Hi Linda Porter Gracie
I hope you were able to see what Edy Marie Gonzalez wrote in response to your query on my Facebook page about Roy Wagner. It was lovely and true.
Roy was one of those larger than life characters, but not in the usual way. There was no bombast and neither his brilliance nor his kindness nor his absolute craziness hit you in the face. He loved Coyote medicine, but never cruelty.
The first time I remember talking with him was at some UVA presentation. I’d just arrived, fresh out of Philosophy, and suitably arrogant towards my new, seemingly theory-poor discipline. I questioned the speaker (Roy) on a nuanced point regarding category boundaries, as the other first term grad students looked at me in shock. I expected to be rebuffed by The Great Man and was ready to argue. Instead he seemed interested and asked where he might learn more about the subject. I was awed by the humility of his true intellectualism. He was curious and patient in ways that too few academics are.
When he discovered that I knew about Santeria and had spent two years with a brujo, we became best friends. He helped me transition into anthropology (with the Roy Wagner twist) and was, for a time, my dissertation advisor and remained on my committee, asking the final and most Roy-like question at the end: “And how would you explain all of this in terms of quantum physics?” I’ve no doubt that it made for one of the most unique dissertation defenses of anthropology in UVA history.
He was also Pontius Pilate in the on-going, ever changing production of Jesus Christ Superstar that my friends and I (Joseph Hellweg, Indra Davis, Sarah Boone, Raymond Cruz et. al) practiced at my King St. house for semesters on end. Roy did not have a great singing voice, but he regally embodied the part, displaying his usual good humor and a flare for drama and what can only be categorized as Vogueing.
Roy was among the most talkative people I’ve ever met and there were no trivial conversations. When you entered his office, hung out at Edie Turner’s house, or spoke on the phone, you had to be prepared to devote time to enter what I called Roy World. It was a place of vast imagination, a library’s worth of knowledge, anecdotes galore, recognizably Chicagoan anthropology, a plasticity similar to that that Bob Zimmerman applauded in me back at Sarah Lawrence, but with a more extensive range of knowledge in many areas. It was a place of stimulation and joy and exhaustion, fortified for him by vast quantities of unbelievably strong coffee.
I returned from my first field trip among healers and independent coffee growers in Puerto Rico with a pound of the best coffee on the island for him. Roy was delighted and immediately poured the entire bag into his small (4 cup?) coffee maker, for one intense batch that he delightedly consumed within the hour.
Roy was soft spoken and intense. He loved music, wit, and animals. He was kind but never condescending to children, unfailingly gallant, fun, and could be bitingly sharp, but only with his peers. He was protective of students and underdogs and he talked to everyone as an equal. My husband- an outsider to the academy- has fond memories of schmoozing with Roy, who of course made it his business to casually ensure that Raymond was included and comfortable.
He was a wonderful story teller and mischievous teller of truths. He could render what must have been painful aspects of his life into gently humorous yet still touching stories.
Roy was special. He would send me chapters of a book he was working on but he almost never wanted to discuss the actual typewritten pages, but rather, the concepts and sets of a priori beliefs from which they were constructed. He loved that I’d been a Wittgensteinian philosopher and could follow and add to his journeys into language games and meanings.
He was playful, delightful, and easily delighted, and thus always had an aura of youthfulness. We danced & sang together, watched tv, had meals, and did all the superficially mundane things that friends do (we once went to the mall!) but that’s not where the heart of our bond was centered.
It’s impossible to say who Roy was, and is, to me. He was among the few who made being the first African American and first older student in grad anthro at UVA doable. His book, The Invention of Culture is still read, with good reason. At heart, Roy was the embodiment of intelligence. Ever curious, mind as sharp as a razor, willing to appear foolish in pursuit of ideas. He was Diogenes-like in his quest for the truth of understanding.
I trusted Roy and Roy could be trusted. I can’t say that of many people. He was always himself: always and in all ways. Roy will always have a place in my heart and I’ll be very interested in hearing about his adventures if we again meet up in some form or fashion. I certainly hope so. In the meantime, as I said before, I like to think that Roy and Edie are regaling the other Ancestors with great stories and questions and that there’s an endless supply of good coffee for Roy. Form may change, but The Journey never ends.
I want to thank Tomas Rahal for remembering the WTC as a living public space, inspiring me to share a few of my best memories:
Watching them being built and the constant critiques of their design which were mostly seen as ugly boxes that would “mar”the skyline.
