Making Gumbo

Wed, 28 Jun 2017

Jam on the Vine






We are not the first generation of Americans to be fighting to claim the rights of full citizenship.

Yet, I know that right now some are struggling with the question of “how” to work for change against what may sometimes feel like insurmountable odds. I know that is a struggle because young people ask me for guidance; what can I do Dr. Nacoste?

 I just finished reading an important novel; “Jam on the Vine,” by LaShonda K. Barnett. A story of “colored people” in Jim-Crow East Texas, that begins in 1897.  Our heroine, Ivoe, is a curious, intelligent child.

 “After May-Belle, Papa and them, Ivoe loved books best. Books were a friend to anyone who opened them.”

 Her eargerness to read, her intelligence noticed and encouraged by a teacher, and through the help of people in her community Ivoe gets and takes a chance on education beyond high school. Narrow though that education was for a black woman, Ivoe learned all she could.  Later, beyond that education, strong willed and focused Ivoe eventually founded one of the early newspapers of the black press (really only a newsletter at first

But this is no fairy-tale. For Ivoe, even finding romantic love was a risky long shot. But Ivoe does find it with another woman, Ona, who became Ivoe’s hope, challenger, friend, co-worker, companion and lover. About Ivoe’s ambitions to make a difference, Ona has the insight that “…a dream without love is the most dangerous weapon in the world.”

 Ivoe ‘s family was her first emotional foundation. Her parents were firm, loving and imperfect. Lemon, her mother, a Muslim-African who early on cleans houses for a white family, but ends up developing her own business cooking tomato and fig jams. Ennis, Ivoe’s father, is a big, dark-skinned man who works as an iron-smith, dotes on his children (Ivoe, Timbo her borther, Irabelle her sister). Ennis, though, grows weary of Jim-Crow and leaves the family in the hope (futile in that time) of finding a better place for them in America

You see, Ivoe’s world is disheartening, vulgar, with vicious racial hate around every corner. Ivoe has to live through and see too much inequality and hot, violent, racial-hate aimed at black people. As she begins her work, Ivoe herself is accosted and beaten by police for what she writes in her newspaper.

 Yet with her education and focus, through it all, Ivoe finds a role; she finds a way to be of some use; she finds her voice.  That is what makes the novel more than a novel. Lyrical in the writing, strong, vivid, heart wrenching and compelling in the storytelling, profound it the racial history of America it reviews, this book becomes a call to us all.

Find your way to make a difference in our difficult days. And no, we should not all be doing the same things at the same time. As was true in Ivoe’s time, many different hands are needed to make the work effective, to change the story we are living.

 In that way, Ivoe’s story can be a motivator. Ivoe’s story, you see, is an example. Yes, this is a fiction, but a fiction crafted from our American history in which strong and determined persons found ways to make a positive difference.

 Ivoe’s story shows that even in the darkest hours of America’s racial nightmare, there was something that could be done. Many different people found large and small roles to participate in working for social justice

 We are still in the fight. There is still much work to do. For a little motivation read “Jam on the Vine.”

posted by Rupert  |   5:56 PM  |   0 comments
Thu, 22 Jun 2017

Teaching about neo-diversity matters





2006 is the year I coined the concept of neo-diversity. And that year was the first year I began teaching my course the is grounded by and centered on the idea of neo-diversity; this time, circumstance where in America we all have to encounter and interact with people not like us on some dimension.  Attached to the concept is the idea that neo-diversity can cause interpersonal anxiety that can become volatile.

 What difference does my course make in the lives of my students?  June 2017, a student wrote to me to tell me.  She wrote:

 For me, your course truly opened my eyes. I was aware of hate acts occurring across the nation- I would witness them myself, experience the hate, or see it on the news. But I viewed this all with such a tunnel vision. I saw these hate acts as isolated events and foolishly taught that only racists or extremists committed these acts. And as a result, though these events would upset me, I did not take them as seriously and view them as being detrimental to our society. Your class changed me to having more of a funnel view.  Becoming aware of why bigotry still exists really altered my perspective. Besides helping me in my own life, understanding hibernating bigotry in a neo-diverse America has reinforced why [incidents of bigotry like the lynching of a black teddy bear outside of a high school] should be taken very seriously.”

 Turns out, teaching about neo-diversity does matter. Here is a link to my full Psychology-Today essay on that point:

posted by Rupert  |   8:47 PM  |   0 comments
Mon, 19 Jun 2017

Juneteenth 2017


Juneteenth; in Texas, in 1865, the newly freed from enslavement began to celebrate their Emancipation on June 19th.

June 19, 2017, I gave the Juneteenth Celebration Lecture for the NCSU African American Faculty and Staff Organization.

