Thinking about Racial Reparations

June 10, 2018

Growing up in the Deep South you get to hear white people say a lot of foolish things. Things like, “I never owned a slave, why are black people angry at me?” And “racism ended with the Civil War. Black people need to get over it!” In 1992, a white student of mine at Reinhardt College (in rural Georgia) said this to me; “Racism ended in 1865. Black people are just complaining.” I asked him, “What day? There had be a day when there was racism and then a day when there was no racism that we can celebrate. There should at least be a stamp or a commemorative plate to honor the day that racism ended and black people just started complaining.” He had no response.

Unless you are Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “least racist person,” you know that racism didn’t end with end of Confederate slavery in 1865. It folded into brutal lynchings and the madness of Jim Crow, and then institutionalized into the “war on crime” and every type of systematic racial bias you can imagine; housing, health care, hiring, and on and on. People of color know this in 2018. White people, not so much.

Obviously, this country still needs to have an on-going conversation about race, not a one-day Starbucks seminar. Having a successful black president for eight years didn’t solve the problem and kicking Roseanne Barr off ABC didn’t solve the problem. White people can’t switch on a Beyoncé song and proclaim themselves woke. I think some whites are figuring that out. But if you want to talk about racial reparations, all that white liberal wokenness goes right out the window.

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I was one of those who was leery of the call for reparations for a crime from centuries ago but I should have not been so fragile. For decades I have lectured about the legacy of slavery and how the psychological effects of the enslavement of an entire race are still with us all, including with African-Americans. It’s not just rednecks waving the Confederate battle flag, declaring, “the South will rise again!” (That’s code, y’all, for bring back slavery.) It’s not even the persistent brutality towards young men of color by police. The dehumanization of the people of Africa is manifested in daily life. If you are black and your last name is Jackson or Lincoln, you family history starts with slavery. (Something those named Obama could sidestep.) If you’re black and worry that you’re not light-skinned enough or don’t have the “good hair,” that legacy is there. Do you think there might be a price tag for all that trauma?

Another thing you will hear white people say is, “Well, black people can be racist, too!” This is true but not in the way my cracker brethren think. Black people don’t think white people are inferior, but many think black people are inferior. Studies have demonstrated that many African-Americans have internalized the racism that the world has laid on them for centuries. Just ask a little black girl which is better, the black doll or the white doll. “Black is beautiful” tried to undo the imposed self-hatred but it’s still a light-skinned black person’s status that reminds those who are “too black” that not much has changed.

I was lucky enough to (briefly) serve on the dissertation committee of Dr. Joy DeGruy at Portland State University. She’s the author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing and it needs to be assigned reading for white people. She outlines the gut-wrenching inhumanity of slavery and how those deep psychological traumatic wounds are passed down from generation to generation. That blacks are savages, rapists, thugs, or (as Roseanne just tweeted) apes deserving of what pain comes their way persists to this minute. Where is the class action suite on that?

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There is a young black activist in Portland named Cameron Whitten who has really forced me to take the issues of reparations seriously. We are a long way from “40 acres and a mule,” but there are real ways we can talk about making an amends today for the sins of the past. He has started to host “reparation happy hours” (now “Power Hours,” since it doesn’t have to involve alcohol) where white people who get it can contribute to gatherings for black people. At these gatherings black people can build community, political agency, and, yes, leave with a little bit of cash. (There is something poetic about black people being handed a ten spot with abolitionist Alexander Hamilton on it.) It doesn’t make up for the cumulative impact of slavery but it’s a powerful symbolic act that has real, tangible value.

Of course the right flipped their shit. Fox News tried to paint Cameron as a huckster, playing on white guilt to put money in his pocket (a thought I probably have been guilty of in the past). For the record, he is doing this as a non-profit called Brown Hope. Still, the troll army came after him, lampooning the idea of racial reparations. “Get over it!” they screamed. “You had Obama! What more do you want?” Whitten appeared on a local NPR show last week and calmly laid out his case. I was in my car listening and a big ol’ black light bulb lit up over my head. It made perfect sense. Reparations are not some type of sociological blackmail and it is time to talk about it without fear of attack from the same old defenders of white supremacy, be they Fox News trolls or white liberals.

