In Memoriam

Today is the fifth anniversary of the horrific massacre at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Those lost:
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Cynthia Graham Hurd
Susie J. Jackson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney
Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders
Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr.
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson
RIP: Présente

Killer rewarded with lunch by the police, alive, and unrepentant. I will not speak his name.

Bone Weary, Long Time Coming

The next white colleague or acquaintance who reaches out during these troubled times and asks what s/he can do, or how they can support me is going to be taken seriously and will receive the copay invoice for the therapies, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and blood pressure meds that I need on a daily basis.
I am very serious about this as I’ve received approximately 20 extra emails and texts pretty much every day since the uprisings started following the final-straw-done-broke-the-camel’s-back murder of George Floyd. I noted on FB recently that the one person who offered some actual real world support to me for the de facto educational work I do isn’t anyone who has ever asked me for anything and remains a complete stranger- a FB friend of an unmet FB friend. (How many degrees of separation would that be?) One actual woke potential ally in a sea of good intentions/thoughts and prayers. (Another stolen term that almost everybody needs to stop using)

Meanwhile, people have been emailing like mad and have asked for bibliographies; explanations & insights; to be an uncompensated speaker; and to engage with them in discussions and even arguments. (Please explain to me how the hell are you going to contact me about what I think and then argue about it? Damn- now that’s some serious ego/white supremacist, stone cold audacity!) I’m not even going to talk about social media and the incredible amount of work I see PoC being asked to perform on their own pages and in the innumerable professional groups that have been created since Covid-19 quarantine began. It’s all too much to handle on top of the harsh realities we’re forced to process that include our higher vulnerability to Covid-19; the greater financial impacts on us resulting from the layoffs or added work hours; the horrific on screen, traumatically repeated murders of multiple, unarmed Black people during the same period as the pandemic.

We are not your Mammies/Nannies/Ayahs/Niñeras. In most cases, we’re not friends or even have-lunch-sometimes-casual-acquaintances. People are so insulated in their privilege that they take for granted that Black folks and other PoC are there to teach, fix, and otherwise uplift them and make it all feel better, because you won’t give us the power that would allow us to implement changes that would actually make things better. Hell- you don’t even hit the “like” button before you Columbus memes!

I have to laugh, but I’m not amused.

People Melania our ideas, perspectives, sayings, and actual words without citing us, and are often published or have your your social capital raised via our ideas and creativity. We have been a constant source of creative as well as physical labor since at least 1526, if we’re only talking about my Black ancestors. We’re back to 1492, if we’re including all the roots in the Americas.

And before anyone gets hurt, I’m not talking about actual friendships where there’s a mutual exchange of energies: support, encouragement, inspiration, sometimes money. In grad school, my best friends and I shared what we called “The Floating 25.” It was $25 that we sent to one another to cover our needs between our staggered pay periods. A tiny amount by most standards, but it allowed us to avoid further debt and eat. We pulled one another off of various emotional ledges, praised and helped edit each other’s work, made sure we were properly attired and functional before leaving the house, prayed, hoped, wished for, and helped actualize each other’s highest good. One secretly flew down from another state to be at my dissertation defense with a scowl on her face that dared my committee to do anything other than praise my work! Another restores my balance with humor and once made me laugh to the point that I was actually afraid of dying because I couldn’t catch my breath from laughing so hard. We do these things still. No one is wealthy and most struggle, but we give what we can. That’s friendship and it’s something that grows and evolves from mutual respect, affection, and mutually agreed upon terms.

But that is not the nature of most relationships, so the expectations and boundaries are quite different. If I contribute to you in any way, the very least I should expect is verbal/written recognition. If we’re work colleagues, then compensation is required, financially or via the various awards that academia and many corporations establish. Tell the Dean/Provost/Supervisor about the contributions your Black/Brown colleague made to the committee. See them! I’ve often been in meetings where a Black person (generally female) contributed a suggestion that was ignored but later repeated by a white person as though it was theirs, and accepted by the committee as coming from s/he who appropriated in a room full of witnesses. Highlight their work. Speak up for them strongly if they’re untenured or adjuncts. My college has vehicles for recognizing uncompensated service by adjuncts and professional staff- submit their names if those arenas exist, and create them if they don’t.

