The White Privilege Course

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I decided to take a doctoral level course because my advisor coworker friend was emailed by another advisor who advertised that this instructor needed students to take her course.

The advisor friend pleaded with me to take this course with her. I decided to do it, and I applied to the graduate school as a non-degree seeking Master’s student. There was a lot I had to do in a short period of time to get into this course. I went ahead and contacted the instructor of the course. I already met the instructor of the course. She did a presentation a few months ago about the history of sexual violence and how it was tied to the university campus. It was a great presentation. Anyway, once I found out from my advisor friend who taught the course, I definitely wanted to take it with her. She and our other advisor friend told me I should apply to the TAP program to take the course.

First, I had to apply to the graduate school. I went online and completed the graduate application. I kept on it, and they admitted me as a non-degree seeking graduate student (Master’s). Next, I had to complete the TAP program application. Before I did that, I ask my supervisor for approval. The course was after work hours. She agreed and approved the application. Next, I sent off the TAP application. The TAP director could not approve it until I was admitted as a non-degree seeking graduate student. Once I was, I contacted the TAP director, and he processed my information. Next, once I was in the system, I checked the student website to make sure I was integrated as a graduate student. However, I had several holds on my account. First, hold was easy to remove. I had to complete emergency contact information. The next holds were tricky. I had went ahead and pay a three dollar fee to have my undergraduate BA transcript sent electronically to the graduate student. They received it and took the hold off. The toughest hold item was the immunizations. In order to get the immunizations, I had to go to the county health department. All my immunizations are not on the national database. My immunizations were still on the health department cards that they filled out back in the day to document babies’/children’s immunizations. In order for me to get them, I had to go to the local health department, complete a release form, and the local health department official had to fax the form to my hometown’s health department where the my hometown’s health department had to fax a copy of my immunization records. The administrator was griping about how they need to put the immunizations on the national immunization database. I told her that they were old school, and that’s how they were.

Finally, after three hours (because the administrator keyed in the wrong fax number), my immunization records were faxed in. I went ahead and had the administrator key in my immunizations, and I decided to get the outdated immunizations done. I was due for a tetanus shot. As for the chicken pox immunization, the records state that I had a titers, and I was immune to it, but I didn’t know how true that was. So, I went ahead and scheduled the chicken pox shot as well. The nurse that did the shots were great. We had a long talk about education. After she finished my shots, I drove over to the university’s health center to turn in my records. Come to find out, the titers counted, and I didn’t need a chicken pox shot.

Then, my student accounts record was cleared, and I was ready to register. The way the TAP program works with registration is that university/college employees have to wait a certain date to register. Our registration date was this past Monday. After 5 a.m. this past Monday, I registered for the course that I was granted department of permission to register for. My TAP waiver took effective twenty four hours afterwards. I get to take a course that will help me finish my Master’s thesis.

The course is White Privilege in Education. You ask…why would I take a course as such?

First, my graduate work for my master’s program is on Toni Morrison and her works. For the past several years, I’ve been writing about privilege concerning race, class, and sex. It is only natural I want to learn more about how white privilege is playing into our cultural and what new ways can I learn to help educate people in collegiate environments and in my life about it. I also believe that this will help with the significant revisions of my thesis work so I can move on to doctoral work and get a PhD next.

Today, the instructor email all of us in the course so far. She hasn’t completed the syllabus yet, but she did complete the first week. I have my texts, and there will be a lot of reading to do, but I am looking forward to it.

I will be writing about the course and what is going on in it and what I am learning. Another reason why I am taking this course is I want to further understand and share what is going on in my department. I work in a science department where we hardly have any minorities training out PhD/MS graduate students. We have four black female PhD graduate students, an African male MS student, and we have one black male graduate student. We have one Puerto Rican female graduate student, and one biracial graduate student who is Mexican. We have one Pacific Islander male PhD student, and one multiracial female student who is part Pacific Islander. Of course, the rest of our department is white graduate students—half of white female PhD students and the other half is white male PhD students. Yet, when you look at higher up administration who have PhDs in power, the majority of them are white males. If any white females with PhDs that are administration have power, they don’t have nearly as much power as their white male counterparts. Any people of color who have administrative positions, they are lumped with the minority and have to work thrice as hard to get heard. So, the question is…why are we still in a racial hierarchal caste system that is run by white males? More important, to me, what tools and actions we need to take to make spaces more diverse because folks this caste system still exists in America and is several hundred years old.

More on this development,
S

Flemming is an Awkward Black Girl, Too

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I am an awkward black girl as well. And on top of that, a black feminist nerd. But recently, I feel like there are others out there like me or similar to me.