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Think of being black in America as an invisible tax. Whether it’s the poorer health outcomes that come from discrimination in the health care system or decades of tobacco companies targeting black communities with their cigarette ads. Think of lost wages from job discrimination and lost wealth from housing discrimination that has prevented African-Americans from buying homes. (From 1934 to 1968, less than 2% of FHA loans for homes went to people of color.) Think of the cumulative stress of “driving while black” in a country that still sees police use-of-force disproportionately targeting minorities, not to mention all those traffic tickets I don’t have to pay because I’m not the one who is racially profiled. I could go on and on to the break of dawn, but I think you get the idea. There is a financial cost to being a person of color (this goes for brown, red, and yellow people, as well). This is a cost that I don’t have to pay and it translates to more money in my pocket. According to one measure, “for every dollar owned by the average white family in the United States, the average family of color has less than one dime.” My white privilege obscures the real reasons for this massive imbalance but it’s as real as the balance in your bank account.

We can’t undo the hell of racism in one happy hour or one generation. But we can acknowledge the price of racism financially. Don’t expect there ever to be a tax on white people to right the wrong. (You think racists like Trump are popular among “undereducated” white folk now…) But white people can think of ways to give to people of color in meaningful ways, even if it’s just supporting a black-owned business or buying someone lunch. Let’s deal with the actual cost of being black in America.

 

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Dropping F Bombs and White Privilege

April 12, 2018

Fuck. It’s just a word. One syllable. Why should we give it power over us? People are born because of that word, and killed, and fired, and fined. (Just ask Bono.) I used to do a whole lecture in my Intro Sociology class on the social construction of profanity in which I would make each student say it out loud. The point was that the taboo on this word is so strong that some folks can’t even bring themselves to say it out loud.  They can think it, or say “the F word,” which is pretty much just saying it. But they fear God or their mother or their own internalized morality and keep their mouths shut. Free yourself! Fuck!

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Sometimes in the classroom I’ll drop an F Bomb for emphasis or just to make sure students are paying attention. “Antiquated gendered double standards. Don’t you think that’s fucked up?” In my mind it makes me more like the students and less like the stodgy caricature of a college professor. More relatable. Let’s break down the fucking wall of pretense. I put my jeans on one leg at a time, too.

I had an “aha” moment about that whole thing in a class I was teaching this week. I was trying to express the frustrations educators have trying to compete with technology in the classroom. I can’t lecture when students are on their phones or staring at God-knows-what on their laptops. I laid out a perfectly biting use of the word in question and it immediately sounded wrong. Like who am I just to throw this word around? I tried to make sure the students understood the context, but it bothered me all night; probably more than it bothered them.

Then I remembered an African-American student of mine at Portland State who always wore a suit to school. I regularly taught his Social Theory class in jeans and a t-shirt. He pointed out that, as a black man, his authority is not assumed like it was for me. He had to dress up to not be put as far down. As many women and people of color know, you have to work twice as hard for half as much when you are not a white male. My white male privilege allows me to dress like Mark Zuckerberg and drop the occasional F bomb without my authority being diminished. It’s good to be the fucking king.

If I was a female or a woman with the same speech pattern, it would be met with shock, disdain, and condemnation for my whole category. “She swears like a sailor.” “Well, black people are kinda thuggish.” And on and on. I would be viewed as from a less civilized demographic. Sluttish, animalistic, etc.. There’s a great video of a 14-year-old boy doing a slam poem called “White Boy Privilege.” He drops some F bombs and then says, “I can say ‘fuckin’’ and not one of you is attributing it to the fact that everyone in my skin color has a dirty mouth.”

My white maleness gives me free reign. Earlier this week I was giving a presentation in Chicago about white nationalism to a group called the Government Alliance on Racial Equity. On the opening slide of my PowerPoint it said, “Randy Blazak, PhD.”  While talking to these folks, I realized it was stupid to put the “PhD.” up there. My expertise is assumed. I just made it overkill. If I was a woman or a person of color, it might have been the opposite dynamic. “Please listen to me. I have a PhD.” I’m often worried people won’t listen to me, but I should remember that my race and gender carries more weight than any letters.

If my goal is to dismantle my privilege, it’s time to lay off the F bombs. If all my students, friends and colleagues don’t have the same linguistic freedom, why should I exploit it? After all, it’s just a word.