Respect boundaries. I make very clear distinctions in relationships and never confuse colleagues or acquaintances with friends although I try to be relaxed and friendly. While suddenly inquiring about my well being might make you feel better and will be appreciated by some Black colleagues, be sure that you’re really ready to make some emotional investment before you bother them, because you can’t go back to half listening or taking a call as they’re answering. If I were to answer honestly how I’m doing at any time before or likely even after current international and national crises, you’d glaze over or run away in fear. I know, because I make it my business to occasionally answer such inquiries honestly just to watch the reactions. So if you weren’t interested before now, ask yourself what you’re getting out of it and what value it has to your colleague/vague acquaintance.

Outside of my students, I’ll answer some questions for people IF I think that my emotional and scholarly labor might bear fruit and that the person will follow up by doing their own research. I post information on FB for a number of reasons, including witnessing and venting, not- as some apparently think- to always enlighten you or relieve you of the responsibility for your own enlightenment or the debt you owe to all citizens towards a diverse, well integrated, and just society.

But I’m tired. Emotional and intellectual labor add up, and 99% of the time, there is no reciprocity, and every anthropologist will tell you that reciprocity is the cornerstone of society.
So pay me and all the other folk you presume to depend upon without thought. Recognize and promote your colleagues & acquaintances. Do unto others what you would have done for yourself and at exactly the same rates. There are various activists you know who are making your towns and neighborhoods and society better, yet who are struggling to pay their bills. If you’re flush, Venmo them! Buy Black made products, support Black businesses, make a grocery run for the elders, pay a bill.

Do real things for people and never, ever, take what isn’t yours without permission/compensating the creator. That’s called looting, and an enormous amount of angst and ink has gone into telling us how very awful that is and decrying the horror of it over the past weeks. So let me remind you: Columbus and the Europeans that followed looted two entire continents, its people and resources, and then looted millions of people from a third continent before looting its other resources and wealth, including what would now be considered intellectual property. The wealth of this nation, the privilege that you even casually enjoy- including ideas of white supremacy that permeate our society and are intrinsic to every system and structure of our society-was created and continues to be supported by a hierarchy of race that was constructed to legalize and normalize the looting of those deemed “less than” starting from the Doctrine of Discovery, to the 13th Amendment, and on till today. That privilege allows you to deny racism and your own privilege. It allows you to always see yourself as, and find each other innocent.

Stop being butt hurt, relieve yourselves of the weight of that considerable ego, listen, allow yourselves to feel true compassion. Decenter yourselves. It’s not only about money, but in our society, money is how value and worth are understood, so start there until thoughtfulness, compassion, humor, and a sense of justice mature in you to the point where no one is exploited or treated unfairly because you’ve done the work of creating that kind of society. And yes, they can exist- read widely and note that there were people and systems that existed before 1492. Some of them had some very nifty ideas about balance that you should check out, but not appropriate.

#OverIt #FannyLouTaughtMe #OmShanti

When Pandemics Are Not Enough

Someone I’ve never met, but who’s friends with several folks I know posted something he thought was funny this morning. It was a “joke”
about his desire to be able to afford “riot tourism.” While this may be tangentially related to his research area, for an educated white guy to have posted this in the midst of uprisings (not riots) against the on camera murder of an unarmed Black man was beyond “tone deaf,” it was infuriatingly disrespectful and callous. (I reacted strongly, suggesting that he perform an impossible anatomical feat of self sexualization, before eliminating him from my list.)

What’s happening now in this country is important. The pandemic showed the ongoing apartheid in healthcare, housing, income, and employment in ways that have made it obvious to even the most oblivious and insulated people in our society. The most recent in a steady stream of murders ,of another, unarmed Black man, (George Floyd) already cuffed and on the ground, was the final straw. Furthermore, the realization that many people have been more upset by damage done to property than the on screen murder of a human being has not only added fuel to the raging flames, it has also corroborated what The Children of Captive Nations have been saying for 528 years.

