Monthly Archives: July 2011

Uproar in the triangle: Football and academics

In my neck of the woods the talk today is all about the firing of coach Butch Davis after a year of allegations, innuendo and investigations.

The questions that are being asked by virtually everyone are : What did he know about the academic cheating?;What else, if anything did he know? ; and Why was he fired at this particular point, one week before practice begins??

One of the root issues to this debate that is being ignored or subsumed by other issues is the academic preparation of athletes, particularly black athletes for a selective university like UNC. I have asked the question before of a lot of people and never gotten an answer. “What is taken into account about the academic preparation of the black male student before he is admitted to a selective university and thrown to the faculty wolves ( I used to be faculty so please no outrage), so to speak so he can play football, basketball, track, etc?”

Academic levels are viewed for some bizarre reason as totally separate from each other. Elementary  teachers typically have very little contact with middle school teachers, middle school teachers have very little contact with high school teachers and college professors have virtually no contact with high school teachers–although some school of education faculty might and others do episodically.

So, the child who appears as a freshman in college( I refuse to use the euphemistic “first-years”, I was a freshman in college in 1966 and until they change the terms “sophomore, junior and senior” I refuse to abandon freshman), is presumed to have, like Topsy, just growed!

His or her academic preparedness, from courses taken to the curriculum available to him or her is not taken under advisement in any significant, cogent way that I can determine. Do colleges and universities have remedial programs? Oh yes they do, many, many of them. But, a bad k-12 experience, however you choose to define it, will not be fixed by any remedial program of a semester or two. All professional educators know there are certain thresholds that are much more easily crossed at certain ages. I taught French to junior high and high schoolers, but on the occasion I had a chance to work with elementary students I found they had a better ear, picked up the words easier and became fluent much quicker. They were in a language learning period of their lives, had not developed static practices with words.

Sometimes in education the ship sails at a certain time. If  the student is not on board he or she may never be able to catch up with the cruise. If they are going to catch up it takes personal motivation and skilled tutoring.

If, however the child left behind ( apologies to W) can run a 4.4. forty or has a 32 inch vertical leap he may be deemed early in his career, say about 12 or so, to be better served to develop his athletic ability rather than his academic ability. Of course, the two should not be mutually exclusive. My oldest son was both a gifted athlete and an honors student, but , and this is a big but, he was not large enough for Division I athletics. He did play Division III football, but that is a different creature all together.

In some ways you cannot blame the coaches, teachers, counselors and parents who look at a gifted athlete, particularly a gifted black male athlete—one of the societal roles we have comfort with black males holding, and encourage him to dedicate his time, effort and objectives on being excellent on the court or field.

Professional athletes are superstars and highly paid. Professors rarely make it to the seven figure range unless they are scientists skilled in obtaining mega grants, and that is not a role most of our society sees black men in, either actually or conceptually.

So, we begin to worship these young men at about age 12. We begin to encourage them and enable them to concentrate more on athletics than academics. We smooth their paths, we cut them breaks, we link their self-worth to the athletic field/court. We encourage them to take easy courses in high school. None of that AP stuff for you my lad, you need to practice not be stuck doing homework or visiting the library! And then we drop them in a competitive university that wants a winning team and we are shocked when they cannot write a paper that will get them a passing grade in a class taught by a professor who probably did take AP courses in high school and only engaged in athletics on Friday night when he or she attended the games.

The academic dishonesty mess that so many colleges are currently dealing with has its roots in the abysmal state of black k-12 education. It is no surprise that all of the young men targeted as having had papers or other academic assignments done for them are black. You can look at this one of two ways. Either white boys are smarter than black boys or they are the recipients of better advice, more academic expectations and better educational opportunities than the black boys.

As long as so many in America are sure that it is the former and not the latter these kinds of scandals will continue to erupt, and continue to be the news of the day and all black athletes may be tarnished with the same brush.

So, if any athletic directors, coaches, chancellors, presidents and provosts are reading this here it is in spades:

1) If the universities continue to distance themselves from k-12 education and refuse to help improve education particularly for males, and especially for black males, you cannot fix 13 years of bad education with any college remedial or tutoring program known to man or woman.  You may be able to get them to the level where they pass, but you will not get them to the level where they become academically adept. If the point of going to college is first to get educated then playing a sport when you are already behind academically is a recipe for disaster.