In Defense of the Classroom

January 12, 2018

The first time I ever taught a college-level class was as a graduate student at Atlanta’s Emory University in White Hall, probably the fall 1986. I was the teaching assistant of renown criminologist Robert Agnew. He was out of town at a conference and left it to his 22-year-old TA to give a lecture on some crime theories that were to be covered that day. I spent a week preparing, including jokes and pop culture references I thought the undergrads would appreciate. When it was time to shine, I just froze. Like Cindy Brady on that game show, I was frozen, nailed to podium. My main memory was the realization that I can see my own cheeks. So much for the dazzling young professor.

It wasn’t long before I got my 10,000 hours of teaching in. As a grad student, I was teaching at private Emory, urban community colleges, and rural universities up in North Georgia. All my peers were musicians and I had found my own performance platform. Give me a topic and I was ready to rock it. I had found what I was good at.

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My inspiration for my whole approach can be blamed on the British film, To Sir With Love. The 1967 classic stars Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, an American teacher thrown in with a bunch of working class “unteachable” students. It’s the racial opposite of all the American white savior pics, like Dangerous Minds, where a rebellious white teacher shows all the minority kids why they should value education. Thackeray is black and his students are white and he soon realizes a traditional curriculum isn’t gonna a work with these hoodlums so he throws their school books in the trashcan and takes them out museums and shit for some real-world lessons. Cue greatest theme song ever.

I had a similar moment at Emory when I realized that not only were my bourgeois students not doing the readings, they weren’t really taking my class seriously. Channeling Sidney (who shares my birthday), I threw all the books out of the classroom window in the Candler Library. I cancelled all the quizzes and exams and told them that now the only requirement was that they come to class and participate. They were always bugging me, on nice days, to have class outside on the grassy Emory quad. I told them we would now have every class outside, no matter what the weather.

That little tantrum paid off because that was the most engaged I had ever seen students on that campus. They read, discussed, and did a lot of the work for me. There were days when it was a brutal Georgia thunderstorm and we’d be sitting in the grass, soaking wet, discussing semiotics and doing class analysis of subcultural phenomenon. People must have thought we were crazy but I still hear from those students.

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There are two general ways of thinking about teaching at the university level, what we call pedagogy. One is the “sage on the stage” who stands up there and shares his or her knowledge with the lucky students. The other is the “guide on the side” who facilitates the learning process, building on the student already accumulated knowledge. As I began to fashion myself as a feminist educator, the guide on the side made much more sense. I could assign a book, like The Beauty Myth, but, the real learning came from the testimony from female students. Similarly, I would tackle race by assigning a classic like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but the students of color would have the real authority on the topic. I just sit there with my coffee taking it in.

My teaching style over the years has been a bit more like a grand performance art piece. Once, on the first day of my Youth Subcultures class at Portland State University, I walked in the classroom and asked to the students to follow me. Like the Pied Piper, I led them outside to Southwest Broadway, the main boulevard that runs through campus. I asked the students to lie down in the street. They did, stopping the busy traffic across three lanes. It looked like a protest but I was trying to make the point about the street as a multi-facet metaphor for youth in America. We were literally on the street. That one got back to the dean.

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I’ve been mourning my exit from PSU and sad that my program at the University of Oregon was defunded, throwing a lot of committed teachers out of work in favor of some “on line learning” alternative. There is nothing that matches the magic that happens in the classroom. So I couldn’t be more exited to finally be back in the classroom teaching sociology. I started my adjunct position at Portland Community College on Wednesday with a discussion of how the sociological imagination liberates us from the boxes that we have been shoved into. Like getting back on a bike, I was right back in the zone. This stuff matters.

In a time when universities are shedding tenure track faculty in favor of websites, the vitality of the classroom is the last fortress of our shared Enlightenment values. Online education is a hoax. Research demonstrates that online students retain less information. (There are some effective online classes and, for some students, it is their only access to higher education.) The student who is registered for the class may not be the one who is actually taking it and the professor who is listed as the instructor may not be the one who is actually teaching it. It’s a money making fraud. So back I’m there in the classroom. I don’t need a Powerpoint slideshow or any fancy technology. I just need students who are ready for an adventure. I’m back, let’s go.

