her impossibly small waist and sultry smirk, dared to present herself as a woman who was desirable. And she knew it!
  • Dang it--she looked fabulous at 92!

Thank you, Lena Horne!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Taking a breather

I'm sitting my eerily quiet house. Alone. I'm crocheting for the first time in months. Had greasy pizza and cold soda for dinner. Will devour ice cream in a bit. Watched a movie from start to finish without having to stop it even once. Read a magazine.

Hubby will be back with the babies soon. Life is good.

Happy Mother's Day to me.

And to all of you. :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Oh, to be Jean Grey!

While I was grading (or procrastinating) I came across an article and thought I'd share this:

People who really know me know that I like a show in which people have powers--Charmed, Angel, Heroes (the first season), Moonlight, True Blood, Ghost Whisperer, X-Men (the movies and cartoon), Blade, Highlander (does anyone remember that one besides me?), Beastmaster, Underworld. You get the picture. So, apparently, Stan Lee (creator of X-Men) is about to host a show on The History Channel about real-life people who have powers (or differences, whatever) because of their genetic make-up. Real life X-Men? Oh, that I were one! Interestingly, while pregnant, I did have the amazing ability to smell. Everything. The smallest minutia. To a nauseating degree. But that's a power I gladly gave up.

Anyway, I can't wait to watch!

Monday, May 3, 2010

And Then . . .

Just as I'm getting riled up into a good vent about my annoying students (one of whom told me that I use the word "annoyed" an awful lot) one of them shows up today to bring a gift to me. She's one of the ones who totally gets it--she's bright and hard working and sure of herself without being closed to suggestions. She wanted to thank me for writing a string of rec letters and helping with a couple of other opportunities. She's really a wonderful student and genuinely nice person, so I truly hope that she is successful with every position she's going for.

That meant the world to me.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

This Is How I Know I'm Old

I'm reading through the mountain of end of term pieces from composition students. All year I've heard what seems like an extra amount of complaints and griping from students. Therefore, it doesn't surprise me that, left to write about whatever they want, many of them would vent.

I find myself frustrated, though, with their short-sightedness and lack of logic. They fail to make connections between, for instance, the benefits of attending a small liberal arts institution and the disadvantage of limited campus dining options. Or between demanding they be treated like adults and resenting a community service requirement that means they often have to go off campus. Professors want too much work! Not enough scholarship money! The speakers who come here are boring! I hate my new friends!

Even if the speakers are positively world-renowned, most 18 year olds wouldn't know who they are or if they are important. Time has made it very clear to me that who we are at the beginning of our adulthood may not who we are in the middle of it--thank goodness! But they are so unforgiving of other people!

I can only chalk it up to the folly of youth. They don't even know what they don't know. "You are sooooo young!" I think every time I hear a new complaint. I wish I could be more forgiving, too. But I want them to see how much they are growing, appreciate all the newness of college life, and DO something with all of the information and experiences offered them. Maybe it just takes my own patience to watch them in the coming years. They'll get there. Right?