When my son was about two years old, I was feeding him dinner when I heard a lot of activity in the hallway of the apartment building I lived in. I was a recently single parent at the time, living in a cheap walk up in what was back then a rough area of Park Slope on St. Mark’s & 5th.
I heard running and boots on the stairs, followed by loud banging and shouts of “Police, open up”
Too surprised to be scared, (I’d descended from a more middle class lifestyle and neighborhood and didn’t yet know certain aspects of my vulnerability ) I opened the door and saw a number of cops upstairs and downstairs, with two facing me at my door.
They proceeded to tell me they were looking for someone (the perpetually sought after Black dude, of course) and to ask who was in the house with me. By this time some fear had made its way to my brain and I replied that it was just me & my little son. They demanded to enter, even though I said, “He’s two!” “We have to see him, we have to see for ourselves” said the Black officer as his white partner peered aggressively over me, weapon at the ready.
They entered, with me trying to keep ahead of them, so my son would see me first, and not two heavily armed, frightening strangers in our kitchen.

This is the fearsome Black guy that they saw:

The Black officer politely thanked me, but the silent white cop just turned away, his disappointment showing clearly on his face as he moved quickly towards the door, in pursuit of that “Black guy.”

That was the first time for my son. Only his first, far from his last. It was not mine. I remember my brother and his friend, maybe 8 or 9, climbing on the roof of the Post Office across from our house, to retrieve a ball they’d pitched or hit onto the roof. I remember the cops grabbing them and taking them to the Fourth Precinct in Jersey City, even though both kids lived on the block, our mothers were home, and they could have knocked on our door, especially since I told them my mother was there.

I remember my mother’s fury as she marched down the street to retrieve her child and give the cops a piece of her mind. I didn’t get all of what the grown ups talked about that evening, but I heard them saying that “a white child would’ve been brought home to his parents” for punishment. And I heard the mingled fury and fear and relief as they talked on into the night. I’d be much older before I understood the depths of their relief and the reasons for it.

Like every Black, Native, Latinx, or other mother of colour, or any conscious person who loves someone of colour, I’m forever traumatized, forever vigilant, forever clear about where we stand in this country as “non-whites.” I sleep through the night only on the occasions that my son, his family, and I are all under the same roof, and I’m honestly not entirely unhappy that Covid-19 has him working from home, safely away from the negative possibilities that are a daily reality for Black and Brown people in this country. My son is a person of stature, but none of his education or awards, nor the fact that he is one of the best men I’ve ever known, would mean a thing if a police officer, or almost any random racist white person with a weapon or a weaponized phone, decided to target him, or my brothers, or nephews, nieces, loved ones.

And I know that like a Mr. Smith in a Matrix movie, pretty much any seemingly benign white person is a latent, potential racist threat. That liberal, educated white woman who was prepared to frame a Black man and put his life at risk because he had the audacity to question her right as a white person to break leash laws is the perfect example, but it’s most certainly not the only one.

This isn’t an intellectual or academic exercise to me, and I question your humanity if that’s all it is to you. If you could watch any of the now numerous videos of weaponless Black/Brown people being assaulted or murdered but show more concern for property, or judge their character, or even activities in the face of brutality, you are an immoral, soulless person.

Talking back to white people/requesting that they leash their pets/possible petty fraud/theft/driving/jogging/eating/watching tv/being in a group, etc. are NOT felonies. But guess what? Even if they are, the law says that people are innocent until proven guilty, entitled to representation, a fair trial, and a verdict before any form of punishment can be meted out, and that police are neither jury, nor judge, nor executioners, by law. You don’t have to like or approve of a person for them to merit these basic protections under the laws of the land and the rules of basic human morality. And if that’s a problem, it’s you who are in the wrong country, not We, the People.

Just Another Covid-19 Rant

On Monday, I reached out to the students who’ve been MIA from my classes, making it clear that I was interested in their well being, more than their productivity. They all responded, and it has been heartbreaking and downright depressing to learn about some of their situations. They’ve lost parents and other family members; some are themselves sick; many have lost their jobs and others are working in essential jobs, from nurse’s assistants to grocery store workers; others had their National Guard regiments called up to help; still others are caring for sick family members or children, while others lost chargers or had problems because they’re using older equipment. And some are just depressed and frightened and unable to function. Every single one of them broke my heart by apologizing and expressing guilt or shame, as though these inexperienced young people who are watching the world implode and experiencing upheavals beyond the experience of even their elders, think that they should be able to immediately adapt and function at the highest, already unrealistic and damaging levels that preceded the pandemic.

