Black Woman Blogging

One black woman's views on race, gender, politics, family, life and the world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

If Black People Embrace The Underwood Doctrine, Cops Will Be Killed

**WARNING:  SPOIL ALERT FOR THE END OF SEASON FOUR OF "HOUSE OF CARDS."**



"We don't submit to terror.  We make the terror." Frank Underwood, "House of Cards"

I'm a huge fan of Netflix's original series, including the original original series, "House of Cards."  I think the writing is unsurpassed and Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright insufficiently acknowledged for their extraordinary work.

In the last episode of Season Four of "House of Cards," the context of which I won't discuss, both Frank and Claire Underwood look into the camera, breaking the fourth wall, while Frank declares, "We don't submit to terror.  We make the terror."

I would call this the "Underwood Doctrine."  At least two blacks, one in Dallas and one in Baton Rouge, have embraced it.

From slavery to now, there has always been a contingent of my race that has believed that violence is an all-too-appropriate response to violence against us.  If you think of African Americans -- or any Americans, for that matter -- on what I would call a violence acceptance spectrum, I would say that, at one end of the spectrum, there are the violence acceptors, followed by the violence sympathizers, the violence understanders, and the violence rejectors.

The violence acceptors, especially the two black men who shot police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, embraced the Underwood Doctrine.  One could call into question their mental stability, but I would venture to argue that not all violence acceptors are unstable.  Violence acceptors have no problem with retaliating against those who are part of the group who terrorize, even if such individuals have done no wrong themselves.

The violence sympathizers won't personally engage in retaliatory violence, but they support those who do.  They might even post bail for them, mount a legal defense for them, seek mercy for them.  They believe the retaliatory violence is justified.  The violence sympathizers might use violence in self-defense, but they won't use it in retaliation against those who have not directly harmed them.

The violence understanders don't agree with violence in retaliation for violence, but they understand those who do.  They seek to explain to those who don't understand retaliatory violence how the violence acceptors got to the point where they feel retaliatory violence is justified.

Finally, the violence rejectors reject violence of all kinds against anyone.  Dr. King was a violence rejector.

The problem is that with each unjustified killing of an unarmed black person by police officers or vigilantes like George Zimmerman, the more the rejectors become understanders, the understanders become sympathizers, and the sympathizers become acceptors. The more black people become acceptors, the more likely we will not submit to police terror, but make the terror instead.

Or as my 91 year-old dad so aptly put it in the haze of his dementia, "We ain't gonna lay down this time."

As I see the Black Lives Matter movement being demonized as a hate group even though no one involved with Black Lives Matter has picked up a gun and killed police,  I ask that we talk about the hate that got us where we are today, where black lives can be extinguished by fearful, racist police officers and vigilantes -- of all races, mind you -- without justification, explanation, condemnation, or consolation from the people doing the killing.

America, you got some 'splainin to do, as they say in the South. But stop blaming Black Lives Matter.  Your hate and fear made Black Lives Matter not just possible, but necessary.

America, what you need to fear more than you fear us is to fear us armed.  Fear us making runs on gun stores like you do every time gun control legislation is introduced.  Fear us becoming Nat Turner radicalized, especially in open carry states.  Fear us at the gun ranges, preparing to retaliate.

Fear us putting real context to the faux "All Lives Matter" movement, with police officers' lives being extinguished without justification, explanation, condemnation, or consolation from black people.

Fear us embracing the Underwood Doctrine.

I do.








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Thursday, June 2, 2016

The GOP and Donald Trump: Fart Lighting the American Electorate

Gas lighting:  Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memoryperception, and sanity.

Fart lighting:  A form of gasligthting when someone does something really offensive, e.g., farting, pretends that the offensive act did not occur, and tries to manipulate the memory of others who witnessed it.

I was dismayed to hear that Speaker Paul Ryan endorsed Donald Trump today.  Given the Speaker's past interracial romantic relationship with a black woman, I thought he might be cooler than that.

He isn't.

What troubles me most about the GOP now rallying around Donald Trump is that they either want the rest of us to forget the racist, sexist and xenophobic comments he's made and continues to make, or they just don't care if we're offended.  They're not a deal breaker for the GOP as long as Trump beats Clinton.