2) Athletes need to be connected to the academics at their institution in more relevant ways. In order to do this mentoring and relationships with professors need to be fostered. Because it would be nice if some of the people were of color who were mentoring the athletes you may have to depend on administrators and alumni given the dismal number of black, American Indian and Latino professors on college campuses.

3) Ethics are not taught by instructing or enabling or helping people cut corners to “get by.” Eventually it will catch up with you and then you are in a world of hurt. If the people responsible for the care and feeding of the athlete are not ethical that is game, set and match.

4) Quit running the athletic programs as if the only benefit the black athlete can get from a college going experience is to hope to excel in athletics. Just because we do not have a representative number of black academics does not mean we could not have, it is not their brains that are inadequate it is their opportunities and the expectations for them that are lacking. . And guess what, some of them could probably even play football and still excel academically, it can happen if you believe it.

Finally, you cannot wish for something or try to do something. You have to do it. Wishing for an academically sound and athletically skilled program will not make it so. Take the words of the sage Yoda to heart, “There is no try, only do or not do.”

You owe the young men whose parents trust you with them to do.

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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Uncategorized


The “Help”: Why is the role of the black servant so popular still in our society?


When I moved to the South in 2003 I expected to run into some Confederates. Some still fighting the war, some still unhappy about the outcome, some wanting to “set the record straight” that it was not about slavery ( yeah right) and some Neo Confederates who would simply like to go back to the antebellum period where blacks were supposed to know their place.

I have encountered far fewer Confederates, old-style or neo than I anticipated. The revisionists seem to be the majority. They simply do not want to admit that other issues like states’ rights or sovereignty  and tariffs that they cite all go back to slavery. What the southern states wanted the right to do that was contrary to the federal government’s position was keep slaves. If you read the pro-slavery writers like James Henry Hammond ( who by the way moved his black slave mistress into his house, ousting his white wife–read the book James Henry Hammond:Secret and Sacred), they are not ambiguous about why the South needs to succeed and have sovereignty, and it is not about tariffs and states’ rights, except the right to own other human beings.

Many people that I discuss race with express dismay when I bring up slavery. Their position is that slavery was wrong, but is ancient history, over with, put a period and move on. I wish they were right, but they are dead wrong. Slavery is with us still from the embedded idea in our society that blacks are inferior intellectually, to the preference for light skin, even among blacks. If you look at it from a historian’s perspective, slavery was just yesterday, it is not surprising that we still have repercussions, and I am not even going to address economic disparities in this post.

One of the lingering residues of chattel slavery and the extension of servitude provided by white supremacy theory, which was different in the North , but equally prevalent following the Civil War years, and Jim Crow laws, is the fondness so many in our society have for movies and books about blacks serving whites and being happy about it. I once had a counselor I supervised, a very nice white woman with a master’s degree, assure me that her great-grandmother in Virginia had been so beloved by her slaves that they built her a waterfall because they knew she loved them, having come from the North where there were more waterfalls. The idea that slaves loved their masters is one of the most revered myths in some segments of our population.

What, you may ask, difference does that make in 2011? I would reply, “have you read The Help?” This book is a white woman’s take on how black women felt in the South while they were serving as the more modern version of slaves, e.g. maids.

All of you who would like to be a maid please raise your hands. All of you who would love the wealthy white woman ( wealthy based often on black labor by the way) who ordered you around please raise your hands. What?? I do not see any hands! It is dehumanizing to portray people as loving a degrading  and subservient situation. Were some slaves happier if they had good owners? No doubt. Were they happy to be slaves? Not unless they had been brutalized to the point of incoherence.

Could white women employers and black women employees bond over women’s issues and commiserate with each other, perhaps form some variety of affection for each other? Probably. But the idea that the person in power and the person under their control could have anything approaching  my concept of love or even respect is facetious.

Let’s put it in another context. You marry a man who loves you and you love, he proceeds to control virtually all aspects of your life, makes you eat in the kitchen while he eats in the dining room, makes you come into the house by the back door, in some cases will not touch you for fear your femaleness will rub off on him, but you live with him, you raise kids with him, you share all kinds of experiences with him. Do you love him? Maybe, but if so it is a sick, unbalanced and dysfunctional love. At least the husband and wife were, presumably, in love to begin with. I doubt white women hired black women they loved, or black women went to work for white women they loved.

