Making Gumbo

Tue, 17 Jan 2017

The Bottom: Howard Owen’s Willie Black Mystery

   

    Love mysteries? Just like to read a mystery every now and then?  Doesn’t matter; if you haven’t already, you need to pick up Howard Owen’s Willie Black mysteries.  I have been a big fan since the first one was published; the award winning “Oregon Hill.” I have just finished the fourth, “The Bottom” which is a breathtaking read.                 

    Willie Black is a jaded, almost alcoholic, chain smoking, but for a good woman is working toward personal redemption, dogged, newspaper man.  In the city of Richmond, VA, Willie Black has a nose for gritty news which almost always involves unsolved murders that he tries to solve as a journalist no matter that the pursuit puts him at risk of losing his job, and sometimes puts his friends and family members in danger.  His almost uncanny ability to find people who will talk only to him is due in part to his long history in the city and to his being mixed race in a city that still has racial borders. 

    A former newspaper sports editor himself, Howard Owen writes these Willie Black mysteries with an insider’s understanding of modern newspapers and the challenges those newspapers face from waning readerships because of the influence of the internet.  Filled with memorable characters like Awesome-Dude, the novels are written in language that is concise and hardboiled, with a rough, sometimes poetic eloquence that makes the story sing with humanity and unexpected, but welcome, humor. 

     I cannot recommend the Willie Black mysteries more highly. 


posted by Rupert  |   8:53 PM  |   0 comments
Sun, 08 Jan 2017

A Diversity Doctor?

   

 

    If you have read the cover of my newest book “Taking on Diversity” you will have noticed that the subtitle is “A Diversity Doctor’s Best Lessons from the Campus.”  I did not choose that subtitle nor did I suggest the moniker of “Diversity Doctor.”  Prometheus Books, my publishing house decided on that way of marketing the book. I feel a pinch every time I read “…diversity doctor.”

Even so, it seems to help people pin down the point of my book.  Here for example is an excerpt from a very recent review of “Taking on Diversity.” 

 A Diversity Doctor’s Best Lessons from the Campus; Book Review By Kathy-Anne Jordan, .Ed.D, is Associate professor of education at Mercy College in New York.

 “In Taking on Diversity, Rupert W. Nacoste examines the struggles and emotions related to our encounters and interactions with diverse others and provides strategies to facilitate peaceful intergroup relations. Neodiversity is the term he uses to describe the various social markers of difference—race, class, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and so on—that we encounter on a daily basis and the anxiety that often results from interacting with others who vary from us in terms of one or more of these markers. Neodiversity, then, not only describes the current social landscape, it refers to our encounters with difference across a variety of contexts, and therefore requires that we learn how to adapt; specifically, it requires change in how we think about and respond to diversity.    

     At a time when students on college campuses across the United States are posting photos of themselves in Blackface, and college administrators are responding to an overall increase in racial incidents and protests, Nacoste’s work provides a valuable contribution to a much-needed conversation on race and underscores the importance of teaching young people how to accept and respect, rather than simply tolerate, diverse others

    Nacoste’s approach to teaching has earned him the respect of his students because it is infused with passion, life experiences, and personal values; he also provides a safe space for honest, open dialogue, which is extremely important in a classroom of over fifty neodiverse students discussing sensitive topics. In his course on interpersonal relationships and race, [along with the social psychology] students learn historical truths about America’s racial past, which replace the sanitized and “sales pitch” versions of American history—commonly taught in middle and high schools—that breed ignorance, insensitivity, and intolerance.

     In preparing his students for the neodiversity that confronts them, Nacoste teaches them about the social psychology of interpersonal/intergroup dynamics; they learn to evaluate and respond more effectively to the intergroup tensions that emerge when people from different backgrounds interact with each other. Through first-person narratives included within each of the eight chapters, the book offers a brief, but candid glimpse into the minds of young people as they struggle to understand and resolve the dilemmas of diversity within their own lives. Although the work mainly focuses on the experiences of college students, readers will immediately recognize that the book offers useful insights that can benefit all of us.”

