Posts from ‘Personal’


Many years ago, (1971 to be specific) there was a television commercial about a Native American viewing the mess that we had turned the environment into, which ended with a closeup of a single tear silently running down his face. Although this ad has been criticized for portraying a “magical Indian” trope and parodied because the supposed native American was actually an Italian American, I still recall it. As someone who devoted my working career to teaching about critical thinking, Africa, African Americans, and looking beyond the accepted or received wisdom of others, I can think of no better image that captures how I feel. The distrust of authority is not something new, but the aversion to science, facts, and concern for others, didn’t seem as rampant as it does now. The political divisions between parties, politicians and individuals did not seem as irreconcilable. Mainstream media presentations did not seem to miss the point as much, did not seem to be as misleading. It might just be that I am getting old. I have lived in and studied many cultures and in all of them the elders consistently thought that their society was going to hell in a handbasket. Or, it could be that something different is really happening.

The most distressing statistic I’ve seen is that 50% of Americans only read at a sixth grade level. I worry about the “dumbing down” of our society which makes the emergence of power-hungry authoritarians a real threat to democracy not only here in the U.S. but also, abroad. Indeed, the founders of the United States tried to walk a fine line between the “democracy” of a massively uneducated constituency and a “republic” that would keep in check the authoritarian tendencies of the educated elite. For example, that is why we have three separate branches of government that can “check” each other, and a bicameral legislative system with a democratic House of Representative where representation is based on population and a Senate where it is not. With its more frequent elections the House is supposed to “represent” the interests of the people, while the six-year term of the senators is supposed to keep the “rabble” in check. This distrust of the people is why we have an Electoral College instead of direct election of the president by the people. The problem is that the system has been turned upside down by the political ambitions of the elite, the influx of corporate control over politicians through political contributions, and the ability of politicians to sway the masses through technological advances in media from the radio to television to the internet. Now misinformation allows ambitious politicians and con men like Trump to deny reality, lie, steal votes and money, and solidify their control through gerrymandering, control over the education system, and voter suppression.

Although the United States has always had an ideology of universal rights on paper (e.g. all men are created equal) but this universalism has always played second fiddle to the symphony of particularism based on class, ethnicity, localism, gender and of course race. We are currently seeing a dramatic rise in the ability of this particularism to overshadow the universality. Politicians like Florida’s Ron DeSantis are hoping to ride this wave into the presidency much as Trump did. The  dissatisfaction that late capitalism has created among the middle class has been deflected onto “immigrants,” “people of color,” “LBGT folks,” as if attacking these folks could make middle class and rural white lives better. I have to wonder how the the problem has gotten so much worse lately. I am not saying it has caused the problem, but lack of education and poor reading level is exacerbating the problem and preventing a cure.

I am heartened by the fact that polls show the younger generation resistant to the blandishments of the authoritarians and most of Trump’s support, for example, among older people. Yet there is much that is disheartening too. The wide spread of these ideas, the entrenched political structures that are built on them, the increased violence that accompanies it, and the lack of Republican voices against blatant lies, all sadden me.

The point of that old “Crying Indian” commercial is that since people created the problem, people can ameliorate it. That is my only consolation as that metaphorical tear rolls down my face.


Facebook continually sends you reminders of “memories,” that is, posts you have made on today’s date years before. A memory came up on what would have been a few days before Thanksgiving five years ago. This was just before I took my wife for the final time to the hospital. She had been having symptoms for some four or five months before. These ranged from loss of balance to difficulty walking. She said it was “like my gyroscope was broken.” We went to various specialists e.g. allergists, ear eyes throat people, a neurologist, and not to mention her primary care doctor several times. None of them had an explanation or cause of her symptoms. She was getting worse and worse. My daughter in law is a doctor who was working at the local university’s teaching hospital. We had arranged for her to go in to see them on the Monday after Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day however, in my conversations with her I noticed some cognitive deficits. I asked my daughter in law to come over to do an assessment so I would know whether it was just me reading too much into her behavior. My daughter in law concurred and recommended that we take her to the hospital immediately even though it was Thanksgiving and we had planned a holiday dinner.