It’s time to tax men: Shutting down gun violence

November 7, 2017

I’m so sick of this. I’m so sick of another mass shooting. I’m sick of the gut-wrenching stories of survivors. I’m sick of “thoughts and prayers.” I’m sick of writing another blog about it. I’m sick of doing interviews about it and saying the same damn thing every time. If America wasn’t sick of it after Sandy Hook, it never will be. But I’m sick of it. Feel free to call the shooters “deranged individuals” (if they are white) or “terrorists” (if they are not). But don’t talk to me unless you are willing to say what all these shooters are.

Men.

Boys and men. I’m not saying all boys are men are bad. Certainly the majority of boys and men aren’t opening fire on innocent people. And many men and boys are actively trying to stop the violence (including a few with guns!). This is about masculinity. The toxic masculinity that has been created in our culture that defines gun violence as an appropriate way for men in crisis to express their rage. Men in extreme crisis in Japan hang themselves. The same men in the United States use guns and many decide to take as many people with them as they check out. “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” American masculinity does not allow you to fall to your knees. Not when there is amble firepower available to guarantee a dramatic exit.

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Male violence plagues us. The violence of Devin Kelley shooting five-year-olds in the head in a church in Sutherland, Texas or the violence of Harvey Weinstein’s low-grade war on women. It all has a cost. From coroners to lost work hours, every aspect of violence by boys and men sucks resources out of our society. What is the financial impact of having a family member killed? How about the emotional impact? The makers of pain killers and pain numb-ers might profit, but the rest of us are paying for it in tax-dollars, insurance premiums, and the erosion of the quality of life. What if the evening news reported on a great new work of art at the top of the hour instead of the daily body count? We are less human because we have normalized male violence.

One study in Minnesota found that gun violence in the state came in at a about $2.2 billion dollars in direct costs due to the 900 gun deaths that year. This doesn’t include indirect costs like lost property value and lost business. The famous 2015 Mother Jones study put the cost at $229 billion a year when you factor in the cost of prisons and lost wages. Each gun homicide costs the country $400,000 and we average about 32 gun murders a day.  Just as a point of comparison, the 2018 budget for Trump’s Department of Education is only $68.2 billion.

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In the late 1990s, I began assigning June Stephenson’s book, Men Are Not Cost Effective: Male Crime in America to my criminology students at Portland State University. She forwards the case that, because of the high cost of mostly male crime on our society, it makes sense that all men pay a “sin” tax to cover the cost of policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating male criminals. When we look at the research on female violent crimes, it’s typically the case that women are brought in to criminal enterprises with their male counterparts (“I was just attracted to bad boys, I guess.”) or are responding violently to their male abusers (“Goodbye, Earl!”). Some of the men in my classes balked at the assertion, but the women generally thought it was a smashing idea. And there are more women than men in this country (because men keep killing each other off).

Maybe it’s time to revisit Stephenson’s “man tax.” If shooting kids in a kindergarten class or church at point blank range doesn’t wake men up to the toll of “going out like a man,” maybe grabbing their wallets will. America is prevented from being a more perfect union because of all the economic and emotional resources devoted to dealing with male violence. If we want to make America great, I say let’s hit ‘em where it hurts. Maybe then men will care about how they do maleness.

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We could start simple, perhaps a sales tax on dumb men things, like bullets, Call of Duty video games, and UFC pay-per-view matches. Then we can expand it to anyone with a Y chromosome. And the earlier the better. In the 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas that killed five and wounded ten (all female victims), the shooters were 11 and 13 years-old. As soon as a tween boy walks into a 7-11 to buy a Big Gulp, hit him in the nuts with the man tax.

Then, as boys and men start to get it and gun violence starts to decline, there can be subsequent reductions in the tax. Hey, nobody went postal this month, the tax on camouflage pajama pants is temporarily suspended! How else are we going get men to stop killing us? What politician that isn’t busy licking the NRA’s ass will be bold enough to propose this approach? I’m guessing it won’t be a man.