The GOP's willingness to rally around Trump because of commonality on other issues, such as abortion rights (and since when did Donald Trump become the standard bearer for the pro-life movement?  Like, uh, yesterday?) means that, to their mind and the minds of their party members, unmitigated and unrepentant racism, sexism and xenophobia are not disqualifiers for holding the highest office in the Free World.  This is despite the fact that the very nation the GOP wants to lead is increasingly diverse, so much so that states like California are made up of a majority of people of color.  As Bob Scheiffer of CBS news put it, there aren't enough white people to make up for the minority votes the GOP will lose with Trump.

Where the fart lighting comes in, and you can thank me for the new turn of phrase, is in the GOP's not even acknowledging that these comments were made.  It's like when someone farts in a room such that everyone heard it and smelled it, but the farting party continues to pretend like it never happened.  What's worse -- they will deny that it happened if you call them on it and blame it on you instead.  Kinda like the way Donald Trump turns the table on the press and insults them when they seek to hold him accountable for his words or his record.

Even more insulting to the increasingly diverse American electorate is that the GOP has in no way tried to explain away or apologize for the offensive remarks Trump has made.  It's as if the remarks don't matter, the people offended by the remarks don't matter, or both.

As one of my cousins often writes on Facebook, GTFOOH. 

I am a member of a predominantly African-American sorority whose founders marched for the equal rights of women of all races to vote.  I am a member of a race whose people marched, sat in and died for the equality and dignity of all races.  I am an affirmative action baby whose potential was realized because of the sacrifices of generations who came before me.  I am highly educated.

I will not be fart lighted or gas lighted.  I will not forget Trump calling Mexicans rapists, denigrating women, and painting all Muslims as terrorists.  The more the GOP wants to fart light me and pretend those words were never spoken by Trump or that they don't matter, the more I will speak up and put my money where my mouth is by donating to the DNC. If the GOP is determined to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a racist, sexist and xenophobic candidate, I will not remain mute. I will call them out on their choice.  To my mind, standing with Trump is no better than standing with David Duke.

I will be neither fart lighted or gas lighted when it comes to Donald Trump. My ancestors and all who sacrificed for my freedom and equality under the law deserve more from me.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

The End of the Purple Reign (Prince Rogers Nelson, May He Rest in Purple Peace)

I was just leaving my sister The Writing Diva's  job when she called me on my cell phone.  I was thinking I left something behind.  In less than a breath, she said:

"Prince died."

I asked, "Prince the musician?"

She replied, "Yes."

"NOOOOOOOOOOO!"

I was shocked.  Last I heard, he had just briefly come off his "Piano and a Microphone" tour to battle the flu.  He was, to my mind, young.  He had always seemed fit.  I figured I'd catch him the next time around. Now here I am, learning the same lesson I learned when Etta James and Ray Charles died -- go see the artists you love while they're still living.

And I blame Kimberly Hancock for all of it.  She introduced me to Prince's music, which was the slow death of my innocence and the birth of my appreciation of his genius.

Kimberly Hancock was my age and my race and lived down the street from me in the 1970's.  As I recall, she introduced me to Prince when we were both preteens.  She gushed over how cute he was, cute as the Sylvers.  I questioned her taste, since every teenage black girl knew that the Jacksons where way cuter than the Sylvers.  She had a copy of his first album, "For You."  I'm pretty certain she played "Soft and Wet" for me.

I. Was. Hooked.

For starters, even as a kid, I'd always been a sucker for a good bass line.  "Soft and Wet' was like nothing I had heard before.  But what got me, more than the falsetto, more than the bass line, were the album credits.  Yes, I was THAT kid who read album credits, even as a preteen.   I was the kid who had to know what instrument was making the sound of a tennis ball being hit on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." (Moog synthesizer, if I recall correctly).

The album credits stated that all the instruments were played by Prince.  All the songs were written, arranged and produced by Prince, with the exception of "Soft and Wet," for which he shared a writing credit, I think.

There was only one musician, one artist, one person I knew of at that time who wrote all his own songs, played all his own instruments, and produced and arranged his own music:  Stevie Wonder.