Issa Rae is one of them. While reading an article from The Root about Issa Rae’s experiences in Hollywood wanting to “lighten” the main character (which Issa Rae plays) (http://www.theroot.com/blogs/the_grapevine/2015/08/issa_rae_described_how_hollywood_wanted_to_lighten_awkward_black_girl_and.html), I discovered Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl series, and let me say…

I watched Seasons 2 and 1 yesterday and today. Umm…well, in that order.

I told you that I was an awkward black girl. A part of being an awkward black girl is not sometimes reading closely what you are reading or what you are watching.

I thought that since I saw season 2 that season 1 would be disappointing, but oh no, both seasons are equally amazing.

The premise: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is about J who works at Gutbusters. Gutbusters is a business where tele-operators sale diet pills that promote bulimia. J despises her job, her work environment and co-workers. What few enjoyables at her job is CeCe who works in Human Resources and becomes her best friend and a new crush, Fred, that she has a hard time getting up the courage to ask on a date.

As for J’s personal life, she was in a long term college relationship where her boyfriend cheated on her…and currently, she had a drunken one night stand with one of her co-workers, A, who is extremely awkward and creepy. Oh, I did not get to express…annoying as her. Trust me, I would want to date Steve Urkiel and not this dude.

What Rae gets so right about The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is how people interact with one another and how we should not put nerds in a box or stereotype them.

From many, nerds have always been white young males with glasses who geek out about computers and/or comics. Or nerds are creeps and losers that no one wants to be friends with.

However, that is not true about nerds. Nerds are all types of people. Nerds are people who you think aren’t nerds (like me). While viewing Awkward Black Girl, I identified with J a lot. She is someone who, on the outside, looks normal but once other characters who are similar to her relate to her, I realized that she is a nerd. Through viewing, she makes me feel like I am not alone…and that is comforting when watching Awkward Black Girl. That black female nerds do exist. We are here, and we should be seen…

Although J is passive aggressive, a bit needy, and indecisive sometimes, she is actually a positive character. Viewers see her insecurities, but the way that Rae and Co. have portrayed J, those insecurities are acceptable for I see that everything isn’t about J—and J starts seeing that as well. That she needs to grow and learn from her experiences and mistakes. This makes her human, but it doesn’t exploit or compromise that she is a normal person—normal as meaning being herself and putting in effort to become a better self.

Also, Awkward Black Girl shows positive and negative relationships. We see J engage in four type of intimate relationships. The first type as being a dependent girlfriend on her ex-boyfriend D. She tells CeCe that she knew that D was cheating on her, but she kept being in denial because she wanted to be with him more than wanting to actually being alone. The next type of relationship we see is J thinking that A, through her drunkenness, is a fine hookup. Of course, that was a superficial encounter influenced by being drunk. The other type of relationship is J’s crush on Fred. Instead of J expressing that she likes Fred, she remains silent by misinterpreting his signals…or correctly interpreting his signals but not doing anything about it. This is where White J comes in. White J is the fourth relationship encounter we see J engaged in. J meets White J while at Fred’s birthday party. Immediately, like CeCe, J finds that White J is awkward as well. She feels the same connection that she does with CeCe without knowing it yet. White J is instantly attracted to J and can’t stop thinking about her. He asks her out on a date.

Although his failed attempts at making the date wonderful (He takes J to a soul food place because she is black…and he takes to her a spoken word event which turns out hellish), he and J both agreed they both made choices based off trying to be someone that they weren’t.

Later on season 1, J dates White J and Fred. She feels more comfortable with White J because she can be more honest herself. She and White J complement each other because they have the same interest but challenge each other. With Fred, she feels more comfortable with him as being friends…the expectation of being someone else, she realizes, is not easy which means it is not easy being with Fred than it is with White J.

What Awkward Black Girl also shows is that as adults we continue to deal with adult bullies like Nina who are aggressive. We also deal with hypocrites like Sister Mary who preaches God and Jesus, but turns right around and visits the sex shop , and she still has sex.

Overall, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl gets right is that we need to surround ourselves with people who support us. We need to be around people who help us to continue to see that we can be better version of ourselves. It breaks down stereotypes about black folks. There are ALL kinds of BLACK people as there are all kinds of PEOPLE. Don’t judge someone because you heard all these century rumors about them. Judge them by getting to know them.

Cheers,
S

Grange Copeland, a Feminist

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Alice Walker knows how to craft a tale that shows so many feminist elements. What is impressive is that she did this with her first novel at the age of 21.