Thus began a nerve wracking two-and-a-half-week period. We finally got her checked in to the hospital which had a skeleton crew. The next day doctors came by on rounds and did all sorts of tests including an MRI with contrast dye which her primary care doctor and health insurers had been loath to do. As the doctor explained, “It lit up like a Christmas tree.” After months of fruitless searching, as her condition deteriorated, we finally found out what was causing it. She had a disease like “mad cow disease” in bovines in which a chemical in her brain (a prion) went rogue and started affecting other parts of her brain. It is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and is very rare in humans. Less than 1 in a million Americans get it. The normal ways to get it are through heredity or eating meat from an affected animal. She had neither of these potential causes. She fell into the 80% of cases in which the cause is unknown. Unfortunately, there is no cure and it inevitably leads to death pretty quickly. I was stunned. The hospital released her to home hospice care. We scurried around to get a hospital bed and arranged frequent visits from hospice nurses. She was eventually released from the hospital on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. We spent the ensuing days caring for the bedridden woman who was slowly wasting away before our eyes. She passed away on a Sunday 11 days after she had returned home. It was less than 3 weeks after that Thanksgiving we had taken her to the hospital.

I have not shared the details of that story with many people. That Facebook memory, it was just an acknowledgement of thanks to all the people who had touched my life, was written just before all of this happened and changed my life forever. We had been married for 44 years, had raised a son, seen a granddaughter born, and looked forward to spending our sunset years together. The Facebook memory seemed like it came from a message in a bottle, or better yet, something in a time capsule, from a person I barely recognized anymore. It was a person who did not know what was just about to happen. The message arrived early enough that I could share it again on Facebook.  It was still true. I did want to give thanks for all the wonderful interactions with people I have had over the years and acknowledge the importance of family. The Facebook algorithm that churns out these “memories” has no idea what kinds of memories it stirs up in people. Since this time, I have become part of my son, daughter in law, and granddaughters’ family, we have moved twice, and a third move is on the horizon. My granddaughter has grown from an almost two-year-old to an almost seven-year-old. I have had a hip replaced and suffer more aches and pains from age than I did then. It is still important to appreciate and give thanks for what you have rather than grieving over what you do not. It is a lesson I learned early in card games like “bridge.” You always have to play the hell out of the hand you have been dealt.


Do you ever have a memory that is so distant that it seems like it happened to a different person? It was so out of character for you and the details are so hazy that while you remember it happened, you can’t believe that you did it. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story before. It is not that it is a secret or that I am ashamed of it, but simply that no circumstance has come up that made it relevant. I took the spring semester of my junior undergraduate year off. I worked and made a little money so that I could go to Europe that summer. I had a semester’s worth of AP credits so it wouldn’t set my college career back. My closest friends were going to spend that semester abroad so I would be away from them and disrupt my college social life anyway. During that semester I learned that one of my favorite jazz musicians was going to perform at the college and I could get in for free with my college ID. It would be a welcome break from work life so I took the bus up for the two-hour ride. Some other friends had arranged for me to flop in an empty dorm room double. The other person in the double was the pregnant girlfriend of somebody (I can’t remember who) who had come to see her boyfriend. I hadn’t met her before, and she was anxious, fearful and depressed about her situation. That first night to cheer her up I suggested an adventure. The college was building a new building that would be the tallest on campus and we could get up to the roof of the unfinished building. We made our way up to the top of the building without too much difficulty. From there we could see the entire campus and much of the small town in which it was located. I remember saying to her once you have been to the highest place around everywhere else was down. I think doing something forbidden took her mind off her situation and cheered her up for at least a while. It may have reminded her of who she was and that her life was far from over. The next evening, I saw my jazz concert and then left to return home. I never saw or heard about her again. I don’t even remember her name. The whole experience was out of character for me. I am introverted and not a rule breaker normally. Befriending a complete stranger and sneaking around unfinished buildings is not my normal mode of operation. However, in retrospect it was a random act of kindness which made someone else feel better.