When “Driving Miss Daisy” came out a lot of my white friends told me what a good movie it was. I went to see it and was horrified that they enjoyed seeing an older white woman alternately humiliate and abuse and then cozy up to an older black man. They did not seem to understand that the era it represented, like “The Help” was a time when black people in America had few rights and in certain areas of the country no hope of physical safety. Black women were routinely raped without any thought of punishing the white men who did so. Black men on the other hand could be lynched for looking at a white woman.How could anyone look back at that time with fondness?

When I was in grad school, decades ago, a professor of a class on the Old South told us black women in the period were considered only two ways, as the “Mammy” or as the “Jezebel.” One of them was a big breasted, kind, nurturing if tart-tongued mother figure, the other was a promiscuous vixen with no morals. He went on to say he did not think that our society has changed that much. To him today I say ” Amern.” We are caught in the time warp where black women are rarely portrayed as anything other than mammies or Jezebels, even in literature.

Of course, the question also arises why black actors agree to play maids and prostitutes with such regularity, but perhaps they are like Hattie McDaniel, the great actress, who when asked why she agreed to play a maid reportedly replied, ” It is better to get paid to play a maid than to be one.”

So, I evidently have to ask for forgiveness from the Southern folks I mistakenly labeled Confederates. Evidently the idea that black folks as servants is a warm and fuzzy thing, an opportunity for the races to truly bond, a win-win is more pervasive in our society than I thought. It is not a Southern thing, it is an American thing.  “The Help” is the book chosen by my black book club for September. It should be an interesting discussion!


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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


Family: Fun, but exhausting!

Back in Ohio this weekend and week to attend the Newsom family reunion and visit with my mother, son, daughter, their spouses and my grandchildren. It is always delightful to be around family, especially since I live 500 miles from most of them, but it is also sometimes challenging.

My schedule for the week went like this:

  • Wednesday
    • get up at 5:00AM, leave for Ohio
    • 1:30 PM arrive in Ohio, go straight to Kroger’s to replenish the larder at the Ohio house
    • 6PM son and grandson arrive for dinner
    • 7 PM husband, son, grandson and I go to visit my 93 year old mother
    • 9PM return home, dust—at least the worst offending furniture, take down winter drapes in bedroom, hang summer curtains, dig out stand fans for living room and dining room ( the Ohio house does not have central air and the weather is not bad enough to put in the window air conditioners)
    • 10:30 go to bed
  • Thursday
    • Get up at 8AM
    • Hang  rattan blind in study to replace curtain
    • Weed at least one small section of the garden where the Asiatic lilies and some black-eyed Susans are making a valiant effort to bloom despite months of my absent neglect
    • Clean mouse droppings out of a cabinet where no food is stored so I guess they just have parties in there among the dishes
    • Hang up clothes that need to be hung up rather than strewn on the guest room bed
    • Noon-Go to meet friends from grad school, Reva—a principal at a huge Ohio high school, Carolyn a professor at UD, Jeff a professor at Millersville who flew in just to have lunch with us
    • 1:30 go to Carolyn’s house for dessert and conversation
    • 4:40 leave Carolyn’s ( reluctantly, we were having a ball)
    • 5:00 leave house for hotel
    • 5:30 meet relatives at the hospitality suite they have set up at the hotel for the reunion
    • 6:00 go to eat dinner at Don Pablos’
    • 6:45 leave for airport to retrieve more relatives flying in from California
    • 7:45 deliver relatives to the hotel and go back to hospitality suite
    • 9:50 leave hotel for home
    • 10:30 collapse in bed