For our online feminist book club discussion, I was the first one to pick our novel to read. I’ve been wanting to finish reading Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland for years. I kept picking up the novel…starting it and not reading it the entire way. However, I am glad that I stuck with it this time because it is a phenomenal read!!

Today, I finished it, and it took my breath away. Not only it has many truths ring brilliantly that are brought center stage, but Walker does something that a writer has never did to me before. She evoked a multitude of emotions from which provoked me to examine certain aspects of what feminism is concerning the main character and his family. Here’s what the novel is about first and foremost.

The Third Life of Grange Copeland is an African American saga about a black family, the Copelands. The novel reveals to us the main protagonist, Grange Copeland, is quite unhappy with his life. Grange’s depression results from being a sharecropper. His existence or his identity is owned by the owner of the land who he share crops from. For Grange, his life is non-existent. Being oppressed by the white owner gives him no hope. Grange’s depression turns into rage and he neglects neglect his family. Eventually, he abandons them. Once abandoned, his wife, Margaret, commits suicide with her bastard baby, and his son, Brownfield, leaves and heads up North to look for his father.

The results are devastatingly astounding. Brownfield is unable to get passed his father’s uncaring behavior and abandonment. Brownfield’s years of resentment at Grange proves fatal. Brownfield has a family of his own that he treats horrifically. Brownfield also falls into the same kind of oppressive work his father did—sharecropping. Along with his existing resentment towards his father and sharecropping oppressing him, Brownfield physically, emotionally, verbally, and mentally abuses his family. As the novel progresses, his abuse becomes so bad that he shoots his wife in the face and kills her—leaving his three daughters motherless and fatherless (Brownfield ends up going to jail for several years, but due to the abuse of his wife and his daughters and his daughters being split up, his family is completely destroyed).

Grange takes Ruth, the youngest child, and cares for her. In a remarkable transformation, Grange is a positive parental figure to Ruth that he could not be with Brownfield. This is because Grange’s experiences from his journey to the North impacts his life. He is able to care for Ruth. Through that caring, he is able to give Ruth the necessary guidance and love to sustain herself and break the Copeland cycle of neglect and abuse.

I consider Grange Copeland a feminist. Why is Grange Copeland a feminist?

For starters, Grange Copeland is a feminist because:

1) He teaches Ruth in how to be independent.

Grange does not hold back in teaching Ruth how to become independent: “Nothing move him to repent of his independent method of raising her” (207).  In the novel, Grange continues to encourage Ruth to read, “Free to play in the cabin they built far back in the words, free to read comics and books Grange cunningly stole from the white library. . .” (195). Due to Ruth reading and becoming educate, Grange does not prohibit her for learning or gaining knowledge. He encourages it because “His one duty in the world was to prepare Ruth for some great and herculean task, some magnificent and deadly struggle, some harsh and foreboding reality” (207). Even when Grange gives Ruth the money he has saved for her to sustain herself, he tells her: “You go to the bank first thing in the morning” (219) even though he drives her there. Yet, I suspect she has to deposit the money because she will be the one, after he passes away, to withdraw the money when she needs or wants it. Grange has also taught her to do other activities for herself like driving, grocery shopping, etc:  “He had already taught her to drive, and now, it became her duty to drive into town to do the shopping, confronting for the first time, alone, the whites who owned and ran the town. Grange’s plan was to teach her everything he knew. Already, he liked to boast, ‘Your aim’s a heap better than mine!’” (220).

For an older male grandparent to teach his granddaughter how to become independent during times where patriarchy is violently enforced is mind blowing. When examining how Grange treated women in his past to how he treats Ruth is in itself astounding. The message I get from the novel is that “an old dog can learn new tricks”—especially tricks that will help break the cycle within his or her family. In contrast to Brownfield, yes, Grange did not teach his son to be independent and encourage educations to promote independent thinking. Yet, to Grange’s credit, he teaches his granddaughter to be armed with knowledge, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance. For a black man who has received oppression from whites and had low self-esteem, Grange, on his own journey, does not continue to influence his blood relatives to their own destruction. With Ruth, he teachers her the same as he would if she was his grandson.

2) He takes responsibility for how he hurt others in the past.

I believe a part of feminism is knowing that you are self-aware about who you are. That means taking responsibility for the misdeeds or disservices that you’ve done to others and how you have treated them. In order for someone to promote equality, he or she must realize how he or she has oppressed others or himself/herself of the same equalities (rights/privileges).