I told the story of my parents who were born into Jim-Crow, legal racial segregation and sharecropping; my father, Mr. O-geese Nacoste in 1918 and my mother Mrs. Ella (Malveaur) Nacoste in 1922. I told their story of living, surviving, thriving and raising and educating their children in the midst of hard, lawful but immoral, racism.

 Yet, they thrived; I and my siblings are the evidence. That is what Juneteenth is to celebrate; the legacy of a strong, determined people.

 But Juneteenth was always more than a celebration of Emancipation. Henry Louis Gates points out that Juneteenth was a celebration yes, but also a moment to be used “…for measuring progress against freedom and inculcating rising generations with the values of self-improvement and racial uplift.”

 Look, I know, we all can see that right now we are in the midst of difficult days. But that is not new.

 In 1968, Dr. King told us to get ready for these days; he said… “We’ve got some difficult days ahead.”  Dr. King said that in 1968 to warn us against complacency.  He also said: “We are in a battle… for the soul of America.

 No matter whether you are black, white, mixed, GLBT, Latino-Hispanic, woman or man, Muslim or Christian, gamer or cosplayer, for all who believe in human rights, in equal justice, we all have a role to play in the struggle.

Juneteenth is a reminder that the work continues and that we shall overcome because of the example of the legacy of strong and determined peoples.

Find your role. Seize the time.

posted by Rupert  |   11:47 PM  |   0 comments
Sun, 04 Jun 2017

#RespectDiversity/Bill Maher is no George Carlin

Bill Maher is supposed to be a comedian, but he’s no George Carlin.

 I have never liked Bill Maher as a comedian, nor as a wanna-be political thinker. I have always felt that his so-called political comedy is mean-spirited. Now, Mr. Maher has shown himself to be just another American who has been seduced into participating in the epidemic of casual use of anti-group slurs. As a joke, he called himself a “house-nigger.” In no way was that funny, satirical or innocent.

There are no innocent racial slurs.

There are no innocent gender-identity slurs.

There are no innocent religious slurs.

There are no innocent mental-health-condition slurs.

 But in today’s 21st century, it’s all good, people say. Yet, no, it’s not all good.

 I will not listen to any comedian whose “comedy” relies of anti-group language and stereotypes. I will not let that disrespect into my psychology. Too many of us do, not realizing that when we do, we let slip the dogs of war into the psychology of our everyday lives.

 Language-bigotry is a havoc ripping apart the fabric of America. We cannot respect each other with all the everyday (private and public) use of anti-group slurs.

 About Bill Maher’s language behavior, some have asked, “…what’s the big deal?  There are black people who call each other “nigger” why can’t a white man use the word?” 

 Turns out, no matter whose mouth it comes out of, no matter the color of that person’s skin, the use of the slur “nigger” or “nigga” is the language of hate and discrimination.  Over and over again, in my books, in my essay writing for Psychology-Today, I have made that point.  Until I can no longer use my voice, I will make and defend that truth.

 “It’s still the language of hate and put down”:

 “To Chet (son of Tom) Hanks: No innocent racial slurs”:


posted by Rupert  |   8:44 PM  |   0 comments
Thu, 01 Jun 2017

What is the price of getting away from it all?





    “Time amid the silence of nature, in other words, makes you smarter.” (Michael Finkle)

     At some point in life, many say they just want to get away from it all; people and all that. But what would that really take?  What would that really mean?  What would that really benefit the person?  “The Stranger in the Woods: The extraordinary story of the last true hermit,” by Michael Finkel takes on those question.

     At one point in telling the story of Charles Knight, Finkel writes:

     “Language and hearing are seated in the cerebral cortex… When one experiences silence, absent even reading, the cerebral cortex typically rests. Meanwhile, deeper and more ancient brain structures seem to be activated—the subcortical zones. People who live busy, noisy lives are rarely granted access to these areas. Silence, it appears, is not the opposite of sound. It is another world altogether, literally offering a deeper level of thought, a journey to the bedrock of the self.”

     “The Stranger in the Woods,” the story, is a compelling, intelligent, moving, intellectual, report on the questions of solitude based on the experiences of a man who lived in the woods of Maine, away from it all, unseen, unheard, untouched, by another human being for twenty-five years.

    Finkel observes:

     “At the end of a serene weekend [on a Maine pond] you can’t help but envision quitting your job and remaining there for life. Everyone dreams of dropping out of the world once in a while. Then you get in your car and drive back home.

    Charles Knight stayed… He followed a very strange calling and held true to himself more fully than most of us ever dare to. He clearly had no desire to be a part of our world.”