I don’t know what made me think of this story and I’m not sure why I am even telling it. It has been irrelevant to the rest of my life. I certainly did not intend it as a “humble brag” for a random act of kindness that’s over 50 years old. Perhaps it is a reminder that we are capable of doing things outside our comfort zone. As Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass: “I am large. I contain multitudes.” We probably all do. Don’t be afraid to discover a new side of yourself. Even at 72 I still do things I didn’t realize I was capable of doing.  I still discover new sides of myself (like writing this blog.) Above all be kind to each other. Yeah, I know there are many people who are not but that’s not the point. You are not responsible for them and can control them only to a limited extent. Be in full control of yourself and be the person you wish they were.


This is going to seem like a long meandering entry that takes its time getting to its point, but please bear with me. As those who follow my Facebook newsfeed may know, I am currently rehabbing from hip replacement surgery. In the course of that rehab a musical phrase kept occurring to me: “I’m not what I used to be, I’m not what I want to be” I wracked my brain, searched the internet for those lyrics. Where had I heard them? Then I finally remembered. I used to teach four courses per year (I know, seems like a luxury nowadays) at a college. Some courses had to be taught in a two-year sequence, but every two years I had an open spot to teach a course of my own devising. Over 25 years ago with my free course I taught a course called “Redemption Songs” which looked at African American history through the prism of its religious and related secular music. It took as its title and central point Bob Marley’s song “Redemption song” which begins

“Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit

But my hand was made strong
By the ‘and of the Almighty
We forward in this generation

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs

The course was about how such redemption songs enabled African Americans to survive and move forward “triumphantly.” We looked at work songs, spirituals, blues, gospel, r&b, Motown, and finally reggae songs to explore the relationship between the music and survival. I remember we had some friends over for dinner and when the conversation turned to what I was currently working on. I played for them some of the music I was “auditioning” for the course. My friend turned to me in amazement. “You got somebody to pay you to listen to this music?” As I sheepishly said yes, he just shook his head. As part of the course, I showed a documentary “Say Amen Somebody” about the rise of African American gospel music built around the career of Thomas A. Dorsey who played the blues with Bessie Smith and composed many of the first gospel songs including “Precious Lord Take My Hand.” The featured artists in the documentary included the Barrett sisters who were quite well known and loved within the black community, but little outside it until this movie. Sure enough I found the phrase I had been looking for within one of their performances of “He chose me.” in the film. It wasn’t a part of the normal lyric for the song but an expostulation they added. It also led me to another of their performances in the film, this time of the song “No Ways Tired.” This song had begun life as an African American spiritual and had been “gospelized” by the famous gospel choir leader James Cleaveland. The Barrett sisters’ version had the lyric:

“Nobody told me that the road would be easy, but I don’t believe that he brought me this far to leave me.
Sometimes at night you know my way gets drear, but I hear my God say I am here.”

Given the song’s origin as a spiritual during slavery I could imagine those lyrics going through the head of a runaway slave or just a slave who had a hard day. The lyrics fit my current situation, but my situation seemed so petty in the face of those faced in slavery and freedom by so many other African Americans. This reminded me of an opinion piece I had read in the New York Times on February 13, 2022 by African American historian Dr. Tiya Mills:

“Everyone around me seems to be talking about the end. The end of nearly a million American lives in the Covid pandemic; the end of American democracy; the end of a public bulwark against racism and blatant antisemitism; the end of the post-Cold War peace in Europe; the end of the stable climate; and the end of our children’s best futures, to name a few undeniable possibilities. A condition of apocalyptic anxiety has overtaken us, raising our collective blood pressure, and sending us deeper into a maelstrom of suspicion, conspiracy thinking and pessimism. I confess that I have also been down in this foxhole of doomsday thinking, but hearing it voiced by one of my children, a girl who should have a whole, vibrant life ahead of her, snapped me out of my anxious crouch.