 That review really captures the heart of my book.  Even so, I am not a “diversity doctor.”

 I am a social psychologist.

 See, I just can’t let it go.        

 You can find the complete review in Global Education Review, 3 (4). 176-177 which you can access here: http://ger.mercy.edu/index.php/ger/article/viewFile/337/232


posted by Rupert  |   8:33 PM  |   0 comments
Sun, 08 Jan 2017

Underground Airlines: An American Horror Story

Underground Airlines is an American horror story.

 Imagine the horror of an America that still has slave-states in the age of the internet, cell phones and I-phones. What would that look like? 

 As Ben Winters imagines, that would be an America with the “Hard-Four.”  Four states of the “united” States where enslavement of black people is legal. In Mr. Winter’s imagination, to end the Civil War that would be an America that capitulated to the interests of slaveholding states.  And that capitulation would come in the form of a constitutional amendment protecting slaveholding in those states forever.

 What would that mean?  How would that work?  As Ben Winters imagines, that would be an America with hard borders between slave-holding and slavery-illegal states of the “United” States.

 How would that feel?  As Ben Winters imagines, that would be an America where enslaved human beings did not all accept their lot; some would be angry and always trying to escape to a non-slavery state.  Victor, a black man and a slave bounty hunter describes it this way:

 “When I looked up again at the people… going about their bustling midday business, shopping and eating and chatting, I did not see the white people, only the black: and as I watched I swore I could see fumes rising from [the black peoples} mouths—fumes rolling out of their mouths like exhaust, and I would see that every black person had the same small cloud of angry smoke coming out of his or her mouth and nose, a haze rolling off the street like exhaust, filling the air, the white people breathing all that and not knowing it.”

 Underground Airlines is a reminder of what as a nation we avoided by defeating an inhuman, inhumane impulse.  But it is also a novel that points to the unavoidable and real legacies of our nation’s history of having once enslaved human beings.  This well written, compelling, mystery novel, points to the real leftovers from slavery; an American psychology filled with racial stereotypes and irrational fear that continues to hibernate in our nation.

 Ben Winters main character, Victor, is a black man caught in the system, and used as a slave catcher.  At one point that character has a revelation about segregation.  He thinks to himself

“It took me some time but I know the secret now.  Freedman Town [a city ghetto] serves a good purpose—not for the people who live there, Lord knows; people stuck there by poverty, by prejudice, by laws that keep them from moving or working.  Freedman Town’s purpose is for the rest of the world.  The world that sits… with dark glasses on, staring from a distance, scared but safe. Create a pen like [Freedman Town], give people no choice but to live like animals, and then people get to point at them and say ‘Will you look at those animals? That’s what kind of people those people are. And that idea drifts up and out of Freedman Town like chimney smoke; black gets to mean poor and poor to mean dangerous and all the words get murked together and become one dark idea, a cloud of smoke, the smokestack fumes drifting like filthy air across the rest of the nation.”

 Appearing now, with all the racial, intergroup, neo-diversity, turmoil of our time, Ben Winters’ novel is a clarion call to all of us to pay attention.  Pay attention because there but for the moral thinking and actions of American heroes, there goes a horror-story-America with the “hard-four.”  Especially today, in the continuing struggle, pay attention, because right now too many in America are leaning toward accepting their-own psychological enslavement.

 


posted by Rupert  |   8:13 PM  |   0 comments
Sun, 08 Jan 2017

Transgender in the Light of Our Humanity

   

    I have not read a more human story than that in the novel “Documenting Light” by E. E. Ottman.  Two people meet, are attracted but scared by that attraction to each other.  Both are, at first, afraid to reveal their true selves.

    They are a self described “…nonbinary, feminine, trans-person.”

     He is a self-described “…regular old trans dude.”

