In Remembrance

I was fortunate enough to have had my father in my life for a little more than fifty years. My Dad was the kind of father who would get down on the floor to play with his kids. He did Cossack dances around the house, sang sad and silly songs, told really funny and really corny jokes, brought us bubble gum at the end of his work week, and played rag time piano. He struggled with us (certainly me) through math classes, taught us all to play poker, box, and skip rope. He taught my sister and me to waltz, and retained Victorian-like, romantic ideas and attitudes of courtliness and honor.

My Pop was fiercely clannish in the best sense, hard working, athletic, and tenacious. He dreamed of having a Kennedyesque compound, with all of his family and other loved ones close, sharing, helping, and protecting each other. When I was very small, before he could afford a car during the hours the bus didn’t run, he walked back and forth between Jersey City and his job in Bayonne (5 miles each way.) Providing for, and keeping his family together was central to his being.

He seldom attended church but held strong beliefs about honoring parents and holding God in awe. He taught me to always fight fairly and never throw the first punch, a stance that cost me dearly during the street fights of my childhood. He was mostly self-taught and retained a positivist belief in self and home improvement, remaining active until he was about ninety.

I was completely devoted to him as a child and thought he was the most brilliant man alive with his adherence to scientific method and home-made chemistry lab. He taught me to believe that I was smart and could learn/teach myself anything into which I was willing to put time and energy. As a teen, we struggled because of my difficulties with algebra and developing interest in boys, but he was always protective: a reasonable and considerate father, and I always knew that he loved me even when I thought he didn’t understand me.

We played piano duets, watched science fiction movies, played simple games of chess, discussed politics and art and music and science and architecture. He taught me how to order at a restaurant if I was alone- a seemingly small thing-but for a shy girl, a gift that allowed me to travel independently. I was taught how to use tools and treat them with respect, to change a tire, and some basic plumbing. He often called me “pixilated”, recognizing that I was dancing to a song unheard by others, and he did his best to prepare me for the practical world he knew would invade my artistic, sometimes dreamy world. He was a bit less successful in this than in other endeavors, but his love continues to shore me up as I dance gingerly through an often harsh reality.

He was a good man and it is my sincere pleasure to wish all of the good fathers and fathers-to- be a wonderful and Happy Father’s Day today.

Student Debt

When considering student debt, people seem not to understand that the average person starting graduate school is a nearly 40 year old woman. There are far fewer grants for grad school than scholarships for undergrads, so most people take out loans. In fact, even in colleges now, “student aid packages” are predominantly based on loans unlike any others. They cannot be claimed in bankruptcy proceedings and the current administration has almost completely eliminated debt forgiveness proceedings for teachers and other public servants who were eligible for debt release after ten years of service and payments.

Given the age of most graduate students, many are likely to have children and are often single parents trying to return to the workforce or improve their earning power, but those earnings are often unlikely to allow them to pay off those relatively high interest debts and support families through their education. Heaven forbid that they also incur medical loans or try to purchase a house rather than pay continually increasing rents!

Historically, debt forgiveness is not a slippery slope into anything other than boosting the economy, in spite of the histrionics I see in comments regarding Elizabeth Warren’s recently stated platform. (And no, I’m not crazy about her or anyone else right now, but her platform isn’t far fetched and is in fact, in line with many of the world’s wealthy, “developed” nations)

So the REAL questions should be:

Why are education costs in the US such that only the wealthy can afford to be educated?

Second to that is why do Americans allow their hard earned tax dollars to be used to forgive the debts of banks and multinationals, but fight to maintain their own positions as indentured workers?

Why do so many Americans fight against union benefits that help every worker rather than fighting for their own ability to bargain?

And why does a country that’s falling behind in education undervalue liberal arts? We had one of the best educational systems in the world when those subjects were part of the general curriculum, including at the best technology colleges, such as MIT. It’s pretty simple: if I can read, write, and have a decent grasp of critical thinking, math and science, I can pretty much learn everything else (given an aptitude and willingness to work) and communicate with others across disciplines.

Sadly, I have some ideas about the above “whys” but I can only hope that I’m wrong because if I’m right, it means that too many Americans are stupid, mean spirited, and ignorant about how the systems under which they spend their lives actually work, or their real positions within society.

As working people we have more in common with one another than we do with the 2% richest or even the legislators who are supposed to represent our interests but too often use their political terms to enrich themselves at our expense. We don’t have to like each other or agree on everything, but we sure as heck need to stop fighting each other in ways that keep us all down.

Stop acting like crabs in a barrel, people. Raise each other up: in that way, everybody benefits.

You Don’t Speak For My Clan Mothers

Although published in 2017, I just came upon “‘Anthropology is a white colonialist project’ can’t be the end of the conversation” by Ghassan Hage, and found myself once again interrogating the anger that welled up from the core of my “Native Anthropologist” being.

I find the ending to this otherwise interesting and useful article entirely problematic. Identifying anthro as a tribe, while common, also serves as a way to justify exclusionary behaviors and perpetuate rights of inheritance/inclusion to those who “err” but “respect their elders.” No, I don’t have to accept all of those horrid, racist, misogynist dead guys as my Ancestors. They did not bring me to this discipline, nor do they sustain me. They are not sources of inquiry for me, and most serve only as object lessons for what not to do in anthropology or life.

In my mind this “tribal” fall back position seems akin to the recent eulogizing of a soft spoken leader who also contributed to the deaths of thousands from AIDS, waged a racist campaign, and promoted international wars, both secret and direct. Maybe he was nice to the very narrowly restricted group of people who knew him, but his policies brought suffering and death to many, and it is his professional being I am here to judge. So too, I see no reason to buy into the toleration of problematic figures in anthropology.

I do believe that anthropology (and even governments) can be decolonized, but not by falling back on worn out tropes and pre-emptive forgiveness, and not by continuing to tip toe around that which is unforgivable.

The bottom line is that unlike our lineal/blood families, we are not born to this “tribe”, we choose it. And that makes all the difference.

https://mediadiversified.org/2017/09/04/anthropology-is-a-white-colonialist-project-cant-be-the-end-of-the-conversation/

It Is Always The Day After

We need to be organized, put differences on hold, or at least not let relatively petty quarrels divide us. The scary people may hate each other, but they still vote as a block. They show up, if only to beat us. There’s no sitting this out, no “I’m not political” or “They’re all the same, why bother.” We not only have a common enemy, we have common interests, desires, and visions. They’re not identical-that’s ok. They’re enough for us to organize behind and win. Then we can hash out our differences. This is an intersectional cause: leave your ego at the door and work it out.

Dine/Apache burden basket

Is this the system of my choice? Hell no! But I’m here; X marks the spot, and I spent many years preparing for “The Revolution” while watching the disintegration of an increasingly hypocritical and corrupt system. I saw early on that most people don’t want revolution/change: they just want to be on top or better off within the familiar. They want to survive; they want to hold onto the illusion of the myth of The American Dream.

Disappointment can’t make you turn away, it requires us to use every tool available to us until “revolution” evolves.

We have to do better. These are the times that try our souls: united we stand, divided we fall hard, lose our remaining rights and become virtual, if not actual slaves to people you might mock, despise for their vulgarity and biases, but who will continue to kick your/our collective asses.

Work, work, work…

Roy Wagner 1938-2018

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 Remember

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.

River Wide, River Deep

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