This is just a change. I have given these impromptu words of maternal reassurance some thought since then, and I am not prepared to retract them yet. This is not the end. It is a change, albeit the largest and most dramatic transformation that many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Change is often frightening. We strive for stability. Because of the stress change causes, we often shrink or freeze in the face of it.”

She continues:

“The capacity to recognize those moments of emergency, catastrophe and impending loss as moments of change and then to anticipate what might come next are part of the psychological and emotional tool kit that saved Black America….Despite our anxieties, we are not standing on the precipice at the end of America or the end of the world. Instead, we face change of a nature and magnitude that we may not fully perceive, but which history gives us a way to confront.”

I live in the state of Texas nowadays where conservatism has such an iron grip on politics, that I often feel like Dr. Mills describes. It is a state where actions to stem the spread of Covid are prohibited; there are bans on abortion; teaching history that might make white folks uncomfortable is prohibited; books that describe different experiences of America are banned by conservative parents who are taking over school boards; where walls are being built to keep out immigrants, and where the fossil fuel industry prevents meaningful climate change.

I will take her advice however and work to create change and mitigate the effects of these policies to the best of my abilities. My own problems seem “a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world” to quote the movie Casablanca. Perspective, it’s good for the soul.


I was born and raised up north in New York City. My mother came from the south, Atlanta to be specific. Her family moved to New York when she was about 10 years old during the Great Depression. I say “about” because she often shall we say misrepresented her age and was pretty vague about when the move occurred. Nevertheless (as I learned as I got older) the south still played an important although scarcely acknowledged part in my upbringing. The cuisine with which I grew up was unbeknownst to me a southern one. We ate all kind of greens (mustard, collard, and turnip), many parts of the pig that shall remain nameless here, grits for breakfast, sweet potato pie on holidays, and what I later learned was “hoppin’ john” (black-eyed peas). All of these were brought up north by families like my mother’s who came from the south during the great migration. My mother was too young to have brought the deference to whites and the expectation of segregation that was endemic to blacks growing up in the South, so she didn’t pass that along to me. New York during the 30’s 40’s and 50’s was certainly not immune to the racism that gripped and still grips America. However, my mother was a feisty little woman and she passed that along to us kids. I saw the flip side of this in my wife’s step father who had grown to adulthood in the south. He never did overcome his deference around whites and waited in his car at restaurants to see if blacks were allowed in before he would enter.

As Isabel Wilkerson has documented in The Warmth of Other Suns, African Americans believed that up north there were opportunities for jobs, advancement, and homeownership that were not possible in the south. My mother married a northerner and through hard work scratched out a lower middle class living for us in the north. We were able to move into previously white areas in Brooklyn and then Queens during the 1950’s and although those areas eventually became mostly black, I always went to integrated schools and had many white friends. The violence and hatred against “uppity” blacks that was often displayed on my television screen during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s made me cross off the south as a place to live. As feisty (as my mother had taught me) and uppity as my educational and career path were making me, meant that if I had lived in the south my life would have been full of conflict. Although professional engagements occasionally took me to the south, I stayed in my professional enclaves as much as possible, watched over my shoulder often, and left as soon as I could. That is not to say I had any unpleasant experiences, and in fact had many pleasant ones, only that the threat of a racist encounter always loomed (at least in my head) the few times I went to the south.

I spent most of my life in New England ironically mostly in Maine, statistically the whitest state in the Union. My location at a small liberal arts college and in a college town minimized any unpleasant racial experiences that occurred. As cold and stand-offish as the Mainer stereotype is, I found that once you broke through that exterior Mainers were as friendly, independent, and as feisty as I was. I certainly look back at my time there with fondness. Upon retirement we looked for a warmer climate and better weather. Again, we avoided the south since my wife was even feistier than I and suffered fools even less than I did. We eventually settled in New Mexico where the rich diversity of cultures (white, Native American, Latino and African American) promised an intriguing set of experiences, different biospheres, and warmer weather still with seasons. I lived there quite happily for eight years, before my wife passed away. I then went to live with my son, daughter in law, and granddaughter in a suburb of Houston.