     Brought together by the mystery of the apparent intimacy of a photograph of two men, they begin to work together to figure out the history and the nature of the relationship of those two men. Searching into an undocumented, queer, past, that search is really a search to see themselves in history.   

    “It was odd when he stopped to think about it, to never see yourself reflected in history, to have no history, to have no sense of yourself in time. The idea that you could be linked to others across time and space based on shared experience—it had always seemed that it didn’t apply to people like him.”

     Soft and quiet, through the developing relationship we are watching form between Grayson and Wyatt, we are taken into the hidden-history idea.  A novel of romance yes, but “Documenting Light” is a novel about how the history we are taught is incomplete by intention; incomplete on purpose

    “What gets taught at anything lower than a three-hundred-level college course is very political. You were never taught queer history because there are people with a vested interest in you not learning queer history. But the same can be said for race history—of all sorts—and most gender history too, not to mention disability history. We don’t learn it, not because historians don’t study it but because the people who make the decision about what goes into history textbooks aren’t fans.”

 There’s that to contemplate.  But that hidden-history idea comes to life through Grayson and Wyatt’s human struggle to connect; to feel a belonging to, and with, another person; with each other. Searching out the mystery of the photograph, admitting to each other and giving into their attraction, the story becomes one about a transcendent relationship. 

 As I was taken in by their story, I realized I was reading and watching a deep, yet everyday intimacy develop between these two people.

     “’….afterward, you want to grab dinner.’ Wyatt tried their best to keep their tone casual, like it was no big deal even, though their pulse stuttered with the possibility of a yes.

    ‘I think that would be great.’ Grayson hesitated for a moment.  ‘Like a date?’

    ‘Yes, like a date.’

    Grayson smiled, wide and bright, down at his hands. Wyatt smiled too.”

     Here was a story of a growing intimacy between two people, each who had long unfulfilled relationship hope and desire, finally moving toward fulfillment.  Feeling their fragile intimacy grow sturdy, my eyes grew misty; my being ached.

      But I did not sympathize with their struggles with being different in our world. I did not sympathize with Grayson and Wyatt’s stumbles as they tried to connect to each other against all odds. I felt no sympathy. Instead, I experienced a deep empathy as their story reminded me of my own relationship hopes and desires that have gone unfulfilled.

    As a social psychologist, relationships are what I study and analyze in order to teach and explain the dynamics to all who struggle. I do that work with intense drive; just ask my students.  I do my work with a fierce hope of helping others figure out healthy ways to find what Grayson and Wyatt found in the misty, foggy, dizzying world of all our vulnerable human sexuality; in the misty, foggy, dizzying longing for a connection to another.

     I was moved by the story of the emerging relationship of Grayson and Wyatt who, as we all will do, were walking in the misty, foggy, dizzying world of our vulnerable humanity.  I was moved by these two people trying to find each other, because their struggle was showing what I truly believe and teach…

 …That relationships are our highest striving; that the attempt to find true connection with another is what makes us most human, and that that struggle is worth it

Find and read “Documenting Light.”  You will see humanity. You will be uplifted.

 This review was originally published on the website of the North Carolina State University Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity: https://oied.ncsu.edu/home/2016/11/10/transgender-in-the-light-of-our-humanity-book-review/

 You can find “Documenting Light” by EE Ottman as an e-book here: http://www.brainmillpress.com/books/documenting-light/


posted by Rupert  |   8:06 PM  |   0 comments
Fri, 22 Nov 2013

A Who Dat From “The Technician”

    About a month after receiving the Chancellor’s call and letter, I received official notice from the UNC-System Board of Governors.  Now I could tell my colleagues, students, the whole campus.  Starting in the just past Fall semester, I had been working very closely with the editors of the Technician. In fact, already this Spring-semester, those editors had published one of my guest columns, “A wake up call to neo-diversity gumbo.”