That's when I knew Prince was a genius.  He was a musical badass before there was even a name for it.

But, my oh my, was he taking an early toll on my innocence.

I fell hard for what sounded like synthesized bass lines in "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and "Head."  It wasn't until I started college at Stanford when my friends, who took great joy in bursting my innocence, explained what exactly was "soft and wet," what the double entendre in "I Wanna Be Your Lover" meant -- "I wanna be the only one you come for" -- and explained what "Head" was talking about, to which I responded, "EEEUUUWWW!"

By the time "Controversy" came out, I didn't care whether Prince was black or white, straight or gay.  No one did.  We were having too much fun dancing to his music.

It was after "Controversy" came out that I went to my first concert ever (Did I tell you I had a very sheltered childhood in Sacramento?) with my college friends to see Prince, The Time and Vanity Six at the Oakland Coliseum.  It was and remains the best concert I've ever attended, with each act trying to outdo the other and none being able to hold a candle to Prince.

I remember seeing the movie "Purple Rain" and thinking that although the acting was okay, the music was phenomenal.  I wondered how autobiographical it was and felt saddened by what I thought might have been Prince's life before stardom.  I know I was shocked that he won an Oscar for the song "Purple Rain."  More shocked than I was when Isaac Hayes won for the theme from "Shaft."  To put it mildly, I thought of Prince's music as a black thing, and I didn't think white folks were ready for him just yet.

I was wrong.  So wrong.

I'll admit it -- over the years, I didn't buy all of his albums.  He was simply too damn prolific and I couldn't keep up.  But every once in a while a song would just hit me and I'd have to have it.  What I adored most about Prince was that, through all his phases and changes, including the symbol phase, his music was unmistakably his.  He wasn't trying to be anyone but himself.  He didn't chase trends; he made them.  Even the rise of hip-hop didn't shake his game as it did other stars of the 1980's.    When he wrote "slave" on his cheek and tried to get out of his contract with Warner Brothers. I rooted for him.  I thought, "Why shouldn't he have the full benefit of his genius?  He's Prince!"

Prince was generous with his genius, sharing his spotlight with the likes of Mavis Staples, Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes ("Betcha By Golly Wow" video, anyone?) and the most unlikely Sheena Easton.  Yes, Sheena Easton, of "Morning Train" fame.  I loved "U Got The Look" because it was so unexpected and yet danceable, taking her game to a higher level.  I also doubt that Sheila E''s "Glamorous Life" would have happened but for Prince.  When she kicked that high hat with her foot in the video? All I could think was, "Well damn!"  Thanks, Prince.

My musical memories of Prince are too many to name.  My favorite songs tend toward the early ones, like "How Come U Don't Call Me," which I first heard performed by Stephanie Mills.  It is still timeless because you hear the black church influence in it.  Another is "Little Red Corvette."  Yes, it was yet another nail in the coffin of whatever was left of my innocence, but that song was straight up feminist.  In that song, Prince portrayed a woman who totally owned her sexuality and pursued sex for sex's sake without commitment or fear of judgment.  Her sexuality clearly intimidated the narrator in the song -- "I guess I should have closed my eyes when you drove me to the place where your horses run free . . . I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures of the jockey who were there before me . . . . " To my mind, it was the first musical acknowledgement that women's sexuality could mirror that of men, that women were sexual beings without guilt or shame, even though the narrator warns that she "needs a love that's going to last."  Thanks, Prince.

When I was going through my very bad dating phase during the 1990's, the chorus to Prince's "Anotherloverholenyohead" became my anthem:  "You need another lover . . .like you need a hole in your head."  It was so true.  I needed to do what I eventually did -- stop dating, regroup, and figure out what I really needed in a man, as opposed to what I wanted.  Once I became clear, I found that what I really needed I had had all along:  Black Man Not Blogging.   We reconciled in 2001 and married in 2003.  Thanks, Prince.

But my favorite Prince song?  "Kiss," and for one reason and one reason only:  My late mom.