Approaching age 70 this was the first time I had actually lived in the south. The South of 2019 was a far cry from the south of the 1950’s and 60’s. The mayor of Houston is an African American, the police chief is a Latino American. Even the police chief in Birmingham, Alabama has changed from Bull Connor and his ilk to an African American. There are African Americans in the state legislature, there are judges who are people of color throughout the south, there are now people of color in the professional classes including lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs. I live in a wealthy suburban enclave that has a diverse population including Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans. The middle-class jobs, civil service jobs, the bank officers, grocery managers or clerks are no longer exclusively white. There are black folks everywhere. There are no legally segregated schools, hotels, or restaurants (my late father-in-law would be pleased.)

Yet despite these changes (which are much more than cosmetic) there is still an under-stratum of that south I always feared and avoided. I have heard it said that the south is comprised of people of color held hostage by a white political class supported by rural whites for whom racism and Republicanism is the bedrock of their existence. I have found this to be too true. There are still too many people stuck in old ways of thinking about the world many of whom are in the authority structures. In light of this I find the recent Democratic victories in Georgia and my mother’s old hometown of Atlanta, give me hope. Through a massive get out the vote effort by progressive and people of color groups, they were able to prevail against the Republican voter suppression, rural white voters, conservatives, and racists that have dominated statewide and federal politics for so long. It may not last more than two years, but they have shown it can be done. Texas is a long way from being able to do this and its size alone makes it even more difficult to do. We need to find our own Stacey Abrams who can organize a massive grassroots campaign to turn the south of my nightmares into the south of my dreams.


You know how when you are watching a horror film you want to scream don’t go in there as the protagonist is about to open a door because you know some new horror is behind it? That’s how I am feeling about the news today. I don’t want to see whatever horror the Trump administration has tweeted, committed or had revealed. So I thought I’d just write about a childhood memory I was thinking about recently. My father was a working man who we only got to spend time with infrequently on weekdays. Oh he lived with us, but it was over an hour commute to his job. As a building superintendent he had to be the first one in most mornings and he had to take both a bus and subway to get there. So he had to leave earlier than we got up. In fact he would get up extra early to have a quiet hour to0 himself before he had to leave. Once I became a parent I understood why that brief time to yourself was so cherished. He would work all day and return home in the evening after my sister and I had eaten dinner at 6 pm every day (my mother was a stickler for routine.) Each night my mother would make a plate for him when we ate and then reheat his dinner when he finally returned by putting it on a boiling widemouthed pot with the cover on top of the plate. This was long before the days of microwaves and such. For some reason an image of the pot just popped into my mind recently. It was battered, had scorch marks, and we never knew what its original color had been. Sometimes my mother would eat with him, sometimes he ate alone. He usually returned while we were finishing homework, watching television or on late nights preparing for bed. I remember one winter night when a blizzard had shut down all bus traffic, he actually walked from the subway station home, a distance of a few miles. This was before cell phones and such so we had no idea of what was going on. We just waited anxiously as it got later and later. When he finally arrived a relieved wife simply heated up his dinner on that old pot as usual as he explained what had happened and what he had done.

During the last few years of his life he had a couple of heart attacks and had to leave his job. I remember keenly one Saturday morning when I had to drive him into work so he could clear out his locker. He was proud of me because I took the same route he would have to get into midtown Manhattan. To him this meant that the torch had been passed and he had raised me right. On our way back we stopped somewhere and I got him a coffee to drink in the car. I placed it right next to him. After a few minutes he asked me if I had gotten it while it was sitting right next to him. I suddenly realized at that point he couldn’t see out of his left eye. It was one of the saddest days of my life when I realized that this man who had been so strong throughout his life had been reduced by time and illness. I think he eventually regained his sight in that eye, but we never talked about it. I went on with my life eventually got married and I chose him to be my best man. I went away to graduate school in California. I called home every Sunday to talk to my parents. One day when I called home my mother answered, we talked for a while, then I asked to speak to my father. There was a long pause and then my father appeared on the phone. We exchanged pleasantries for a couple of minutes and then he put my mother back on. She paused for a minute and then whispered to me that that was one of the bravest things she had ever seen. Apparently my father wasn’t doing well at that time and had to make a supreme effort to get to the phone, but wanted to speak to his son.