My brother Richard, one of the first Black men to integrate the carpenter’s union, provided insights on what was going on as they were going up, making us feel some kinship to the structures and process. I’ve long headed his admonitions never to live above the height of the local hook and ladder truck.
Memories of going to the top with my boyfriend, Eddie, and a small group of high school friends. The mingled feelings of awe and fear as we moved as close to the edge as possible, something that could never happen now.
I ate at Windows on the World only once, but it was a wonderful experience for a teen-aged, very parochial girl. Eddie was a future chef, and thank goodness, he insisted on getting me there, as much for the experience as for the food.
Years later, I accumulated great memories of zipping through the human traffic going from NJ to my job in Brooklyn, feeling swift and powerful, a true city woman who knew how to maneuver through the crowds and streets of this iconic building above the trains I used daily. Of being courted by my husband Raymond, sharing sweet first kisses under and along those towers, knowing, yet disinterested, like two palace guards of our royal city.
On days off or evenings, we would walk from the WTC to Chinatown for lunch, then up to Little Italy for dessert, and coffee in the Village, ending with me getting the Path train on 9th after picking up goodies from Balducci’s.
At her behest, I did “The Forum” in the Tower with a friend in 2000, my last real interaction with them before they fell, driving up from Virginia for the weekend retreat. My next encounter would be one of devastation, shock, and grief, replete with the odors of death and a secret fear of what might be seen.
Yet looking back, I’m grateful for every one of these memories because I was there to have the experiences when they were living constructions, teeming with all the complex thoughts and feelings of humanity, not monuments to death. I’m luckier than many: my loved ones survived and only a cousin in law never met can I name among the fallen. I’m free of the deep personal pain that so many colleagues and acquaintances relive most likely a bit every day, and most poignantly each September. So because they may be unable to think about the towers without pain, we remember for them, as I hope they remember the sweetness of their loved ones’ lives.
SMH at white people mourning and moaning about Portland, a historically and currently racist city in a state that was pretty much developed as a center of white supremacy and separateness, in a country built on the attempted genocide and ethnocide of its Original People and the people enslaved to replace them.
White denial is astounding! “Stronger than dirt” or any known adhesive; longer lasting than Willie Wonka’s gobstopper; 100,000,000,000 times deeper than the Mariana Trench; more destructive than whatever killed off the dinosaurs.
Diagnosis is the first step towards treatment and healing. Denial doesn’t just prevent that process, it actively destroys its host and everything around it. It kills us all: soul, body, earth. Whiteness isn’t merely about your melanin levels, it’s a political choice that has real world ramifications. As with denial, help is available to those who seek it.
So wake up- it’s late and even Scotty canna hold ‘er any longer.
“I historically know much more about you than you will ever be able to dare to imagine about me. I did not invent you. I did not write ‘Gone With The Wind.’ You invented me. And you live with that invention. I don’t. I had to know what you REALLY think about me. You act it out every hour of every day what you REALLY think about me. Every institution in this country is based on what you think about me. There’s not a single institution that you have invented that’s not a racist institution. Not one. From the church to the unions. To say nothing of the insurance companies, to say nothing of the way you think you run the world. I know what you think about me. You don’t know… You don’t WANT to know… what I think about you.”
~ James Baldwin, in a 1987 CBS Interview
“July 28, 2018 NYT
What Happened to the Country That Made Us Citizens?
By NAUREEN KHAN
Growing up in a friendly Dallas suburb, I never imagined the hostility lurking beneath the surface.”
The above is in today’s NYT. I haven’t read it because after reading this plaintive blurb, my inner voice was screaming: “Black people!! We told everybody!” “Black people, First Nations people, American History, Freud…”
WTH white people and white people wannabes? How desperate were you, ARE you to live outside of reality? How extraordinarily prejudiced that you subvert or ignore whole, gigantic swaths of history and the present? How willing to sell your soul for a lie openly labeled as a made in the USA “DREAM“? How willing are you and have you been, to watch human beings and their children kidnapped; degraded; criminalized; beaten; pillaged; raped; bad mouthed; murdered; victimized by ethnocide and genocide, and yet stand aloof or in judgement because in this fleeting moment it’s not your poor white/light brown/darker-but-wealthier brown ass being victimized? Has your Dream become our nightmare?
Of course you should seek better lives for your kids, but that doesn’t necessitate buying into lies and abuse.