I love the song's lyrical nod to grown women, "Women, not girls, rule my world."  But "Kiss" means so much more to me.  You see, my mom worked really hard trying to house, clothe and feed six children and keep us in school and out of trouble.  She loved music, but she didn't always embrace what we kids listened to.  She certainly didn't embrace our dances.  Saturdays were her time to catch up on her housework and listen to her music while doing so.  Watching my mom, a middle-aged, short, chubby woman with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, pushing her Hoover vacuum cleaner on a Saturday morning when Prince's "Kiss" came on?  Priceless.  When the bridge begins with Prince declaring, "Think I wanna dance," my mom would break out into what can best be described as her "mom dance."  She didn't care how out of date it was.  She didn't care what anyone thought.  She was just having a good time, dancing along with Prince, just as joyful as she could be.  It is one of the happiest musical memories I have of my mom.

And for that, I am forever grateful to Kimberly Hancock and to Prince Rogers Nelson, may he rest in purple peace.



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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Godspeed, Nelle Harper Lee, and Thank You

I was sorry to hear of the passing of Nelle Harper Lee, author of "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Go Set A Watchman," and otherwise known by her pen name, Harper Lee.  What a weird coincidence that an author who artfully exposed America's racist underbelly passed during the same week of the passing of a U.S. Supreme Court justice who seemed oblivious to his replication of said underbelly in word and legal decisions.

I am a member of the "TKAM" cult.  I am the daughter of a black Southerner and briefly lived in the South. Lee's book confirmed the stories I would hear from my Southern dad and relatives about the precarious position of African Americans in the Jim Crow South.  The major difference between my father's childhood in the 1930's Jim Crow South and what is portrayed in TKAM is that the Atticus Finches of the world were few and very, very far between in his childhood home of Gould, Arkansas.

I can't say that I was inspired by the character of Atticus Finch to become a lawyer; I was already well on my way on the path to becoming a lawyer by the time I read TKAM, or at least I was in my mind.  What I found oddly comforting about TKAM is that it confirmed the stories my dad had sometimes inadvertently shared about his childhood, which he occasionally let slip but tried mostly to shield us kids from in our lives in what he called his "Promised Land," California.  He didn't want to bring the South and its Jim Crow past with him into our lives that were relatively untainted by racism, but sometimes he let things slip.  He wanted better for us.  He still does.

But Nelle Harper Lee gave me a greater appreciation of how precarious my father's existence as a black boy in the 1930's Jim Crow South had been, long before Isabel Wilkerson would write "The Warmth of Other Suns."  I'm grateful that TKAM was assigned reading.  May it forever remain so.

When "The Mockingbird Next Door" came out, I was thrilled to learn more about this lady who had confirmed what I had heard of my father's childhood.  She courageously put America's racist predilections front and center in the form of a YA novel that the South could at once claim proudly as stellar writing in the Southern literary tradition and disclaim falsely as aberrational in its portrayal of Southern race relations.  There would be no sequel, no sophomore effort, at least none she would speak of.  I had to know more about this woman who wrote one of the best novels of the twentieth century.

Before I got around to reading "The Mockingbird Next Door," word came that her novel that preceded TKAM, "Go Set A Watchman," was "discovered" and would be published, allegedly with her permission.  I planned a weekend of literary excess around its publication:  I would read "The Mockingbird Next Door," then "Go Set A Watchman," and then re-read TKAM.  TKAM was indeed the sophomore effort.  "Watchman" was her first novel that was never published on the advice of her editor, who counseled her to write something more positive than TKAM.  After reading "Watchman," I understood why.

Contrary to the Amazon reviews bashing "Watchman" because of the questionable circumstances under which it was published, I loved it.  I loved it because I realized what courage it took for Lee to write it when she wrote it.  I loved it because in this era when people finally have a name for the concept of white privilege, Scout was having a philosophical discussion about it and white supremacy with Atticus and about his role in preserving them, a role that Atticus fans could not have imagined from his portrayal in TKAM and Gregory Peck's film portrayal of Atticus.

Simply put, given the racial upheaval happening in the South when Lee wrote "Watchman," had it been published when she wrote it, I am confident that Lee would have met up with a terrible end.  White Southerners intent on preserving their "way of life," i.e., white supremacy, had already rallied 'round the Confederate flag, literally, when Lee put pen to paper to write her first novel.  I am confident white Southerners would not have countenanced one of their own exposing them in such a manner.  TKAM made racial oppression in the South look like something that Southern whites of good will would not support, when in fact it was most often the other way around -- racial oppression was something the majority of southern Whites, of good will and otherwise, did and would support.