His 58th birthday was in 1975. It fell on a Friday. I thought about calling him for his birthday, but decided that I would wait and talk to him in my usual Sunday phone call. That never happened. On that Saturday I received a phone call from my cousin that he had died from what was at least his fifth heart attack that I knew about. It taught me a lesson that I carry with me to this day. You never know when you will speak to someone for the last time, so never put off speaking to them. My father taught me lessons of steadfastness, responsibility, courage and quiet love that have served me well over my own life. So I remember that pot heating up his dinner. It encapsulated it all.


Legendary Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated three “laws” or adages the third and most famous of which is “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Whenever a hear it I am am transported back to my first trip to Africa to do my dissertation research. I was doing research on the effect of a Lutheran mission on the religious beliefs in a village about a hundred miles from the capital. When we went there the foreign missionaries had been replaced by a home grown Lutheran church who were only to eager to rent a house on the old mission grounds to cash paying Americans. It was a small, comfy, one bedroom house with a fireplace with a large cross sculpted into the wall above. We lived there for eight months and never had occasion to use the fireplace.

It had indoor plumbing, but the source of water was stone platform higher than the house with three 55 gallon interconnected drums. There was another 55 gallon drum on the ground connected by pipes to the drums on the platform. One filled the ground level drum with water and then used a waggle pump to push the water up to the drums on the platform. Then gravity would bring water to the pipes, sink and toilet in the house upon demand. It was a quite ingenious system. The hard part was in bringing water to the ground drum from a creek somewhere between a half and three quarters mile away.  We hired a young man to do this for us. His name was Larry. It was hard work but he was willing to do this as we were one of the only sources of income available in the village. He did many other things (e.g. killing the occasional snake that got into the house,  wringing the neck of chickens so we could eat them, harvesting avocados from the backyard trees etc.) and in general took care of us for the months we were there.

One of the first questions he asked us had to do with entertainer James Brown. Brown had a hit record at that time that had made it all the way to Africa called “I got ants in my pants and I’ve got to dance.” Larry’s question was “he doesn’t really have ants in his pants does he?” I answered “no” and explained that it was just that he had an urge to dance. Larry was quite bright and while we were away for a few days getting supplies from the capital, we returned to find that he had rigged up a system so that rainwater could be caught and directed into the upper water drums. He therefore lightened his work load by not having to make as many trips to haul water for us. It was using his ingenuity and taking initiative to make his (and our) life better.

Enough setting the scene let’s get to the main event. We often talked and I told them if there was anything about America that he wanted to know he could ask me. He thought for a while and then asked “is it true that in America you can put pads on your hands and take a hot pan off the stove or out of the fire without getting burned.”   Of all the things different about America I was shocked that the thing he wanted most to know about was a potholder. Yet here was a simple thing which seemed almost magical to him. I hadn’t thought much about potholders before, but with insulation and silicone, a truly “magical” thing had been created to perform one of the daily and most useful of tasks. I admitted to him that it was true to his amazement. We had many more talks about more important subjects, but I never forgot his amazement at this simple thing that I took for granted. There have been more sophisticated and complex changes in tech have brought to our lives. I look with awe at the cellphone in my hand which  is a digital camera, video recorder, personal communication device, more powerful computer than NASA had for its early space flights, and a link to the most extensive data-bank of information (and misinformation) ever created by humans (the Internet.) I know that tech has been used by the profit-driven to wreak havoc on our planet, it is unevenly distributed by geopolitics and social inequality, and it has been misused to create a sedentary and obese population in our country. These are problems with humans not with the tech itself.

It is now over forty-five years later and I think of Larry often and I remind myself I must stop and marvel at the magic around me. So should you.


