Making Gumbo

Archive for January, 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 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
Sunday, January 08, 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:

posted by Rupert  |   8:33 PM  |   0 comments
Sunday, January 08, 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
Sunday, January 08, 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:

 You can find “Documenting Light” by EE Ottman as an e-book here:

posted by Rupert  |   8:06 PM  |   0 comments