And Atticus?  He didn't support racial oppression, but he sure did believe in white supremacy.  And to a lesser degree, so did Scout.  Go read for yourself if you haven't already.

No matter how she told it, in TKAM and "Watchman," Nelle Harper Lee told the truth about race and racism in the South without flinching.  She told the truth in a manner that made white Americans reckon with that truth and feel good doing so because of her craft in telling a good story.  Because of her own white Southern privilege, she was considered a credible witness.

For that, Nelle Harper Lee, I thank you.  Godspeed and rest in peace.



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Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Hi, Black Woman Blogging. This Is the Universe Calling."

There are times when I feel like the universe is calling, leading me in a different direction.  Now is one of those times.

During the holidays, I received a call from a dear old friend.  We studied for the bar exam together, struggled in misfit jobs early in our careers, and attended each other's weddings.  We talk from time to time, and we pick up right where we left off without missing a beat.

I told my dear fried that I wanted to invite him and his family to dinner at my home.  He paused and then said, "Wait . . . I remember . . . you can cook!  You made some dish with chicken breasts, pine nuts, and sun-dried tomatoes . . . "

"And ricotta cheese," I added.  "It was a baked Italian chicken dish."

"I remember," he said. "And that chili you make is off the chain."

Mind you, I made these dishes for him over twenty years ago.

I also had the pleasure of cooking Christmas dinner for my family this year.  We moved the location of the dinner to my sisters' home, so I sent my husband ahead with the food while I showered, changed, and came later.  I told my family to start without me.

When I arrived, they had eaten.  The food got rave reviews, with my oldest sister telling my husband that it was "caterer quality" food and that he should find a way for me to be a stay-at-home wife so I could cook that way every day.  That's high praise.  My oldest sister is an excellent cook.

I've always discounted my cooking skills because, unlike my mother, I don't cook many recipes from memory.  I'm heavily reliant on cookbooks.  I guess that doesn't really matter if the food tastes good.  For the most part, I enjoy cooking.  It requires creativity and trusting your instincts, like when I had to decide between using the Pioneer Woman's recipe for scalloped potatoes for my Christmas dinner or recreating my mom's recipe from memory.  I chose my mom's recipe and it came out quite well, judging from the response.

Going into the holidays, I was tired and exasperated from the never-ending demands of my work and the ever-increasing expectations of stakeholders.  I've struggled for years with being a lawyer.  Even in the best of legal positions, which I think I have at this time, I tire easily of having to think hard and be right all the time.  My successes don't satisfy me as they did when I started the job.  My failures, no matter how small, shake me more than they should.

I'm a big fan of Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist," and the following quote from the book:  "When you seek your destiny, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it."

What made me think the universe might be calling with its conspiracy was what my oldest sister said to me about my Christmas dinner:  "You should do this professionally."  Cooking that dinner was a lot of work, but I enjoyed planning it and deciding which dishes would compliment the meat entrees and so forth.  I had all my cookbooks and recipes gleaned from the internet spread on my kitchen table before deciding to modify my Thanksgiving menu, substituting scalloped potatoes for macaroni and cheese and keeping Tiffani Thiessen's Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta in the lineup.

The week after Christmas, I had to furnish and decorate a family member's space in four days.  It's a long story.  Since my hobby is budget decorating and interior design (think "Trading Spaces"), I pulled together much of what I had on had -- comforter set, curtains, pillows -- and shopped like a madwoman at high end and discount stores for furniture, linens, and the like.  I fired up my printer and made copies of family photos and framed them in picture frames I'd bought on sale long ago.  The room came together quite nicely, judging by my oldest sister's response, which was this:  "You should do this professionally."  It took a lot of time and effort and left me exhausted, but I had a blast pulling that space together.  Then, my older sister asked me to decorate the home she shares with my oldest sister. Talk about validation!