  • 9:00 daughter and kids arrive at the house
    • Sam stays with Wayne
    • 9:15 Nikki, Ella and I go to pick up my mother
    • 9:25 we load my mother and her walker/cart in the car
    • 9:45 Nikki, Ella, Mom and I  arrive at the Salon for pedicures
      • This will be Ella’s  (7) first and my mom’s ( 93) first
    • 10:15 a tardy Marrisa arrives at the salon
    • We all get pedicures
  • 11:30 on the way back into Xenia I stop at McDonald’s and buy a bag of cheeseburgers and several orders of fries for some quick lunch for the gang ( yes turkey sandwiches would have been better, but I had limited time)
  • 12:00 Marrisa and I leave the house for the mall so she can pick out an outfit for work—she finds two, I buy one, she buys one
  • 12:30 Marrisa and I leave  the mall for the theatre to see Harry Potter, we are meeting Jane and Julian—I bought the tickets on Fandango a month ago to make sure we could go
  • 1:30-3:40 we watch the movie—it was good, not great ,but good
  • 3:40 Marrisa, Julian and I leave for home—I figured Jane could use some “me” time to visit the mall
  • 4:00 Marrisa picks up her car at my house and heads for work in Dayton
  • 4:30 Wayne, Julian and I leave to pick up my mother
  • 4:45 we load my mother, her cart/walker into the car and head for the hotel
  • 5:10 we arrive at the hotel unload my mother and her, you know, at the door, Julian and mom and I enter the hotel, Wayne goes to park the car
  • 5:15 we arrive at the hospitality suite which is virtually deserted, foiling the plan to have my mom meet with the Newsom relatives she knows
  • A discussion ensues, some people were planning on getting pizza delivered, but after I said we were going to a restaurant they decide to come too
  • 5:45 we leave to meet Nikki and the kids at a restaurant.
  • 6:00-6:45 we eat at the restaurant
  • 6:45 we load up everyone and go back to the hotel
  • 7:00 I discover I have left my credit card at the restaurant and head back to retrieve it
  • 7:15 I get back to the hotel, Wayne and Nikki head for the liquor store to replenish the hospitality suite libations.
  • 7:15-7:45 I chase grandkids all over the hotel—this part is fun though
  • 7:45- 9:15 we visit at the hospitality suite
  • 9:45 we arrive back home with Julian who is spending the night
  • 10:00 we collapse into bed


  • Visit to the library to find a toast for the sister in law and brother in law celebrating their 50th anniversary
  • More housework—cleaning bathrooms, washing bath rugs, throwing away food in the cabinets that is past its sell by date ( why do I have three jars of mint jelly? The only time we eat lamb is at Easter, this must be three years worth of mint jelly and did I never serve it?) Get rid of the worst of the cobwebs that I can reach-evidently we need to hire a high wire act to get the ones in the stair well, which is two stories high.
  • 12:30 leave for the hotel to check-in for the night, we are spending Saturday night even though the hotel is 12 miles from our house
  • 1:30—4:00 watch the grandkids play in the pool
  • 4:00—return to room to rest and get ready for the evening
  • 4:30—Mike arrives to pick up Julian
  • 5:30- Nikki arrives at the hotel room with her clothes and Ella’s clothes. We all change  for the cocktail/hors’ d’oeuvres/dinner part of the evening
  • 6:25 we leave the room for the private dining room
  • 6:30-7:00—we mix and mingle and visit with relatives who trickle in
  • 7:00—Mike, the emcee starts the dinner program
  • 7:15—dinner is served
  • 8:00—the program part of the evening begins—everyone talks too much, the Mayor Xenia is introduced and gives greetings—she was our special guest and announces my son Christopher was her favorite student ever when she was teaching. Her mother, who is with her, was my fourth grade teacher!
  • Toasts are made to the sister-in-law and brother-in-law who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  All the adults have champagne, all the kids apple juice in wine glasses. They cut a tiered 50th anniversary cake and

“ At last” by Etta James is played, this was the first song played at their wedding. Coincidentally it is also the first song played at Nikki  and Adam’s wedding. They dance, we all join in and dance

  • My oldest sister-in-law is surprised with a birthday cake to celebrate her 80thbirthday although she will not be 80 until August. We all sing Happy Birthday
    • We then begin real dancing, Electric Slide, Cupid Shuffle, etc.
    • 10:00 the dining room closes, we adjourn to the hospitality suite where we look at old albums Wayne and I brought over –for some reason we have been gifted with the archives of the family, visit and snack on cake—we had lots, anniversary and birthday.
    • 11:45 I find out my grandson has been left behind having told his parents I said he could spend the night. I have to hustle to find him a bed with a cousin.
    • Midnight we all go upstairs, Wayne and the two grandgirls to our room which is a mini suite with a pull out couch for them to sleep on