Other posts on this endless topic:

How to talk rationally about gun control (October 4, 2017)

Owning My White Privilege: Stories I won’t (have to) tell my children (September 21, 2016)

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in America (October 2, 2015)

White Boys to Terrorist Men: Pointless Male Violence and Charleston (June 19, 2015)

 

It’s not the KKK in masks and hoods: Fighting hate without violence

September 15, 2017

I’ve been doing this anti-racism work for a long time. Thirty years ago I walked into the middle of a Klan rally in rural Georgia and held up a sign that said, “Racism is ignorance” and was dragged out by a National Guardsman. Racist skinheads set my scooter on fire, left threatening notes on my doorstep, and stalked me at my gym and outside my classes at Portland State. One night they plotted to severely beat me at a meeting in a bar, but I was tipped off to the plan and slipped out the back door. (I said I was going the john and just kept going.) I’ve had neo-Nazis post pictures of my house and car on the internet, post lies about me on gossip websites, and even post a fake Wikipedia entry about me. I was antifa before antifa was cool.

So when some snot-nosed teenage (white) anarchist tells me I’m a “privileged white guy” who doesn’t know how to stand up to racists, I just laugh. It’s kinda cute.

I’ve written in this blog about the legitimate political philosophy of anarchism as opposed to the black masked kids who think setting trashcans on fire will somehow “smash capitalism.” I’ve also written about how violence against the alt-right idiots only helps the alt-right idiots. And I will keep banging the drum of civil political discourse as long as there is something to (non-violently) bang on.

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The alt-right gang was back in Stumptown this past Sunday, bleating about “free speech” and not making much of case for anything, other than how much they hate the “communists” who don’t like their free speech. Of course, being Portland, lots of amazing folks came out to protest them, to make their case loud and clear that Portland stands united against hate. There were Buddhists meditating, and school kids, grandmothers, and clergy, peacefully marching in opposition to the alt-right’s message of intolerance and division. I’m proud that my city’s values are so clear here.

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But there were also thugs. “Anti-Racist Thug,” as one of their t-shirts said. I don’t believe these are the core activists of Rose City Antifa. Antifa is not an organization, let alone a “terrorist organization.” Antifa is a movement against fascism and fascism has never seemed more like a real possibility in my lifetime than it does right now. Movements are inherently disorganized and can attract people for many reasons, including those who care more about thrill of the moment (and being in a riot can be a real hoot). Some are motivated by their own completely unrelated psychological issues. (I hate my father so I’m going to throw a rock at a cop!) Some are just followers, much like their hate group counterparts on the right, who are looking for a simple analysis of the world and a simple action plan to go with it. Like I said, I’ve ben doing this work for a long time and I have seen all of the above. Antifa has attracted all of the above and it might destroy their movement like so many movements before it. Calling Occupy Wall Street. Hello? Anyone there?

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The events on Sunday were a mess. Alleged “Black Block” members allegedly threw bottles at cops and knocked down police barricades. Police allegedly threw a distraction grenade at counter-protestors and pushed a person allegedly video-taping the skirmish to the ground. An alleged Trump supporter in a parallel event across the river in Vancouver, Washington, backed his pick-up truck, with its confederate flag, into a group of counter-protestors, evoking the deadly car-attack in Charlottesville on August 12th. There were seven arrests made after some counter-protestors threw rocks and smoke bombs at the police. The guy that drove his truck into the crowd, strangely, was not arrested. I was glad I allegedly stayed home. Donald Trump has already used Portland’s “antifa violence” to justify his ignorant comments about Charlottesville, making more calls for Nixonian law and order. The greatest gift to fascists in this country might just be the thugs antifa is attracting.

I was frustrated that these agitators in masks and black hoodies were hurting our cause by driving away potential allies and giving Fox News more footage for their “violent liberals” narrative. Who wants to come out to a rally when masked trustafarians are throwing bottles at cops?  I administer the Facebook page for the Coalition Against Hate Crime and I posted, “FYI: When I protest racism, I don’t hide my face under a mask like a Klansman.”

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I should have expected the blowback from the fascisticly anti-fascist gang, one calling for me to be banned from the page (that I’m the admin of). When I tried to explain that one should be proud of protesting and showing their face at these rallies, I got accused of being a privileged media whore. When I said becoming a parent has reinforced my desire for nonviolence and empathy for the haters themselves, one woman said she couldn’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to call me on my “bullshit.” When one said they could care less how their violence played on Fox News, I said maybe they should if they care about the end goal. One antifan said I didn’t have to worry about Nazis coming after me.  I tried to let him know I’ve had to deal with Nazis coming after me for 30 years. I could hear Beyoncé singing, “You must not know about me.”