I long to upholster headboards, make ottomans out of thrift store coffee tables, and make seasonal door wreaths out of grosgrain ribbon wrapped around Styrofoam rings with hot glue.  I'm excited about pulling paint samples from Home Depot and hardwood flooring samples from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for my sisters' decoration project.  I buy decorative plates from the Goodwill and give my other sister instructions on how to hang them decoratively.  I fervently believe that slipcovers and decorative pillows can make all the difference in the world.  I'm always eager to share recipes, with the Tiffani Thiessen Brussels Sprouts recipe and Paula Deen's Sour Cream Poundcake recipes at the top of my list as of late.

The TV shows "Fixer Upper" and "Rehab Addict," as well as Pinterest, the Cooking Channel, the Food Network, and Young House Love websites, are my porn.

Creativity and autonomy are my drugs of choice.  Long before I started blogging, I've had this struggle between my creativity (which, at its best, has paid about $150 total from placing in two short story contests) and my analytical abilities, which, although not as satisfying, have been more  remunerative.

But, like many people my age, I'm running out of time.  I don't know if I want to go to my grave not as fulfilled as I could have been if I'd just given my creativity the chance to flourish.  I enjoy my successes in the legal arena, but not nearly as much as I once did.  What it takes to achieve them takes more and more out of me.

When people tell you that you should do professionally something that makes you feel alive, is that the universe calling with its conspiracy to help you achieve your destiny?

All I know is that Howard Thurman's quote is ringing loudly in my mind:

"Don't ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because the world needs people who have come alive."

I think coming alive when you do something is just the universe calling, conspiracy in hand.  Excuse me while I take this call. . . .

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

No Guilt. Do Better. (Because Guilt Is A Wasted Emotion)

There are a lot of things in my life about which I feel guilty.  Too many to share.  Too much shame.

Looking over my goals for 2015, I realized that I didn't achieve a single one.  Not a one.  I had successes in areas I hadn't planned for, though.  Successes that are intangible.  But the guilt was still plaguing me.

The funny thing is that I remember popping off (to borrow a turn of phrase from President Obama) pearls of wisdom in my 30's and 40's that are more relevant to my life now than they were then.  One of those pearls of wisdom was this:  Guilt is a wasted emotion.

I remember the late Joan Rivers saying that.  For whatever reason, it stuck with me, and I'd liberally share that little pearl of wisdom with friends and family who felt guilt about their past.

Guilt doesn't change the past.  Guilt doesn't undo what you did, nor does it do what you should have done.  It doesn't make the person you wronged feel any better.  An apology might, but guilt, in isolation, does not.

Whenever I had a friend tell me they felt guilty about something, I'd just pop off, "Guilt is a wasted emotion."  Just like that.  But I didn't give any guidance on what to do with that guilt or how to deal with it.  Even if it is a wasted emotion, you still feel it.

Now that I'm in my fifties, I have that guidance, and I'm giving it to myself in the form of yet another mantra I plan to apply going forward:  No guilt.  Do better.

Instead of emotionally flogging myself with guilt over what I've done or haven't done, I'm just going to try to do better.  I can't change the past.  I can only forge the future.

Plus, I've seen people use my guilt against me, not for the purposes of helping me do better, but to exploit it for their own gain or to hurt me.  As one of my relatives always says, "No bueno."

So, Gentle Readers, I invite you to join me in letting go of guilt as best you can and simply trying to do better.  At least you'll have the possibility of something to show for all that guilt.  Guilt by itself doesn't change anything, but action does.

Merry Christmas, Gentle Readers.

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Darker Shade of Cardinal (Stanford Black Alums Coming Back to the Farm)

You will never meet Black folks like this again.

~ A Stanford Black alumnus, Class of 1978

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending my Stanford Class of 1985 Reunion.  Yes, it's been thirty years since I graduated college.  Well, not really, since I didn't graduate with my class.  The beauty of Stanford is that Stanford doesn't care about when you left; what matters is when you came and with whom you identify.  For me, that's the Class of 1985.

But I don't identify with all of the members of the Class of 1985.  I didn't then, and I don't know.  That became painfully clear to me at my reunion.  More on that later.