  • We get up at 8:30, groggy from champagne, dancing and staying up late, get dressed and wander down to breakfast in the same private dining room. We get there at 9 and are the first ones there.
  • The rest of them trickle in and we spend two hours laughing, talking, promising to stay in touch, and talking about the next reunion in 2013.
  • 11:30—we check out of the hotel, say goodbye and leave for Wilberforce.
  • 1:00—I plant flowers in the pots on the front stairs, yarrow, lavender and  coreopsis. I have finally figured out that since I am not here most of the time the smartest thing to do is plant perennials, and ones that do well with little water.
  • 2:00 Wayne leaves to take relatives to the airport. I take a well-deserved nap
  • The rest of the evening is spent watching television and reading the Sunday paper and doing the crossword


  • I get up at 8:30
  • Pick up my mother at 10:00
  • Take her to the mall to buy shoes
  • We get to the mall at 10:30 unload the wheel chair—the mall is too big for the walker thingee
  • We power shop. Between 10:30 and 11:30 we buy four pairs of shoes (saving $150 on her three pair and my one pair with coupons and sales) perfume—a new fragrance called “Pretty”, hose and house slippers. Wayne wanders off the shopping is too intense for him.
  • We reconnect with Wayne and eat lunch at the food court
  • Wayne goes to get the car, we load Mom, stow the wheelchair and head for home
  • 12:00 we drop Mom off at home.
  • 12:30 we hit Walmart for stuff for the Ohio house pop and a hanging plant and the Beach house, sunscreen, paper products, etc and the Cary condo-cat litter—I will need it having left two cats there for five days.
  • 1:30 we are back home and able to relax for a few
  • 5:00 Nikki  and Adam and the kids arrive
  • We eat Cassano’s pizza, the kids play in the sprinkler
  • The Shopes leave
  • We pack and get the house ready to be closed up
  • We fall into bed


5:00—we get up to drive back to Cary

Uneventful drive back, we arrive in the Triangle at 1:00

Go to Harris Teeter for supplies bananas, milk, bread, etc.

Wade through five days of mail bundled up and left in our front door

Unpack, answer email, watch some DVR’d shows

9:30 fall in bed, good times, good travel, good night!

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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


Hatteras Island Idylls: Family fun in the sun!

Our annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks is coming up soon. The Ohio family will pack up and start driving towards the end of this month, heading for a sliver of barrier islands on the East Coast known as the Outer Banks. Wayne and I have been preparing for several months. Snagging paper products, paper plates, paper towels, toilet paper, bottled water, sunscreen, packing a first aid kit, finding the beach towels, making a grocery list–actually retrieving one that is on my computer, the list is endless.

This will be our 9th consecutive year spending a summer week in a beach house on Hatteras Island with most of the immediate family. Chris has joined the rest of the merry band only once, but he is no doubt with us in spirit. Nikki and her family, Mike and his family and this year Marrisa’s college roommate will converge on the house in Salvo to start the annual tradition. The younger grandchildren have never known a summer that we did not spend hanging out at the beach, taking the ferry to Ocracoke for the day, and since 2007 spending hours in the pool. That was the year my son and son-in-law decided we had to have a house with a private pool. So, they pony up the additional funds for the pool. My theory was if you are at the beach that is enough water, but I have to admit I do like having the pool. Ella learned to swim two summers ago at the beach house.

We had to sit out a hurricane in 2004. They were not able to evacuate us since there is only one highway, Highway 12 on the island and they did not have enough notice to order an evacuation.  When we went to bed it was supposed to be a tropical storm, but when we woke up it was a category 2 hurricane, Hurricane Alex gave us quite a pounding. I have never seen water rise so fast and so high. Water came through the walls of the house at times and all of the screens were ripped off. Fortunately the builder had put the house up a bit on a rise, our cars got wet floor mats, but our neighbors’ cars were floating down the street, bobbing along. I got a real feeling of how narrow this island is and how powerful the Atlantic is during that storm.

When we went to Buxton the next day to our usual seafood shop, the owner, a good old island man said to me ” They thought it was going to be a tropical storm, but it won’t like that! It was a darned hurricane, that’s what it was!” I was puzzled at first by the “it won’t like that” until I realized he meant “it wasn’t like that.” I love the down east speech. From time to time my family and I work phrases like ” it won’t like that” and ” she is low sick” into our conversations and remember the island folks fondly. They remember us because for some odd reason not a lot of people of color go to the OBX, preferring Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach, not sure why.We visited the Outer Banks first in 1986 when Nags Head was a fishing village with one hotel and a bunch of three room, primitive cabins. If we had bought property on the island then we would be very rich indeed today.