The thanks I’ve received brought me to tears because you know what? I have’t done anything that exceptional: I’ve given them reassurance, let them know that that I’ll work with them to get through the semester, and let them know that the college has a few resources to help with equipment and told them how to access help or connected them to people who can help. Yeah, I offered a charger and tried to make sure that everyone had food. I did what I think are pretty basic things that don’t even require me to leave my home. I did what one professor did for me many years ago when I had pneumonia and missed two classes: he called, reminded me to stay hydrated, and asked if I was eating. At that time it was one of the most touchingly kind acts I’d experienced from an authority figure. Only the day before, my classics professor had called, gently chiding me for missing classes and falling behind.

I’m sorry to go on, but I’m sitting here, choked up for the third day in a row. It’s painful to know so many people who are suffering and it’s heartbreaking to think how apathetic or even unkind people must be that such relatively small gestures mean so much to people.
And yes, I understand that it’s about timing: being seen/missed while isolated probably means more than at other times, but honest to Goddess, people, you don’t have to break protocol or overstep boundaries: just check in and ask if they’re ok and if you can help (presuming that you’re willing to do so.) Getting them connected for their individual needs was a bit time consuming, but not actually difficult.

An academic group I’m in had a whole debate about whether or not to use some class time to address these issues. I admit to being surprised that everyone hadn’t already done this and that many thought it was inappropriate. Even if my discipline was outside of the social sciences, I can’t imagine not taking some time to ask how they are and if they want to talk about how they’re dealing with everything and letting them know that they can email if they want to confer. This is another of the many times that I’m struck by how different my culture is from the dominant one and how society creates and rewards isolationist forms of individualism where self promoting “teams” are formed rather than communities of sharing.

And this isn’t humblebragging- this is me saying that as insular, selfish, and shallow as I can be, it took almost nothing to make someone’s day a tiny bit better. I’m saying that you don’t have to be on the front lines or take risks: a simple note, maybe a few hours of time, can make a difference for someone who’s genuinely stuck right now.

Ok, I really didn’t intend to rant. (The title was changed at the end) Like most others, I’m processing everything even as I’m trying to place one foot in front of the other and function, and writing is one way that I process. And there is a lot to process. But part of what we’re being asked to process is who we are and what kind of society we want to be. I’d like a kinder, more equal one with science and civics education, support for the Arts, and national healthcare. 🤷🏽‍♀️

I’ve nothing else to say except to say stay home, take deep breaths, be kind, keep well, and stay safe.

Normal Doesn’t Always Equal Good

I just read an important blog post on Medium by Dr. Lyra D. Montiero, “Please Professors: Stop Pretending the Dying Isn’t Happening.” It was written by her after reading the tweet above, and in turn, what she wrote inspired this short response from me.

Several of my students have lost relatives in the past two weeks, others are working in hospitals and groceries as poorly paid, mostly unprotected “essential workers” and they’re frightened or worse, too numb to feel afraid, too dependent on their pay to simply “shelter at home.” Two that I know of are ill. What we say to them and how we treat them always matters, but at this traumatic moment, it’s crucial that we empathize and allow them some space to learn a new “normal.”

When my brother died (in the same week that beloved relatives were murdered) a professor on my dissertation committee told me I should work through it and put it all into my work. I’ve rarely been more shocked and infuriated and hurt (I thought he was an understanding human being until then)
My response to him was “My brother was worthy of my mourning him and I’m taking time to do so.”

There’s a huge push to act and produce normally, but in the face of these upheavals and death, that can be a dehumanizing and cruel position to take. For some people keeping to a schedule is comforting, but in my experience, that’s often part of a delayed reaction or even denial. I’m a big believer in being present to your feelings and actually feeling them, not only thinking them. It’s part of our essential humanity and connection to Life and it’s a part we should want to cultivate as we consider the society we’ll be creating post pandemic, because whatever else happens, we are not returning to the “normal”we had before. And that can be an extremely good thing.