There's a reason why Stanford ranks so highly among African American students, and it's not its location in Silicon Valley.  Stanford embraces "microcommunities," and it is because of that embrace that I was able to have what I would call a Black college experience in a predominantly white institution, with absolutely no pressure to assimilate.  That's a good thing.  As I said to one of my Black classmates whom I hadn't seen since she left in 1985, my belonging to Stanford, if you want to call it that, is not tied to the institution; it's tied to the Stanford Black community that made it possible for me to get through Stanford while still being myself.  They are my belonging, and it is because of them that I even deign to return to a Stanford Homecoming.

To say that I belonged to the Stanford Black community doesn't go far enough to explain my affinity.  The Stanford Black community is an extraordinary Black college community, and I have both Princeton and Harvard with which to compare.

To its credit, Stanford, the institution, created the environment that allowed this community to flourish.  When I was accepted to Stanford, I had to fill out a housing preference form.  This form allowed me to voice my preference for what kind of dorm I wanted to live in (all freshmen, multi-class, cultural theme house) and whether I wanted a roommate of the same race.  While I thought I wanted to be in a predominantly white dorm (my high school had been extremely diverse), my oldest sister had the good sense to snatch the form from my hands, check the box for me to live in Ujamaa, the Black cultural theme house, and also check the box voicing my preference for a Black roommate.

My life has never been the same, and for the better.

What I experienced living in Ujamaa my first two years at Stanford rooted me in the idea of unlimited Black possibility.  I had never met so many Black folks who were on their way to their dreams -- future doctors, lawyers, engineers, writers, consultants, educators, you name it.  We worked hard -- on Thursday nights, the hallways were full of Black pre-meds and engineering majors working together on problem sets for calculus and a host of STEM courses long before we had the acronym for them.  We played even harder -- the Ujamaa Lounge, or, when a black fraternity or sorority was throwing a party, the Lagunita Dining Hall -- thumped hard with the musical magic our our resident deejay, Greg Gardner, AKA "GG Disco."  Black parties at Ujamaa or Lagunita Dining Hall rarely, if ever, bombed, because he was an excellent deejay with a great reputation not just on campus, but with all Bay Area colleges.

More than that, we had each others' backs.  I remember times when I missed classed because I was either ill or just lazy, and one of my Black classmates would put the class notes under my door.  I remember some Black classmates not having enough money to swing housing fees, and they'd simply bunk with a Black classmate who had housing. When one of us knew of a job opening, whether it was at the Faculty Club, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), the Stanford Mall or doing research for graduate students, we hooked each other up.  At one point, I had four part-time jobs on campus during the summer, all because my fellow Black classmates hooked me up. We shared cars, mopeds, bikes, dorm rooms, whatever it took to get through.

And that Black freshman roommate I was assigned because of my sister's intervention?  She became my best friend and my matron of honor at my wedding.  All of my closest female friends are Black women I met at Stanford.  But for having lived in Ujamaa, I doubt I would have met, dated, and ultimately married Black Man Not Blogging.

In the words of one of my favorite Al Jarreau songs, we got by.  And through.  At least most of us.

I haven't since met Black folks that brilliant, resilient, resourceful, unpretentious and supportive.  Not at Harvard Law School, not at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. I was naive enough to expect that I would have the same Black experience at Harvard and Princeton that I had a Stanford.  It was not to be, not by a long shot.

But I did have the same experience with white students at Harvard and Princeton as I had at Stanford.  With white students, I had no "melting pot" experience, but a "tossed salad" one -- we were in the same bowl, so to speak, but we didn't become part of each others' lives.  I know few, if any, white classmates from Stanford, and I don't feel at a loss because I received so much support and affirmation from my Black classmates.

When I attended the Stanford Class of 1985 panel discussion during Reunion Weekend and looked around the predominantly white audience, I nodded to myself and thought, "I didn't know these folks thirty years ago, and I don't know them now.  And I'm okay with that."  Why?  Because I looked down the row I was sitting in and down the row behind me where my fellow Black Stanford Class of 1985 alums were sitting and thought, "This is my belonging.  They are my belonging."

Yes, thirty years later, all the Black folks at Stanford were still sitting together.  This time, we all left together, too.

We are a distinct part of the Stanford experience but still part of the Stanford experience.  I prefer to think we are a darker shade of Cardinal.





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