Wayne, Marrisa and I, and this year , Natalie, will go down the first day, a Sunday. This is a tradition, we always get a day alone at the beach. The rest of the family arrives the next day. We will check in at the real estate office, get the key and head for the grocery store. When we first started going we had to schelp all of our groceries in  or pay exorbitant prices at little local markets. A few years back, however, they built a Food Lion in the village of Avon on the island. My Ohio family may be the only folks in southwest Ohio with food lion customer cards. Almost all of the clerks at the Food Lion in Avon are from Russia or eastern Europe. Many of them have poor language skills and none of them have a grasp of customer service American style.  Because they tend to be very attractive young women and I have done some work with my friend Donna about sexual trafficking I sometimes wonder if there needs to be some intervention or at least scrutiny of this practice. But I digress.

We will go to Food Lion ( having bought bottled water and paper products before we get there when they were on sale in Cary) and load up on groceries for the week. That first tab usually runs about $200, but it is only the first of many trips to the store. We always forget something, mustard, toothpaste, something or we get a taste for something we did not remember to buy. The first meal is tradition as well, coney dogs island style!

After we drag all the groceries up the stairs, and there are many, to the main level–the beach house has a reverse floor plan with the living room and kitchen and dining area and one bathroom on the second floor, bedrooms and bathrooms and laundry room on the first floor–and put it all away, it is time to relax and enjoy the pool until dinner time. We also walk to the beach, usually about a five minute walk, but with the OBX you always have to climb over a dune, so we can see the ocean and take some pictures.

The next day, Monday, the Ohio nomads start to arrive, amidst hugs and greetings and screeches of welcome. The kids are always excited and ready for the beach and/or pool. The rest of the week flies by in a blur, broken only by a Wednesday outing to Ocracoke Island, accessible only by a forty minute ferry ride. We used to eat lunch in town on Ocracoke, but last year packed a picnic lunch and spent our Ocracoke time on the beach, which has been rated as the number 2 beach in America–behind one in Hawaii only.

The evening are spent playing games. Gin rummy, Quelf, Scattergories and Monopoly, for bragging rights for the year if you are the winner. There is also a basketball hoop that gets use and sometimes Mike bring his cornhole game. After all the games, and the little folks are tucked safely in bed there are adult beverages on the deck, maybe a plunge in the hot tub.

Jane, the fittest of us all, gets up in the mornings and runs on the beach. Some of us have sworn we will join her–walk on the beach that is, but that rarely materializes. I am usually the first one up, shortly joined by Wayne and the rest of the band filters up the stairs, usually when they smell the bacon and coffee.

I do love our beach adventures–last year we caught a jellyfish and named him Smuckers. I actually thought he was dead when I plucked him out of the surf, I just wanted to show him to the grandkids, but then he began to pulse in the bucket and I knew he was still with us. After letting everyone see it we returned him to the ocean and his life.

The Outer Banks is a magical, ethereal, temporary place. The ocean will surely reclaim these barrier islands eventually. I am just glad they are still there so we can use them as a backdrop for family memories that will last as long as we do. It makes me realize what a fortunate group we are, that we are all healthy enough and wealthy enough to do this each summer. May we continue to be both for a long while to come.

See you at the beach! 🙂



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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


Envy?: The problem with Less-thans

I had dinner Sunday evening with a dear friend who was back in town because she had an uncle die. She used to work at my university ( Research 1, public) until she was wooed away by a private Ivy League at double her salary.

Our dinner lasted 3 hours and I was filling her in on the news of my campus where she worked for more than ten years. When I asked her how she was liking her new institution–she has been there 18 months, she told me the main thing she appreciated was not the money, although her new salary got her up in the mid-six figures, but the way she was treated.

Leaning across the table she told me that the president of her college always made a point of complimenting her both publicly and privately when she did a good job, as did her Provost. When a Board of Trustees member erroneously gave credit to another person for work done by my friend, her superiors corrected him and he issued a public apology for not giving her credit for her work.

I was stunned and envious. Having had at least one supervisor in my career take credit for my work, even winning an award  for my work and not mentioning my name –or even saying I helped at any point during the presentation of the award, I could appreciate her appreciation of being publicly acknowledged for a job well done!