 The Technician

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 12:11 am

Rupert W. Nacoste, Ph.D., Guest Columnist |

     I am a Louisiana black-Creole from the bayous.  Just think swamps, alligators, crawfish and gumbo and you get the right picture, and if your imagination is really good, the right smells.

     Delta Upsilon Fraternity had a gumbo gathering on Jan. 16. One of their member’s families is from Slidell, La. and he made gumbo. With his gumbo, he represented my “…who dat” nation very well.

     So no, I didn’t cook. I was there to lead a discussion of neo-diversity. You see, we no longer live in a society where our racial contacts are controlled and restricted by law. Not only that, but nowadays, every day, on the N.C. State campus each of us has some occasion to interact with a person from another racial, gender, ethnic, religious or sexually oriented group. That’s true all over the United States.

     Using some words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I introduced the idea of neo-diversity and got the fifty-five or so students talking. To help our fellow Wolfpackers understand how much and how fast things have changed I let them know that I, a dark-skinned black man, grew up in the Jim Crow South – that time of legal segregation and legally supported bigotry. We have gone from that to neo-diversity where our racial contact and interactions are not controlled by law or anything else. We have gone from that to the second inauguration of a black, racially-mixed man: President Barack Hussein Obama.

     This neo-diversity has come to America quickly. That is causing some people to panic and try to avoid everyday social interactions on our campus. So, I challenged the students to learn to interact across the superficial group lines. Learn now because when you leave this campus, employers are looking for people who can do that. But learn it now, I said, because everybody here at NCSU is Wolfpack.

     WOLF! PACK!

     Though it’s fun, that cheer is empty if you don’t mean everybody on our campus. Wherever we are in America, we have to learn to interact with each other as individuals, not as representatives of a group. If you try to interact with someone as a representative of a group, that interaction will go bad because your strategy will require that you rely on stereotypes. And no person is going to respond kindly when they feel you aim a stereotype at them. In this age of neo-diversity we all have to learn to interact with the person standing in front of us and not with our ideas about the group.

     That night at Delta Upsilon I felt good because everybody seemed to be willing to engage in dialogue and take on new thoughts. For an hour we had a good time, but I had to bring things to a close because my old knees were telling me to go home. 

     Many students came up to me to thank me for coming, talking and making it fun. One young white woman was struggling to find the words to thank me. “Thanks,” she said, “that was…that was…” Someone else standing there said, “…compelling.” The young woman who was struggling shook her head and said, “…no…yes it was that…but it was…a wake-up call.” 

     That’s why I give talks and presentations about neo-diversity. I do what I can to get every audience to wake up and see our neo-diverse America. I want everyone to wake up to the fact that America just ain’t what it used to be. I want all of us to wake-up, acknowledge and appreciate our wonderful, American neo-diverse gumbo.

    *****

     Given my strong relationship with the editors, with a copy of the Board of Governor’s official letter I sent word to the editors of our school newspaper The Technician. I was blown away by the editorial they wrote that week.  Part of what they said was:

     In addition to his academic achievements, Nacoste is a strong supporter of civil rights and social justice. His research on interpersonal relationships and modern racial tensions has led him to publish multiple essays on what he calls “neo-diversity.” His classes, often called tough or intense, include his thoughts on the false claim that we live in a post-racist United States, and he challenges his students to confront prejudice on campus and within their personal lives. He seeks to genuinely educate students about these tough topics.

     “Wherever we are in America, we have to learn to interact with each other as individuals, not as representatives of a group,” Nacoste recently wrote in a guest column in Technician.

     “If you try to interact with someone as a representative of a group, that interaction will go bad because your strategy will require that you rely on stereotypes.”

     We greatly respect Nacoste and completely support the Board of Governors in their decision to recognize him with this award. He is a model of both academic excellence — through the respect he garners from students — and civil rights activism — through his willingness to promote diversity and thoughtfully discuss hard topics.

    So Nacoste, this goes out to you. Who Dat?