Oddities I consider in the small hours of the morning

I know many folktales and songs. When I was a kid, my mother would sometimes sing songs from her childhood in North Carolina, and I was young when the folkies of the early Sixties were on the rise. At school we learned anthems, more folksongs and dances from around the world, so there are a number of obscure lyrics rattling around in my head, a number of which are quite disturbing to me.

Since I was quite young, I’ve found Polly Vonn a particularly disturbing song. You can’t tell me that dude didn’t intentionally murder his fiancé. I always figured that it was an arranged marriage and the thought of being tied to some long necked pasty faced woman with a honking voice sent my boy over the edge. Hunting at dusk is suspicious and who eats swans? The meat isn’t desirable, and by all accounts takes more prep than chitterlings to make it palatable. (Thanks to Dr. Kendra Hamilton for this information)
What about it, crime solvers? Innocent mistake or premeditated murder?

Furthermore, let’s consider Charming Billy:

Who is questioning him, and what is up with Charming Billy? That’s a pretty intense interrogation, so Billy either has some incredibly nosey neighbors, a suspicious mum, or he’s been in the pub trying to convince the fellas that he actually has left his basement without a pub stop and has been on a date with a real, live, human girl. So:
Is his intended actually far too young for him?
Is she dodging his creepiness?
Is she actually a Time Lord? (My TL thought was that given the contrasting ages, she might be different ages at each appearance as she slips in and out of their time together.)
Is she a figment of Charming Bill’s imagination?

Inquiring minds want to know. Folklorists, where are you?

Chicken Tales

Hearing serious poultry hub bub from the yard- loud clucking & screeching- I painfully made my way to the dining room window to see a large, boxer-like dog running around the coop area. I yelled out the window, which sent him running, but right towards three birds trying to vacate the area.
I’d thrown my worn-outside-in-the-store pants to the basement for washing, so I yelled to “Hubs” to come down and help. Only after waking him did I remember the “yard pants” I keep by the back door, so I hobbled as quickly as possible to dress as “Hubs” came downstairs, yelling like a latter day Mighty Mouse that he was coming to save the day.
In great pain, I stumbled out the door, grabbing a stick to give chase. The birds were all huddled together near the front yard fence, ready to leap to safety, if necessary, except Gray’s Girl, the little brown Easter Egger, who remained near the dog, chest out, head erect, ready to fight. The dog tried to go back towards the coop, but I blocked it, and he scrambled over the side fence to the adjoining yard. I hollered and threatened, not allowing it to return, so it eventually climbed over the neighbor’s back fence , then into the yard behind us, setting off the dog behind the next fence.
Calming the birds, I went inside to get some worms as a treat, but they were too frightened to come out of their huddle until I whistled and put some worms on the ground.

Now here’s what’s interesting to me. I scattered enough worms so that every bird could reach a little pile. They immediately did their usual shoving and ranking, and soon chased Gray’s Girl away, as is often the case. The fact that she alone stood up to the dog to protect them all meant nothing and she walked away towards the coop, ignoring my calls for her to return, a sad, proud little figure with a teenager’s defiant attitude.
Turning away from my flock of ingrates, I brought her a handful of worms to eat in her solitude, our silent hero of the Great Dog Attack of 2020.

Shopping In The Time of The Virus

Just back from a 6 AM necessities shopping run during “elder hours” and it was quite interesting from my casual social social science perspective. The store was packed (got there around 6:20) as expected, but people were clearly trying to maintain 6ft between each other, using their carts to measure space. There were mostly white people, mostly couples, but a number of men running around scowling. I saw two other Black women, and two men, one in a couple. There was one tall, dimpled, twentyish, Black man stocking shelves.

The most striking thing was the anger and determination the white folks displayed. No eye contact, niceties, or even basic politeness. If anyone had even accidentally veered into someone, I think violence would have broken out.
With one exception (the man on his own) the Black people spoke or nodded, and the young employee was sweet as pie when I made eye contact and greeted him. (He seemed genuinely delighted to be acknowledged)
Only that lone male Black elder looked straight ahead and moved quickly. I could head the old Mission Impossible theme in my head as I watched him adroitly avoiding other shoppers in the crowded aisles, murmuring what sounded like his list items as he flew by me in a heavy looking sheep skin coat. (It was a warming, foggy, drizzling morning. This gentleman was prepared for the next Ice Age)

Making my way into an aisle, there was a heavy set white woman with thick, slightly askew grey and white hair, exiting. We made eye contact and both laughed, she shaking her head and both of us nodded, saying “Crazy, right?”and laughing again.