My friend and I began to dissect the difference between our experiences  and I came up with a theory–unscientific and perhaps very flawed, but it fits into something that I have been cooking in my brain for a while. There are three kinds of people in the world: The Better-thans, The Averages and the Less-thans.

The Better-thans (BTs)  are successful, secure, pleasant and helpful. They know they are good and they do not find other people’s successes or accomplishments threatening. They know that there is no limit on how many people can do well and, because they know they can perform any task required of them within reason they do not want to hold other people down. Life is not a competition to them. It would be against their own ideals, ethics and mores to take credit for someone else’s work or try to block someone else from getting credit for their work. They are, in other words, BTs happy to welcome more people to their ranks.

The Averages (AVs) –the category that most people fall into, are likewise not too prone to jealousy and back-biting. AVs are pleasant and not devious,  they think they are okay and though they may occasionally sink into a bit of sniping if they think someone is getting more than they deserve or is getting too egotistical that is not their norm. Generally  the AVs know they are average and have no problem admitting there are people more accomplished than them and people less accomplished than them. They may feel that life is a competition some of the time, but most of the time they just take things as they come.

The worst category, the group to be avoided if at all possible, is the Less-thans (LTs) . Duplicitous, two-faced, and envious, these are the people who know they are not as capable as they pretend to be and live in horror of being discovered. The LTs project their own insecurities and psychoses on other people. The more or less constant fear of being discovered to be an LT, while pretending to be a BT warps them in subtle and not-so subtle ways. They sometimes exhibit symptoms of having the opposite of what  psychologists call the   ” impostor syndrome.” Those with the impostor syndrome cannot internalize their accomplishments, always considering themselves to be less than they are. The LTs try very hard to do the opposite, think more of themselves without the accomplishments to back it up. Sometimes, if they are truly delusional they can do it, but even so the truth leaks out in the still of the night and they know at least part of the time that they are not what they should be or pretend to be. This makes them very envious of the true BTs, who they try to denigrate or ridicule to imply that they too are fake BTs like the LTs.

Let’s look at an illustration of the three types in a situation. You have just been given good career news, you are up for a promotion and it looks like you might get it. You tell your friend. How will the friend respond?

The BT friend will clap you on the back, congratulate you sincerely and offer to buy you a drink to celebrate. They will offer to do anything they can to help you seal the deal.

The AV friend will tell you they are happy for you and at least give you a platitude about how they hope you get it. They are generally not that competitive and probably would not consider your position either an addition or deduction from their lives.

The LT “friend” ( LTs do not really have friends) will tell you that you will probably not get it. This is, of course, his own desire. If you get it then it will validate the fact that you just may be a BT, something if he is rational he will know he is not and probably cannot be. If he has convinced himself, against all evidence, that he is indeed a BT already, then he will view you as an interloper, a competitor and will therefore want to tear you down as much as possible to reinforce his point of view.

I believe most people can name someone they know from each group.

My theory is that all three categories are, in some ways fluid. Someone who is an accomplished dancer for example, may be a miserable writer. However, a true BT in any category is going to be more secure, helpful and encouraging than someone who has never achieved BTdom.

My friend is at an elite institution, one that has the money and the culture to employ lots of BTs. Her skill is acknowledged and appreciated, not viewed as competition or something that might eclipse the LT, but as an asset to the school.

So let us all say a little prayer for the LTs who most of us would like to buy for what they are worth and sell for what they pretend to be worth. May your path be strewn with BTs and lacking in LTs!


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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Uncategorized


Personal Independence: Free to be me!,

“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.“…Elbert Hubbard

On this Fourth of July it seems to be a perfect time to address something that has been cropping up in my life recently. In the past couple of months I have had six people tell me, five with admiration, one with complaint, that I seem to be able to do anything I want to do, both personally and at work. My response to them all was that if I was actually free to do what I want to do both my personal life and my work life would be radically different. In my personal life I would be filthy rich and considerably thinner. In my professional life I would be empowered to make sweeping changes in the way things work not only at my college but in colleges all over America for people who are considered different because of their race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or anything else. No one should have artificial barriers anchored in bias, prejudice and ignorance erected in front of them to impede their opportunities and resources.  If I could do anything I wanted to do I would fire employees–faculty and staff that said disrespectful things to students, or each other–especially those who are supposed to know better. I would discipline students who bullied or harassed or denigrated their peers or faculty and staff.  I would politely ask anyone to leave who did not comply with the simple directive to be polite and respectful to everyone unless the person proved themselves through some egregious actions or words to be unworthy of respect. So no, I do not get to do anything I want to do.