Many, many years ago when I was studying French I was required to read the pithy maxims of French philosopher and wit Francois VI Duke de La Rochefoucauld. He was an elitist French nobleman of the seventeenth century who commented on the foibles of humans. He wrote hundreds of quotes some good, some too pessimistic and some that are just irrelevant or too relevant for my life. Reading them again fifty years later here are 20 I have found to be true:


“How is it that our memory is good enough to retain the least triviality that happens to us, and yet not good enough to recollect how often we have told it to the same person? ~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld”

“We rarely think people have good sense unless they agree with us.”
― Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“The truest way to be deceived is to think oneself more knowing than others.”
― Francois de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

“As it is the characteristic of great wits to say much in few words, so small wits seem to have the gift of speaking much and saying nothing. ”
― François de La Rochefoucauld

“Old men delight in giving good advice as a consolation for the fact that they can no longer set bad examples.”
― François de La Rochefoucauld, Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims

“Our minds are lazier than our bodies.”
― François de La Rochefoucauld

“It is far easier to be wise for others than to be so for oneself.”
― Francois Duc de La Rochefoucauld

“Few know how to be old.”
― François Duc De La Rochefoucauld, Reflections: Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims

“There exists an excess of good and evil which surpasses our comprehension”
― François Duc De La Rochefoucauld, Reflections: Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims

“Little minds are too much wounded by little things; great minds see all and are not even hurt.”
― François Duc De La Rochefoucauld, Reflections: Or, Sentences and Moral Maxims

The principal point of cleverness is to know how to value things just as they deserve. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

No men are oftener wrong than those that can least bear to be so.

It’s the height of folly to want to be the only wise one. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Whatever good things people say of us, they tell us nothing new. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

A wise man thinks it more advantageous not to join the battle than to win. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

One is never fortunate or as unfortunate as one imagines. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

If we had no faults of our own, we should not take so much pleasure in noticing those in others.

We only confess our little faults to persuade people that we have no big ones. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

The accent of one’s birthplace remains in the mind and in the heart as in one’s speech. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Hope, deceiving as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route. Francois de La Rochefoucauld


I have stopped talking about what a vile human being Donald Trump is. Most of you already know, those who don’t know by now are hopeless.

I have stopped being surprised by the depths of depravity, inhumane acts, and lack of concern for others, demonstrated by the Trump administration. Who knew that rock bottom had a basement?

I have stopped being surprised by the obliviousness of people to their own racism. This doesn’t mean that I have stopped working on alleviating it, but that you cannot underestimate the racism of American society.

I have stopped being surprised at the random acts of kindness I perceive. When people are giving, concerned for others, and genuinely want to improve the world, they can make up for the selfish, narrow-minded, and offhandedly cruel people who dominate the news cycle.

I have stopped watching network news. It gives a distorted view of the world that ignores how things in actuality are.

I have stopped listening to stories about Mueller and the possibility of impeachment. Impeachment will not come. The way to get rid of Trump is the 2020 election. All my efforts will be directed toward that goal.

I have stopped craving steak. I eat red meat about once or twice a month. The rest is chicken and fish.

I have stopped thinking vegans are weird people. I can now see the virtue in what they are doing. The first vegan I met was a guy who went to McDonald’s but only ordered the french fries. I now appreciate healthy eating.

I have stopped taking unlimited hot water for granted. A couple of weeks without it cured me of that.

I have stopped expecting people to be reasonable. Some are, some aren’t. I am now pleasantly surprised when I meet someone reasonable, but not disappointed when someone doesn’t listen to reason. At least I tried.

I have stopped expecting to go through the day without some part of me hurting. Getting old is a bitch.

I have stopped expecting to win the lottery. Now I dream of what I would do with all that money, but without buying a ticket. That way I get the best benefit of the lottery without the disappointment or the hassle.

I have stopped expecting others to live according to my principles. In exchange I have stopped living up to others’ expectations. Fair trade.

I have stopped bemoaning what I can’t do and either try to get better at it, stop doing it, or concentrate on the things I can do.

I have stopped expecting my boyhood favorite New York sports teams to be good and just accept them for what they are.

I have stopped expecting Tom Brady to get old.

I have stopped assuming things about people until they reveal them to me.