Wow!


posted by Rupert  |   8:54 PM  |   0 comments
Sat, 16 Nov 2013

Board of Governors Teaching Award Phone Call

Just after the Spring-2013 semester got started, I walked into my office on the morning of January 11, 2013.  My desk phone message light was blinking which always irritates me.  So early in the semester, this could only be one of two irritating things; a student confused about something with an obvious, on the syllabus answer, or a student wanting into one of my classes which at that point is impossible. Either way… irritating.

Rather than let it blink for hours, as I have in the past, I decided to just hear the irritating message.  I hit the button.  A voice said, “Good afternoon Dr. Nacoste.  This is Chancellor Woodson. It is my pleasure to inform you that I am forwarding your teaching portfolio to the Board of Governors as our campus winner of the Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award…”

I sat at my desk holding my head.

Chancellor Randy Woodson went on to inform me that for reasons of protocol I could not yet tell anyone that I won.  He apologized for leaving a phone message, but I knew that was unavoidable given how hard it would have been to coordinate our schedules given the demands on his time and my own schedule.  He had called during one of my classes.

Chancellor Woodson also let me know that now that he had left this message, the formal letter would be brought to me. That letter would give me the details of all that had been set in motion because I had won the highest teaching award given by the university.

A lot of stuff was about to start happening.  I was to attend and be the speaker for the luncheon at the Office of Faculty Development Teaching and Learning Symposium.  I was invited to attend the Chancellor’s Celebration of Faculty Excellence Dinner.  In front of 20,000 people I would be formally presented the award at the Spring Commencement where I would join the Chancellor on the platform along with “other” dignitaries.  And then there was the thing that caught me off guard. The letter said:

The awarding of the BOG Award for Excellence in Teaching is also celebrated by the lighting of the Belltower.

What? Really?

You have to understand.  On the North Carolina State University campus the belltower is an icon.  It is lit red only under very special circumstances; winning a basketball game, a football game, winning a national championship.  When it is lit red, students, alumni, fans of the university drive by and blow their car horns, over and over.

Now I learned it would be lit red for me as the campus winner of the BOG Award for Excellence in Teaching.  I found that to be the thing that made me giddy.  What?  Wow!

 


posted by Rupert  |   8:54 PM  |   0 comments
Sun, 10 Nov 2013

Teaching Award Preparation

I have had a very successful career as a professor.  One of the things I am known for is my teaching. So, on the campus of North Carolina State University I am asked to give teaching workshops.  “Neo-Diversity in the Classroom: Creating A Safe-Space” is a workshop I did in February 28, 2013. In that workshop I showed how I and any professor can create a safe-space in the classroom.  Especially in the context of my confrontational teaching style, some of my colleagues wonder how I can do both; be so challenging and have students feel safe to ask questions, and give opinions during class discussions. So in a way I should not have been surprised by the question.

All throughout my workshop presentation, I took questions about the specific point I was making, and then at the end I took general questions from the faculty and staff who had come out.  An African-American faculty colleague put her hand up and said: “You really challenge your students on diversity issues, but yet you have a large following of white students. How do you pull that off?” I was surprised but not put off by the racial bluntness of the question. I took a moment then I took time to give an extended answer to that question. But there is really only one thing going on.  I am a day-breaker.

Just the week before that workshop, I was allowed to let people know I had won.  Fall-2012, my department and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences had nominated me for the University of North Carolina System-Board of Governors Award For Excellence In Teaching. Quite an honor to be nominated for sure, but for me quite a lot of work too. As classes for the semester were ending December 2012, in addition to dealing with final exams, final papers, and grading, I was putting together my teaching portfolio that the evaluation process required. I had help; no one is an island. With the assistance and sometimes prodding of my young colleague, Dr. Anne McLaughlin, I got the portfolio done and in on time.  I was exhausted but happy with every component.  Thankfully, Fall-semester was over and I had no plans to travel over the Christmas holiday.

 


posted by Rupert  |   10:56 PM  |   0 comments