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Good Black Don’t Crack

Posted by on November 23, 2012

“Good Black Don’t Crack”, my grandma always said. By which she meant both we age well, not actually always “looking our age”, as well as a certain apparent resilience in the face of continuous stressors. At 50 I once got carded buying a six pack of holiday beer, and I said,”Wait, you’re carding me, I’m 50.” “ The woman said, “You have a young hairstyle” meaning African locs. I said “See these gray hairs, I earned them fair and square, teenagers, and in the trenches of Lane Community College.” When I think of Lane in analogous song I’m reminded of that verse from Steely Dan’s Aja: “Up on the hill, they think I’m ok, or so they say.” I took my first break from Lane in 20 years for 9 months, a sort of medically demanded heart rest after my academic sabbatical was denied for curious reasons. I teach addiction studies, and ethnic studies, and run a drop-in Recovery Center, “Recovering Sobriety, Recovering Culture”. The principle idea is replacing whatever addictive culture you practice, with that practice of that which makes you strong; hopefully a deeper non-addictive memetic culture drawn from a tradition that works to free you from the slavery of addiction. I proposed a sabbatical in which I would travel to Africa to gather more material for my classes, visit my “roots”, and also explore with other addictions practitioners of color, what their effective modifications to generic practice were. In addition I would go to Hawaii, to the VA and look at their multicultural environment and whether they used certain modalities, or were open to new ones. They rejected my proposal saying they couldn’t find any connection between my sabbatical proposal and my daily work… Oh and I didn’t specify who I was going to see in Hawaii, though I did specify who I was going to see in Indian Country (Eduardo Duran, Healing the Soul Wound ), and among Black people (Angela Davis, Prison Industrial Complex, and Michelle Alexander The New Jim Crow).
It seems in this job I have, people who have never had anyone complete college in their family, come to us after a decade or more out of may or may not have finished high school; and are hungry to graduate from the school of hard knocks: Incarceration, Addiction, Combat, Family, So my presence at the college, is acknowledgement that there has been a need for certain specialized attention to get people through to a more successful, less stressful part of their lives. Certainly I’ve gotten acclimated, even addicted to a certain stress level, in dealing with a type of student the system wasn’t overtly designed for. It became normal to me, or at least not uncommon. Oh well Soldier on…it War…and as my people say it was so bad it got good to him… Cancer, schmancer, lose 20 pounds swimming in Hawaii, broccoli kale Sodarshan Chakra & Kirtan Kriya, more music, more writing, as therapy, submitted a bunch of columns, and only this latest one would be published. Lost the locs on the first full moon of August, planted them in the garden on the blue moon, Changing my look from lion to conservative drag panther. Returning to work with the notion of staying away from bitter responses to continuing local and national, vexing politics, which set me on the path of anger becomes cancer. Maya Angelou in her “Iconoclasts” pairing with Dave Chappelle (S2 Epi 6).
“If you are not angry, you are either a stone, or you are too sick to be angry. You should be angry. Now mind you, there’s a difference, you must not be bitter. Let me show you why. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats up on the host it doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So you use anger yes, you write it, you paint it, you dance it, you march it, you vote it, you do everything about it. You talk it, never stop talking it.”
Like the old Elvis Costello song, “I used to be disgusted, now I try to stay amused”.
I returned to the reality that though I was missed, it still seems like I’m doing the work of four people essentially alone. It’s not exactly like things are getting worse, why only last week I took someone to detox, from school, with the help of our public safety department. First time I had ridden in the back of a marked police car without cuffs, since I was a kid, and it was to keep the also uncuffed student company. One of my recently retired friends (32 years as the first and so far only African-American to retire from the juvenile “Just Us” department.) Asked “How is it being back?” “Oh, they missed me” I said, “But they’re still killing you” he said. I shrugged, “I’m trying to stay out of college politics, just deal with students (which inevitably gets you into college politics) and stay amused.”
I was really amused watching the election, process both locally and nationally. It was my pleasure to assist a Black first time voter in my office, to re-elect the President, and the observe the white wringing of hands at “losing their country” to the minority and women vote. But Republicans aren’t the only one’s clueless about minority and race relations.

I’m not in Eugene City Council Ward 2, where there was a runoff election between an incumbent and a newcomer to the political scene. So I didn’t care about the outcome, predictable as it was, so typically Eugene. An 87 year old white woman named Betty Taylor, and Juan Carlos Valle, a 40 something Latino former illegal immigrant success story poster child, now working in government service, getting his political street cred, by being on this committee, or that commission, not rocking the boat too much. Which is fine, it’s a time honored format for political success, lots of white folks, and others do it. Unfortunately, this is Eugene, which “Honors Diversity” by elevating LGBT concerns often over those of communities of color. I mean this is the community where several years ago, local Democrats threw their support not behind re-electing the incumbent African-American County Commissioner Bobby Green, but supported a guy who showed up to a public meeting in a frog suit, Rob Handy. I admit that the concerns of frogs are often left out of the political discourse, and they are an indicator species of environmental degradation, but the environment has been degrading for a long time for a lot of us. This all happened just before we elected Obama the first time. So if I were to only slightly exaggerate, I would say, you replaced a former City Councilor, UO football player, from the South, seasoned in dealing with less than culturally competent people, and systems; in a county government known for, and riddled with White Supremacists, and their not so passive aggressive supporters, with a guy in a frog suit. Who has proven, he is considerably outmatched in the game of local politics. I wish him peace in his garden, may frogs live there in harmony forever.

You don’t necessarily succeed in politics in this town, by being confrontational, and Juan Carlos, is not known for being confrontational, though sometimes, with people who are microaggressively racist, you have to call them out and confront them, with data and evidence, of which there is plenty.
I observed the obvious unspoken racial subtext in the race, without comment. But by following an email thread, about the “debate” between the candidates. A Taylor supporter asked Valle about abortion, not an issue in the Council’s jurisdiction, but a dog whistle shibboleth presumably aimed at his presumed religion. A shibboleth is defined variously as 1. “a word or phrase frequently used, or a belief strongly held, by members of a group that is usually regarded by outsiders as meaningless, unimportant, or misguided.”
Really, abortion?
“2. a saying that is widely used or a belief that is widely held, especially one that interferes with somebody’s ability to speak or think about things without preconception
3. a unique pronunciation, word, behavior, or practice used to distinguish one group of people from another and to identify individuals as either members of the group or outsiders.”

A Valle supporter, an NAACP official, asked about Taylor’s two negative Council votes against renaming Centennial, Martin Luther King Blvd. A number of her supporters favored the renaming, (Notably Pete Sorenson, who dubbed Betty “The conscience of the Council”) which was both a progressive and parliamentary procedural no-brainer (City Council had always seconded previous unanimous Planning Commission votes). A vote which is a continuing sore point with communities of color, should be legitimately explained, not described as a “low blow”. We can disagree, but you should articulate your position, even if you prioritize the interests of luxury car dealerships, over local civil rights struggle. A position I’m just sayin’, more stereotypically Republican, than Democrat. We won the street and the White House, not her bench, or their “Traditional America”. It’s OK, “We Honor Diversity”.

One Response to Good Black Don’t Crack

  1. Linda Sundheim

    Hello Mark! I am in Eugene visiting the “kids” and I picked up a Eugene Weekly at the local market. It was nice to see you shinning through your blog, still powerful after all these years. Wanted to say hello. Peace my friend.

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