But there were some valid points made, including the fear of alt righter Nazis coming after counter-protesters, trolling them on the internet, or showing up at their workplace. They have a reason to fear this as it’s been their tactic against racists for years. Here we go round the mulberry bush. An eye for an eye. I get that much of this is a radical performance for radical peers. “Look how well I defend the black flag. I told Blazak to STFU!” And we get absolutely nowhere.

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I ended up taking down the post because it just became an attack on me by people who I had assumed were my allies in the struggle against racism. They consider me a collaborator because I work with the police and not against them. I might have accused some of them as being agent provocateurs working for the Trump camp, handing the alt-right evidence of their claims on a silver antifa platter. It wasn’t very productive. They’d ask me my solution to the problem and I said the hard work to reform the system. “Fuck that, revolution!” You let me know how that goes. How many burned-out cops are watching department budgets shift funds from community policing to over-time for this week’s alt-right/antifa wrestling match? How many city resources are spent cleaning up after the extremist boys on the right and left masturbate on our streets?

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In the end, I think there are many paths and tactics in this cause. I admire the youth who are taking to the streets to stop our slide backwards. I was them at one point. Idealistic with simplistic solutions. I was fueled by the music of The Clash, not the analysis of NPR. Those kids are a big part of the struggle and should be supported but also guided by those of us who have done our time in the trenches. The one thing that we know absolutely does not work is violence. If fact, it only makes things worse. Young males have long romanticized marching off to heroic macho combat. Older veterans know nothing is won in the end. There’s a reason Martin Luther King, Jr. adopted the non-violent resistance tactics of Gandhi. Of course there were casualties in Gandhi’s struggle of Indian independence (and King’s). Heather Heyer, killed in Charlottesville, was just one of many casualties in the long non-violent struggle against violence in this country. And there will be more.

Hating the haters is not the solution. Understanding the haters is. I’ve said this many times; inside almost every alt-right Nazi white supremacist/separatist/nationalist asshole is an amazing anti-hate activist waiting to be released. You don’t stop a Nazi by punching him. You might by hugging him. Only love undoes hate.

A friend saw me in the weeds with these “revolutionaries” on Facebook and bailed me out by posting a video from a musician I dearly love, Michael Franti. I’ve followed his career from the Beatnigs, through the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, to Spearhead. I don’t doubt that most of these beautiful radical youth know his music as well. In a voice much more articulate than my post, he said exactly what I was trying to say. Stand up for love.

I’m working on crafting a statement of non-violence for our coalition. We can’t sink to the fascists’ level. We have a right to defend ourselves but if the alt-right is not actually using violence and we are, it just makes Donald Trump (God, I hate to say this) appear to be right. We have love on our side. We don’t need smoke bombs. If you want to wear a mask, that’s your choice. But I hope you will stand proudly as my ally and willingly be counted. Dr. King didn’t wear a mask, but the people he marched against did.

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#PowerToThePeaceful

Postscript: It’s an important point that I, as a privileged white person, can walk away from the anti-racism struggle when I need a break from it. People of color cannot.

The Need to Work

June 22, 2017

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It was a blessing in disguise. My paternity leave from Portland State University was involuntarily extended thanks to a bizarre collaboration between a clinically psychotic felon and a couple of administrators with a clear agenda. That time away from full-time work has allowed be to help my daughter transition from a baby into a little person. It’s also allowed me to publish a book, teach on a tropical island, write this weekly blog, start a podcast, and “man” the homefront while my wife advances in the work world. And I got to be home with Cozy from the first gurgle to her saying things like “Let’s check it out,” and “I ran like a cheetah.” It’s been a beautiful experience filled with art, adventure, and great love.

And now it’s time for it to end.

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The truth is I’ve been looking for work ever since I jumped off the gangplank at PSU. But I had a nice cushion made up of a settlement, savings, some publishing money, and a perfect collection of rare Avengers and Hulk comic books that now (sadly) belong to someone else. A $50,000 loan from my retirement was going to get us through to my next gig. Now, suddenly, I can see the bottom of the well. The money is about gone. Invest the last bucket in Powerball tickets?