As I made my way throughout the store, no one else spoke to me or anyone else, and eye contact was assiduously avoided. Even the couples moved silently for the most part, many masked, eyes grimly looking straight ahead, and almost everyone had their jaws set tightly. (The expressions were more grim than any of my students during final exams.) There was one tall, attractively mustached man who just stood in place, between the refrigerated juices and flower aisles, looking around with what seemed to be fear and confusion, but still that prevalent look of determination. His head and eyes moved, but his body seemed frozen. I wondered if he’d lost his partner or was determining a strategy, or if he’d suddenly awakened to find himself in the Stop and Shop of The Twilight Zone. It was so hard for me not to ask…

A short time later, as we waited in the long line, taking turns to run back for additional items “just to be safe,” all stock clerks were called to help bag groceries, and the sweet young man came to our line, allowing me to thank him and wish him health and a good weekend. The cashier was a pleasant, “motherly” looking white woman (55-60) who was not only cheerful, but seemed to be having a good time, sharply contrasting the customers who all looked angry, sad, and occasionally shell shocked. I would liked to have chatted with her to discover the source of her joy, but this wasn’t the time to slow down the line and risk the wrath of the ten or more full carts behind us possibly being used like tanks to move us out of the way. I had a prayer-like thought for anyone who might dither or otherwise have a problem checking out this morning, but it wasn’t going to be me.

When the woman behind me loudly complained to her companion about the higher prices on many items, I turned and we made eye contact, so I nodded sympathetically. That seemed to please this tall, slender, very pale, ivory skinned, white haired woman, (a ringer for Eileen Atkins) who nodded enthusiastically in the silent solidarity of her righteous indignation.

Thanking the cashier and stock clerk once again, we soon made our way back to the parking lot where, in stark contrast to the scene inside the store, people were now moving very slowly, unloading groceries from their carts, lethargically walking to return carts. I recognized faces that not ten minutes before had been set in combat mode, yet now seemed listless and lost, as people moved, zombie like, to complete their errand.

For a few minutes more I watched from the car as I sanitized my hands, door handles, and bag, and “Hubs” returned the shopping cart to its aisle. Most people now moved like balloons that had been popped and were deflated, as though all of their energies had been mustered for the task of shopping and none was left afterwards. I’ve can’t remember ever having seen such a rapid contrast in behavior among a group of people.

But then again, this is a different moment in history, comparable to none in my lifetime. I’m curious about how people in other areas of the country are behaving. Long Island is unlike other places I’ve lived, and not a welcoming place in the best of times. It will be interesting to see if people will have come to appreciate these brief social moments by the time I venture out again sometime in April, or if isolation will have turned folks feral and even more hostile. I hope for the former, but will be prepared for the latter. Meanwhile, I will waive to my neighbors and plant my garden and try not to grow fatter as we nosh our way through this pandemic. I will hope that a leader in the spirit of FDR will appear and promote the spirit of community, collectivity, and kindness that is needed if we are ever to thrive again and not merely survive physically. “Divided we fall” is as crucial to our motto as the “United we stand” part. Separation is a dangerous illusion: beware of those promoting it.

Now go out and help your neighbors, thank the sanitation workers, market workers, and all of the people risking themselves to keep us relatively comfortable and safe. Contribute to a food pantry, purchase a gift card from a local restaurant, check on the elderly on your block. And for pity’s sake and to avoid future dental work, please try to relax your jaws.

Thanks to All Y’all!

Ok, quick shoutout to y’all: parents, elders, folks caring for vulnerable ones, teachers, students, and those in isolation away from their loved ones; everybody transitioning to working at home, and those on the front lines: from farms to trucks to docks to cashiers; medical folk; those in or caring for prisoners; and everybody in between.
I’m so touched by your consideration for others, your resilience, good sense, kindness, and humor as you create and sustain community, on and offline.
May you be safely ensconced and remain healthy, and may you know only prosperity, abundance, and love.
You are awesome and amazing!