Having said that I do get to do almost anything I want to do. That is true, but then, if you are willing to take the blowback, heat, abuse, punishment, etc., almost all of us are free to do almost anything we want to do. I do what I think I ought to do, what my conscience and my ethics and my morals and my values tell me to do and I have yet to have attained the level of pay at a job that would convince me to do otherwise. I am not saying I cannot be bought to participate in things I think are  unethical or wrong, I am saying nobody has come close to making  me an offer that would tempt me to compromise my own values. Oscar Wilde defined virtue as ” Insufficient temptation” and I am prone to go along with him on that. I do not have a specific figure in mind, but it would have to be high six figures, if not seven, so I think my ethics are safe.

I have colleagues who seem quite happy to do anything they are told to do as long as those paychecks keep coming. Their primary goal in life seems to be not to get into any kind of trouble. Therefore, they often tend to do nothing at all ( see the quote above). My favorites are the ones who posture in private about being advocates for something unpopular, but oddly enough when groups are formed to protest something or ask questions about something that concerns them they are not there, unless that is the effort seems to be smiled upon or successful, then they jump on the bandwagon, banging their fists on tables in passionate support .I can only presume their paychecks are a lot bigger than mine.

One of my black female friends, actually a pseudo friend–we all have those, recently said at a dinner party where she was being quizzed about why her department was not doing more in the area of social justice, ” Listen, i am not going to back any causes, I am not going to join any movements, I am all about ME.” At least she is honest.

I, sadly, am not wired that way. If I could put self-interest at the front and simply go along to get along, say what people want me to say,  I would be much further along in my career. I am sure I have lost at least 1 chance to be a vice-president because I was too honest at the interview about what I thought the institution needed to do to achieve their diversity goals. No, I did not suggest burning it down or putting people in stocks, I suggested a pan-university diversity audit and the development of a strategic plan for diversity. I think what they wanted me to say was ” You need to have more soul food carry-ins during February.” People and institutions that claim to have a real interest in diversity recoil in horror when I offer suggestions about what needs to be done to achieve their goal of creating equitable and inclusive institutions. They are all show and no go as the phrase goes. They want to appear to be doing something while maintaining the status quo and, most importantly, not pissing anyone off!

It is fascinating that institutions do not worry about upsetting people when they apply rules and requirements about parking, payroll,tuition, academic requirements,  human resources, etc., but when they get to diversity issues they suddenly want a pure democracy where the majority all agree. Since a lot of the issues are created by the majority it is not bloody likely they are going to agree there are problems, let alone what to do about them.

So, I go on fighting the fight, making the case, standing up for doing what I think is right, taking my lumps, not being appreciated ( okay that is a lie, I get lots of strokes all the time from folks on campus), suffering in silence ( you know better than that) and being like Diogenes trying to find an honest man, or woman, to join the fight. Fortunately there are a lot of social justice warriors of all stripes on my campus, so my quest is not as difficult as old Diogenes’, but we can always use more recruits.

Do I do what I want to do when it comes to social justice? To quote the Snowbilly from the north, ” You Betcha!” Am I likely to change that? No way. As difficult as it is for some of my colleagues to understand I am more dedicated to doing what is right, or at least what I think is right, even if it is in vain and even if it costs me, than I am to making people comfortable. As one of my heroes John Hope Franklin told me at his 90th birthday party” If you are talking about race and nobody is mad, you are doing it wrong.” I would expand that to ,” If you are talking about oppression and the oppressed and nobody is mad, you are doing it wrong.”

So on this Independence Day I would like to first wish you all a wonderful day to celebrate our hard-won freedoms, and second to encourage you to use your freedom to do whatever you want to do. After all, being happy with yourself is much more important than making other folks happy with you, the only person you can always count on being there in this life, in the final analysis, is you and you should want to enjoy spending time with that person. I am fairly certain there is nothing you can buy that will make you feel better than self-respect.

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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Uncategorized