Two years ago I thought I could just make a local lateral transition. There was a visiting professorship at Reed College (they wanted a quantitative methods teacher and I’m a qualitative schmoe) and a tenure-track gig at the University of Portland (they could have me but only with my tenure). I was sad but not shocked when those didn’t pan out. (They must not have known how awesome I was.) So I branched out and got an interview at CUNY in Manhattan and then a second interview with the provost. (I must have asked for too much money for that one.) What seemed like it would be a relatively smooth “mid-career” move looked increasingly more and more difficult. On top of the fact that universities are replacing tenure-line professorships with the academic slave-labor known as “adjuncts” and “on-line education,” the person that was applying was me, and, according the rumor mill, I have baggage.

What started off as a few disheartening roadblocks became dozens of rejections. Some positions I was a stretch to qualify for. (I would have made an awesome dean at Eastern Oregon University.) Some positions I was definitely an over-qualified candidate. (After my great interview, nobody could tell me why I didn’t get the job teaching Intro Sociology at Green River Community College.) Some jobs would have pushed me out of my comfort zone. (Oh, how I wanted to be the new executive director of Caldera Arts.) And some jobs were tailor-made for my experience and skills. (Whoever ends up being the new Diversity Program Specialist for the Portland Police, I challenge you to an equity duel.)

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Why am I not getting these jobs? You’d think people would want an award-winning professor, published in his field, with a long record of community service, who is likely quoted in your copy of the New York Times or making points on CNN while you’re on the treadmill. Are all the other candidates that much better? Or is something else going on?

I left PSU under a cloud of suspicion. It’s no secret that there were a few higher-ups that had it in for me. They were fueled by the rumor and innuendo that I was some type of campus playboy. A old bogus post on an internet gossip site that had a picture of me with my girlfriend of almost three years and the assertion that she “slept with me for an A” gave them additional ammo. There was never anything of the sort ever in my academic career. No human can say they got any special treatment in any of my classes for anything. But when gossip rules, you can’t win. (Hillary Clinton, I feel your pain.)

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Then a “former racist skinhead” named Steven Stroud decided he was going to try everything he could think of to attack me for some perceived slight that existed in his psychotic mind. He began writing numerous letters from his prison cell to the university, accusing me of everything under the sun. Out of pure luck, he finally hit on one thing these powerful few could use.

My crime: My wife was a former student.

That’s all it took. Forget that Andrea and I were consenting adults. Forget that she was the one who first asked me me out (after the class had ended). That was it. I had signed an agreement five years earlier that I would never date a PSU student after a stalker went all Basic Instinct on me and it was a quick way to resolve the matter. Now the torches were relit. They even traveled out to Eastern Oregon to visit this guy in prison to see if there were any more salacious details he could add to their “case.” They were giddy.

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I have zero regrets about my relationship with Andrea. We are incredibly happy and more in love every day. And that love produced our beautiful daughter. Cozy is the sun my little planet was destined to revolve around. She will change history. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. My only regret is that I quickly settled my lawsuit against the university. I had the moral high ground and could have won, especially if I took the story to my colleagues, students, and the general public. But we had a new baby and I was scared I would burn up our nest egg on lawyer fees while they used tuition and taxpayer dollars to fund their highly skilled legal team. I settled and thought I could just leave my academic home of twenty years and move on.

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Now over two years later it feels like I have been blacklisted; that the rumor-mongers are still waging their campaign against me. I need to work. The loan has to be repaid, the mortgage is due, and my daughter deserves the life I waited 50 years to give her. (I was one of those people who said, for decades, “I can’t have children, I’m not financially stable enough!”) She is so excited to exist in this world, I should be able to give her some security (although I will be eternally grateful to WIC for making sure my child at least had $8 worth of fruits and vegetables each month). This kid already deserves more than I will be able to give her.

So here’s the deal: I’m a passionate worker with a PhD. from Emory University and a long employment record. My last full time salary was $82,000 for a 9-month contract. I will work for less than that, but it’s gotta cover the bills. And I need benefits. Republicans  have made it clear they want to kill the Affordable Care Act which, at the moment, provides health care to my family. We’d like to stay in Portland but for a decent job we’ll move to Arkansas and just annoy the locals by playing Bikini Kill and drawing Hitler mustaches on Trump posters.

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I was an awesome professor. There’s plenty of people who will tell you that my classes at Portland State changed lives. I’d like a job that makes the world a better place. If you can convince me that selling vacuum cleaners can do that, I’ll listen. But it’s time for me to get back to work. My family is depending on me.