In Memoriam: Dr. Miriam K. Deitsch

Today we lost our former Chair of Sociology and Anthropology, the creator and Director of the Social Science Research Center, as well as the only course on Social Justice at the college. She was the person who hired me and one of the most inspiring, frustrating, generous, boundary breaking people I’ve known. A mensch, a nudge, a macher, and meshuga. She drove me crazy as a new hire because she had no boundaries when she liked someone, calling at 10 PM on weekends, insinuating herself into areas that we introverts prefer to keep closed. I can tell you that it was more than concerning that she had such little regard for certain proprieties, and we banged heads often. But my determination to be respected and to protect others when I thought she was wrong won not only her respect, but her trust because she knew that I’d never lie to her or go behind her back. Anything I had to say, she heard it first, and because of that, I became a sounding board for new ideas and rants. There was a closeness between us that weathered the ups and downs, so when she called to say she needed me, there was no question that I would do my best to be there for her.
Mimi was incredibly generous to students and took many a stray under her wing. A staunch defender of students and underdogs, she was also a skilled political animal who knew how to work the system to get what she wanted to make the world better, as she understood it. She had a hand in almost every program at the college that connected to human & civil rights, the environment, and mental health initiatives.
Our relationship was complex and sometimes fraught, but I knew that her deepest wish was to see a world where no one went without and where every human had access to the tools and support that allows them to flourish. When she knew that she had hurt someone, she was genuinely contrite and humble in a way that has become too rare in our superficial world. She was not a perfect being, but she was divinely human in her passion, determination, fierceness, and love. Mimi could write the most flowery compliments and drip honey covered words of appreciation and encouragement with the same mouth that would curse like a sailor and cackle with glee if you were shocked by it. I think she enjoyed her own contradictions immensely and amused herself by being herself. She admired and loved her children, adored her grandchildren, and created extended family with every semester and each batch of new students. She was loved by many, from the maintenance staff to the people at the highest levels of SUNY. It was quite fitting that our President went to her hospital room and bestowed the college’s highest honor, the Farmingdale State College Distinguished Service Award. Mimi was first woman and only the seventh person to receive this in the College’s 108-year history. Although she would say that such honors were unimportant, in reality she was quite proud of herself, and deservedly so. On a recent visit, I told her that if SUNY ever completed plans to build a Social Science Hall at the college, it should be named for her, and without hesitation she nodded in agreement. She earned every honor she received and was that rare woman who knew her worth.

On the last day that I saw her, she was small and radiantly beautiful, despite the intermittent pain that came between the morphine drips. Without makeup and her hair pulled up, her exquisite features and lively eyes were clearly exposed. Unable to sustain conversation and losing the desire to eat, it was painfully clear that the end was not too far off, even though anyone who knew her also expected that she would somehow turn around and make a complete recovery. But on that day she was tired and angry and frustrated with these new limits. Taking her hand, I tried to soothe her, acknowledging the frustration I saw in her face and trying my best to reassure and joke with her. It then occurred to me to ask if she would like me to curse for her, and her eyebrows raised, first in surprise, then in pure delight as I let out a string of curses appropriate to the moment. I cursed her current “enemy”, calling her “The demented and evil daughter of a diseased vagina.”
That remarkable pronouncement elicited a look of complete surprise that quickly turned to mirth and laughter that shone from her eyes. Squeezing my hand, she whispered “Bitch, bitch, bitch” and seemed deeply satisfied with herself and the whole exercise. The very gentle work friend with whom I’d ridden for this visit managed to put away her own shock and joined in, asking if Mimi would like her to “say the C word,” much to Dr. D’s delight.
She grew tired after that, but looked satisfied and peaceful, and we soon made our way out of the ICU. It was the last time I saw her, as my own medical issues prevented my next planned visit, but her beloved cousin read my texts to her, so she knew that we were thinking of her and that the students she was concerned for wouldn’t be abandoned.
I’m told that she had a gentle passing and had been relieved of her pain. I believe in reincarnation on most days, so I hope that she gets some well deserved rest before she comes back to finish whipping the world into shape.
You touched many, many people for the better, Mimi, and you gave the college a conscience that it sometimes lacked. You fought the good fight till the very end and we are all the better for having known you.
Dr. Miriam K. Deitsch: Presente!