In the scene where Grange, Ruth, Brownfield, and Josie encounter each other, Grange speaks about his wrongdoings and how one must be accountable for his actions. He particularly speaks to Ruth, but I also believe he is speaking to Brownfield indirectly as well:

“By George, I know the danger of putting all the blame on somebody else for the mess you make out of your life. I feel into the trap myself! And I’m bound to believe that that’s the way the white folks can corrupt you even when you done held up before. ‘Cause when they got you thinking that they’re to blame for everything they have you thinking they’ve some kind of gods! You can’t do nothing wrong without them behind it. You gits just as weak as water, no feeling of doing nothing yourself. Then you begins to think up evil and begins to destroy everybody around you, and you blames it on the crackers. Shit! Nobody’s as powerful as we make them out to be. We got our own souls, don’t we? (212-213).

There are many passages like this one where Grange admits responsibility for causing his family hurt. A part of being a feminist is identifying how you’ve oppressed others and caused them pain. Grange does that. He admits to how he caused his wife and his son pained. But he also points out that Brownfield can no longer blame anyone for making choices to hurt other people as well. Even Brownfield can no longer blame Grange for the choices he has made in how he hurt Brownfield. Grange tells Ruth this:

“ ‘Your daddy’s done taught me something I didn’t know about blame and guilt,’ he said. ‘You see, I figure he could blame a good part of his life on me; I didn’t offer him no directions and, he thought, no love. But when he became a man himself, with his own opportunity to righten the wrong I done him by being good to his own children, he had a chance to become a real man, a daddy in his own right. That was the time should of just forgot about what I done to him—and to his ma. But he messed up with his children, his wife and his home, and never yet blamed hisself. And never blaming hisself done made him weak. He no longer have to think beyond me and the white folks to get to the root of all his problems. Damn, if thinking like that ain’t made noodles out of his brains’” (212).

Grange does what Brownfield cannot do; he is able to admit his own fault and hand in how treated Brownfield. But as I said previously, Brownfield will not admit that he is responsible for murdering Mem, is responsible for abusing his children, and is responsible for allowing his internal rage to consume him in where he hurts his own family…where he has no family.

3) Grange is a feminist because of sacrifice and dedication.

In the ultimate act of redemption and love, Grange sacrifices himself so Ruth can have the chance to break the destructive cycle of the Copeland family. We find out that Brownfield makes good on his promise to take Ruth by stooping to the same level as the “so called white folks he blames” for making him into the monster he is. He convinces Judge Harry to rule in favor of him having custody of Ruth since she is still a minor (sixteen). When Judge Harry rules that Ruth return to Brownfield, Grange shoots Brownfield, and he and Ruth flee back to their farm.

While running to the car, Ruth tells Grange, “We don’t have a chance.” (247). But Grange corrects her, “I ain’t. […], but you do” (247).

Grange and Ruth arrive on the farm where the police catch up with him and shoot him. While he is dying, the narrator reveals: “He had been shot and felt the blood spreading under his shirt. He did not want Ruth to see. Other than that he was not afraid. He did not even hear the rustle of footsteps creeping nearer.

‘Oh, you poor thing, you poor thing,’ he murmured finally, desolate, but also for the sound of a human voice, bending over to the ground and then rearing back, rocking himself in his own arms to a final sleep” (248).

In raising Ruth and making sure that she is financially secure and able to have the life she chooses, Grange sacrifices his freedom and his life when he kills Brownfield. He knows that Brownfield will hurt Ruth badly…or even kill her. He will either murder her spirit or her physically…or do both. Just like Brownfield broke Meme and murdered her. Grange cannot allow that for Ruth is the family member who will break the cycle of hatred, violence, and oppression—not just within the Copeland family but as someone who wants to change the racial barriers between whites and blacks in American society.

When I started reading The Third Life of Grange Copeland, I looked at Grange with such distasteful judgment. How can you like a character who abandons his family and who treats his son and his wife like shit?

Yet, Walker’s storytelling abilities do not fail readers at all. What she does is miraculous. She shows us that someone who has been oppressed, who has abandoned his family, and who has murdered someone can be redeemed. Does it make what Grange did to his family and to others right? No, it does not. Yet, all what he has done for Ruth should not go unnoticed, either.

Due to his interactions with Ruth, due to his inner honesty, due to feeling like he had to kill Brownfield to protect the Copeland legacy in breaking their family’s unhealthy cycle, and due to surrendering himself so his grandbaby could have a chance to have a more equal and fulfilling life, I still say that Grange is a feminist. His actions are a feminist and for that, may his granddaughter never know what it is like to have hate almost destroy you. Grange’s transformation aids in Ruth becoming a feminist. She also has the will to fight for black people to have equal opportunities and rights as well.

Regards,
Sophia