I have stopped watching so much television and read more instead.

I have stopped thinking travel to vacation spots is a waste of time. One just needs to be particular about where one goes.

I have stopped hoping the world will get better on its own and realize that I have to be part of the change I want to see. (Actually I did this a long time ago.)






The first group of responses to George Yancy’s New York Times op ed piece that I want to talk about are those responses which deny that he could be an intellectual or even someone who reasons. He received comments like: “This belief that niggers even reason is blatant pseudo-intellectualism,” “The concept of there being an intellectual Negro is a joke,” “Another uppity Nigger. Calling a Nigger a professor is like calling White Black and Wet Dry,” “This coon is a philosopher in the same way Martin King was a PHD and the same way that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are ‘Reverends’,” “Just another jive assed nigger with a new way to pimp,” and “Hey Georgie boy. You’re the fucking racist, asshole. You wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for affirmative action.” The mere fact that he is a professor at a prestigious university is a threat both to their stereotypes and to them personally.

I have experienced this myself. In my third year of teaching I went to the wedding of a dear white friend of mine. As I was mingling with the other guests an inebriated white guest came over to me and asked me who I was. I introduced my self and said I was a professor at Bowdoin College. He looked at me in astonishment. “A black intellectual,” he said, “I didn’t believe there could be such a thing.” Before I could respond another guest who could see what was going on, came over and hustled him away to break up the conversation. Naive historian that I am I was about to explain that there had been black intellectuals and college professors for well over a century and a half and mention Alexander Crummell, Carter Woodson, E. Franklin Frazier and W.E.B. DuBois. Upon later reflection I realized that this response would have been woefully inadequate. Not only wouldn’t he have heard of any of these people, their existence wouldn’t have made a dent in his incredulity. He presumed that black people were incapable of intellectual thought and that was a fixed part of his worldview.

I had never given a thought to the fact that there were people like him. I had spent ten years of my life in undergraduate or graduate school learning from black academics among others and the last couple in the rarefied air of a college where my colleagues never challenged (at least to my face) my right to be there. I held power over students so their challenges directly to me were minimal, although I had no way of knowing what they said in private. I remember one morning I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that students reacted differently to African American professors than they did to white professors. At my first class, a class of less than 20 students, I began class by asking if it made a difference to them that I was an African American professor. They hemmed and hawed a bit before one young lady said, “you are so completely yourself that the fact that you are an African American does enter into our thinking about you.” That was one of the nicest things a student ever said to me. It was not the “I don’t see color” bs that you sometimes hear, but an acknowledgement that being an African American was so much a part of who I was that they could not single it out as a defining characteristic.

Nevertheless the incident at the wedding revealed a truth to me. Part of my role as a professor was to show that black folk could in fact be professors and that this might, I say might, influence some to change their stereotypes of black people. When Barack Obama was elected president he is supposed to have explained to his daughters that he would be the first black president. One of them is supposed to have said “Wow, you better be good.” I always felt the same way. I was usually over-prepared for class and I cared about the quality that colleagues would see me, and later the Africana Studies program that I headed, exhibit. Like most folks it took me a while to fully learn my craft, but I had learned even before this that you should always try your best because you never knew who could be watching you. A couple of years ago, seven years after I had taught my final class, my college invited me back to participate in a teach-in they were having. I gave a lecture on jazz, Motown, hip-hop and the environment. At the end one first-year student came over to me and said that was the best presentation she had ever seen. She had only been in college six weeks at that point so I took what she said with a grain of salt. I did take it as a sign that after 30 years I knew what I was doing and had learned how to do it.

I have also learned that it is important that I did so. Yes, our scholarship is important. It usually adds new perspectives to our fields and will be here after we’ve gone. All that work we put into our institutions is also important, as is the teaching of our students. However for some folks who will never read our books or hear us speak or show up in our classes, we still have a contribution to make by simply existing. Whether we realize it or not, whether we want to or not, whether we embrace it or not, we stand as a counterargument to the demeaning stereotypes of African American intelligence.