I accepted a position at a college in another remote location. My 5th move to a small white village/town. My cousin says, “as for you, you love you some white people or maybe it’s the cold…” I don’t answer her with much because I can’t really defend myself. All my adult life I’ve never been the one to have multiple job offers and to have a hard time choosing. The right one and the only one has been present at whatever time I’ve needed it. True they have mostly all been in majority white environs and so far in remote areas. This so far is the best situated.
I remembeer someone, a white person, during my tenure at Notre Dame, asking me why Black folks go where they know they are not wanted. I argued that the same way the White man went where he wanted, so did I/we, even though I really couldn’t speak for the collective Black folks. Why did they think they were the only ones with manifest destiny in their blood? I too wanted to travel to parts unknown. Just because the white people don’t want me someplace doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go. Am I reckless? Foolish? Gambling with my life? Our ancestors fought for integration which came at a cost. Maybe that is what I am doing: continuing the fight.
The flip side of this coin is that some of us, present company not excepted, would not fit the bill at an HBCU. I’ve never qualified as “Black enough” the entire time I’ve been in the U.S. Being “Black enough” having a variation of characteristics to check off, most of which I couldn’t. To this day, I can’t do The Slide and when a majority of Black, non-African folks are gathered dancing, I usually watch and tap my foot. I’m still nervous about being judged by them. Some of us are oddballs and sometimes the only place we get permission to be our complete selves is at an institution that welcomes oddballs. Even in my own African circles, I’m still an oddball. Too introspective, a severely affected empath, someone who speaks her truth (airing “dirty laundry” is frowned upon), not married, no kids, oh…and don’t forget queer. From my experience liberal White folks seem to be more open to including oddballs or making space for them when they are not busy defending their racist attitudes. As a result of our history (speaking from a colonialism perspective) perhaps Black folks are more concerned with keeping up appearances, fitting in and being “normal,” so wanting acceptance is perhaps the sole aim and oddballs like me throw off the bell curve. The other complicated part of my history is that I actually have quite a bit of British blood in me. So maybe I am calling on that heritage of manifest destiny!
I maintain that I go to these remote institutions because there are young black and brown folks who need to see themselves represented in their faculty and staff. They need to know that surviving, hell, even thriving at a PWI is possible. They need to know that there are adult black and brown folks who have been through what they are going through and have made it. I go to these places to give them hope. Luckily for me this 5th move has been to a small city in Central New York. It’s still a little one but at least I don’t have an hour commute to get some kenkey or Titus sardines. There are a good number of POC although as I’m learning they are relegated to the south side and a major freeway was put up to separate them from the rest of the city.
I was recruited to be on a social justice program for the staff at my new school and last Friday we went on a tour of the historical museum about the Underground Railroad, listened to a Native American elder tell us how the white people came to steal the land, and then went on a tour of the city. Everything besides the visit with the elder was led by white people. I am interested to learn what the next several weeks will bring. It is a 6 month, once-a-month program. Right off the bat, I noticed that their tour of the city included all the “initiatives” that were in place providing this or that solution to this or that problem mostly affecting low income brown folks. I want to get involved but I don’t know where to start and I know I can’t ask the white folks to show me where to get involved.
In any case, I have landed I think at what is my 9th institution in my 25 year history of higher education (work and study). They’ve all been at PWIs; I have seen white people show up for me and then I’ve seen white folks who call me a friend and then back stab me and say I can’t demand change so quickly, that I ask too aggressively like I’m angry (I wonder why). In any case, I’ve seen it all so I feel I am in a better place to provide advisement to these black and brown, barely out of teenage years, young people. Because I know I am able to hear their stories and not wave them away. I am not always able to make change happen because I do work for a PWI after all, but at least they have an ear and warm food when I can get that to them. I have arrived at this career in higher ed in a round about way but I am happy to be where I am to get to do some of this diversity work that in all my prior positions has been invisible labor that I have snuck around to do because white folks just didn’t understand that black and brown students naturally gravitated towards their kind and we were always working whether it was in an official capacity of not. It’s wonderful to finally have my invisible labor be my 9-5 job instead of just after hours and on weekends. Of course it helps that for the first time too, I have a wonderful partner to keep me grounded and rooted and feeling safe and secure and preventing those North Wind callings of nomadic life.