So no, I won’t read this nor any of the other late-to-the-party “realizations” and sad stories because you know what? BELIEVE BLACK PEOPLE. We run the gamut of human brilliance, foibles, and foolishness, but if there is one thing we excel at, it’s recognizing and calling out racism and its subsets and intersections, because you know what else? We and our First Nations cousins have been victims of atrocities for hundreds of years while you watched, occasionally clutched your pearls, looked away, or even applauded. You knew, you just valued your own possibilities of entre into whiteness more than our lives. You knew, you know now; you are and have been complicit in condoning and upholding white supremacy and I’m fresh out of pity. So, sit down in the back, own up to your culpability, be quiet and learn: we have much wisdom to impart.
Oh, and screw you all for the past 500 years.
He who does not oppose evil, commands it to be done (Leonardo Da Vinci)
So many of you today are heading out to stand up to tyranny and abuse. Go to help others, but also go to help yourselves and connect with other good souls. We are not alone, we are not beaten. Our Ancestors survived with fewer tools and without the ability we have to connect. True Power is not destroyed by the weapons they hold, but the steps to our victory are many and can be daunting.
Just remember that throughout history, long periods of relative peace and the level of prosperity many of us have presumed to be “normal” are in fact rare moments, and always hard won.
Stay strong in love, keep the faith, reach out to each other. Remember to take strategic retreats to renew the body and spirit because this is a lifelong struggle. The people who would diminish all life are always there and they never sleep. We have to take turns: one sleeps, the other watches. It’s been done before, we can do it now. A new world requires a new vision: stop using the Master’s blueprint and tools.
And don’t just take photos of beauty: memorize the sites and people you love. Hold them in your heart for the moments of despair or periods of isolation. This is wisdom from my elders.
Hold fast to your truths, but keep a humble heart: others may know more and have more pieces of the puzzle than you.
I love you all, People of The Good Heart: you are Gold and in the long game we’re playing, We’ve Got This!
In solidarity and love ❤️✊🏽❤️✊🏽🎶✊🏽❤️✊🏽❤️
To the other alleged adults critiquing the Parkland survivor-activists:
They are not yet adults. Chronologically, you are. They’re not supposed to, and couldn’t possibly know everything they need to get through life, much less take responsibility for changing society. That they are taking it on and doing so with courage and considerable clarity, is laudable and should humble a great many adults who see and complain about the problems, but have done little to shake this society out of the stupor and fear that holds it in thrall and leaves us vulnerable to charlatans, violence, and greed.
Who these young activist-leaders will be, their lifelong allegiances, etc. have yet to be fully determined. They are now responding to tragic violence that shook their lives and took the lives of friends and schoolmates. They are fearless in part because of their youth, but they are also fearless because they just survived a small massacre that should never have happened. They are angry, they are mobilized, they have purpose. It doesn’t make them perfect or demons, it makes them human and it makes them a force to be reckoned with.
Historically, revolutionaries come from every class. Most workers are no more revolutionary than the capitalists they work for. People occasionally wake up (or are awakened) and once they really do, they move to throw off the shackles of oppression where they find it: in the family, by race, gender, or class. If one is really awake, there is no choice. Stasis becomes intolerable and one must act to change the situation and circumstances.
To expect middle class high school kids who’ve been suddenly traumatized by murders to have done a realpolitik or other sophisticated analysis of their own class socialization is ridiculous. Most adults never have, so why expect it of them? Who were you in high school? How woke did you think you were and then how old were you before you realized you had just been turning over in your sleep?
These kids can’t go back to sleep. For better or worse, they’ve joined the millions of other traumatized, woke or awakening young folk from various walks of life. The difference is, these kids have a platform that allows them to be heard. You didn’t listen to the Black and Indigenous and Latino and and various other kids who’ve been victimized by violence for, oh, centuries. But you can see and hear these kids and apparently, that an uncomfortable situation that you’re bracing against. I get that, I just don’t care about your comfort. I’ve never believed in unrequited love and have little concern for those who display no concern for others. So take a proverbial chill pill, do some self reflective analysis and ask yourself why you’re so heavily invested in (figuratively) shooting these young people down? There are always critiques to be made, but when, how, and to what purpose are good questions to ask before jumping on the media blitz.
Again: adults should have done the work and adults should be picking up the slack now. If you don’t trust these kids, teach them in solidarity, otherwise you’re not far different than the conservative “critics” who practice overtly divisive tactics. It’s simple: lead, follow, or sit down quietly, out of the way of those who are doing the work.
And to those who think these kids are the group messiah: they’re not. Do your own work, stop waiting for saviors, and stop putting it all on a group of very bright, very courageous, but also very young, traumatized youths.
Everybody, please grow up.