Please share this with anyone who might be able to help. References and my mother’s secret cheesecake recipe available on request. Email: blazakr@gmail.com

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Obama has been to the mountain top (and so have we)

January 13, 2017

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I’ve been thinking about what to write this week as Portland has been buried under a record snowstorm. The most accumulation since the winter of 1943, when America was at war with fascists and emperors. (Insert joke about contemporary fascist emperor wannabes here.) I was thinking about a passionate defense of Donald J. Trump’s right to engage in golden showers with other consenting adults, but I kept getting that Frank Zappa song about not eating yellow snow stuck in my head. Maybe after things melt around here. (And the Russian video comes out. Will Billy Bush be in it?)

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Watching Obama’s farewell speech this week was such an emotional passing. It’s been a tortured presidency, scandal free and full of class and poise, but marked with so many “You almost did it” moments. You almost closed Guantanamo. You almost created a health care coverage system that all Americans saw as better than the previous mess. You almost ended the war in Afghanistan. You almost created a national dialogue on race that conservative white people felt invited to. You almost shut Trump up for good.

Of course there have been a ton of accomplishments, too long to list here. People seem to forget that eight years ago, we were in the Great Recession, headed straight for another Great Depression. Unemployment was skyrocketing and the stock market was plummeting and the value of my house fell by over 50%. One of my colleagues was set to retire in 2008 and cash in his 401K. He couldn’t. Obama’s risky moves got the economy (and the American car industry) back on track. My home equity is above where it was and the predatory lenders have been banished from the hood. Whew!

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But for every drop in the mortgage foreclosure rate there’s been another drone attack, often involving civilian casualties (aka, somebody else’s kids) and peaceniks debate whether bombs in the sky are better than boots on the ground. Obama’s gotten hell from the left for being too friendly with Wall Street and gotten hell from the right being a big government socialist. And then there are Trump’s racist alt-right gang that think he’s a Kenyan Muslim who is married to an orangutang and wants to institute “Sharia Law” across the country. Whatever happened to those nut jobs. Oh…

This week I just find myself flashing back to 2008. I was leading discussions in my Contemporary Theory class at PSU about which Democratic candidate was more in line with core feminist values, Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I made the case for Obama because, like radical feminists might, he argued we should talk to our adversaries instead of bombing them; that Clinton was falling for a liberal feminist hang-up by trying to “out-male” the hawkish males in Washington. (On a side-note: doesn’t Mitt Romney seem like a completely competent commander-in-chief compared to the buffoon coming in?)

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The fall of 2008 offered so much promise; an end to the Iraq War and a return to proven Democratic economic policies. A moment in history when The White House, built by slaves, could be occupied by highly qualified black man. It was a stunning prospect. A true moment to transform the country and repair some of the cracks in our national mirror. To see ourselves as better people than we were. I needed to mark the moment in some Northwestern fashion.

So on September 11th, I took a solo hike up to the top of Mt. Saint Helens (elevation: 8,366 feet). I was going through my own transition as my marriage was ending and I was thinking some of that hope and change might rub off on me. I had never made the climb and really had no idea how treacherous it was. The day I went up, a climber fell in the boulder field and had to be airlifted out. The following week a climber was standing on the rim at the summit when the volcano rumbled. He fell into the crevice and was killed. All I knew was I had to make it to the top to see what was on the other side.

It’s a four hour hike. The previous week, I thought I’d be a rebel and take the trail less traveled and ran into a black bear. So on 9/11 I went up the right way. An hour in the woods, an hour in the boulders, and two hours up the volcanic ash, two steps forward and one sliding back in the grey powder left over from the great eruption. That climb would become of metaphor for the next eight years. This includes a shrinking supply of fresh water from the melting glaciers on the way up.

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I spent some time at the top, admiring the view and looking over my cheap hiking boots at the tortured route to the summit. I asked another hiker to take my picture with my “Oregon for Obama” t-shirt and extreme hat-hair. I made it and so did we. Now whenever I see Mt. Saint Helens on a clear day, including in the winter when it’s covered and snow, I think, “Yeah, I made my way up there and stood on top. The journey made me a better person.”

Congratulations, President Obama. You made it to the top. And we are all better people because you did.

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