      I highly recommend this quick, profound meditation on the strength it takes to be truly alone and the benefits and costs that come with achieving that goal.

posted by Rupert  |   12:49 PM  |   0 comments
Fri, 05 May 2017

Yavapai College Students Review “Taking on Diversity”

I wrote “Taking on Diversity” because I believed I had something important to say to help American’s have productive intergroup conversations in these difficult times.

 Combining my life of work on diversity issues, with my expertise as a social psychologist and my use of that expertise to observe and analyze college students’ responses to social changes in America, I believed I had something important to say. I believed that what I had to say could help young people through our new difficult days of intergroup tension.

 After publishing “Taking on Diversity,” I have been waiting to learn if I was right. Here and there, I have gotten hints (through letters, emails and reviews) that my book helps. But yesterday, I got more than a hint.

 I received an email from Dr. Mark Shelley who teachings at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. At that community college, the students are mostly white, with a good representation of Hispanic people and some representation of American Indians.

 Being at the end of his semester, Dr. Shelley wrote to let me know that he had used my book in his “Race and Ethnic Relations” course. He wanted me to know that my book had been important as a tool in helping his students develop new thinking about intergroup issues in America. Mark showed me the truth of that by sending along some of his students written reactions to reading my book.

 From their final reflections about reading “Taking on Diversity,” here are a few examples of what his student’s wrote.

 –White male, mid-20s: “Taking on Diversity has definitely been a book that made me think, and this is thanks in large part to Nacoste’s unusual perspective as a social psychologist… Many of my pre-existing ideas have been challenged, and some of them discarded for a newer model, and this is the sort of book that I will be thinking about and processing for a long time to come.”

 -White female, late teens: I enjoyed this book. I found it easier to read than a regular textbook and was able to learn a lot of new ideas and concepts. I think it did change my outlook and made me realize how lightly racial slurs are thrown around. I find myself more aware of this in songs and in conversations I hear around me. Having more education now I will try to be more aware of stereotypes I have and try to not “go along” with others when they make racial jokes.

 -White male, early 20s: “This book has changed the way in which I view people. I used to make side remarks about people. But I have learned ways to communicate to others as anyone else, to not act differently if there is a person of a different race, and how I can control my social anxiety to allow myself to communicate with all people. Reading through the book, I found myself looking at certain things in my life, and made me to reexamine what I am doing with my life. I realized that I use to follow people, and still do today. This book has changed me in the way I think about certain situations, creating better outcomes. Nacoste helps his students in the classroom, as his book helps others look at themselves. “

 -60 year old male veteran: “I found Mr. Nacoste’s observations on White privilege refreshingly enlightening and will help me in developing interpersonal strategies for this area…. I had an appreciation of Mr. Nacoste’s coverage of “White privilege” because, like “racism,” I believe it is a hugely overused, misused and weaponized word and I’m worried that many younger people don’t understand this.”

 -White female, late teens: “The last nine chapters of Taking on Diversity were very intriguing and inspiring. I am sad this book has come to a close, however I know I will take the lessons I learned from it with me throughout my life. It has provided me with real life situations and scenarios that might occur in my personal life, and has shown me tools to use to improve those experiences…. As Nacoste says over and over, there are no innocent. Therefore, it is time to acknowledge our faults and come together in a unified neo-diverse world.”

 I responded to Dr. Shelley’s  email with this:

 “I am almost breathless. Your students really got my message. Wow… your students’ tone of sincerity in receiving the challenges of my book as an influence on their thinking…I am so gratified by that. And I am very thankful to you for giving my book a try in your class. You have my sincere thanks for using my book and for sending along your students comments. Oh my…”

 Having received that strong confirmation of my hope, I am even more hopeful about the impact my book can and will have.

posted by Rupert  |   8:06 PM  |   0 comments
Fri, 28 Apr 2017

My Spring-2017 “Interdependence and Race” (Psy 411) course at North Carolina State University





    People wonder, who signs up for my “Interdependence and Race” course? That course is really a course on intergroup dynamics in America caused by our growing neo-diversity. Race is only the starting point for understanding all of the (sexual orientation, gender-identity, ethnic, mental-health-condition, religious, political, bodily-condition) intergroup, intersectional tensions exploding in our nation. Who signs up for a course about that?

     Spring-2017 semester is at its end. On the last day, I give my final words to the class. After all that we have explored about the ways that America is struggling with its own neo-diversity, about the work that must be done to save the soul of America, I say:

    “From the kind of work that I have been doing for 40 years, you are now part of a new generation. And so I give your charge. As did John F. Kennedy, I declare to you on this day that the future of the change in America (and the world) is now part of your responsibilities; and part of your abilities. Using Kennedy’s words, I say,

      ‘Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.’

     Hold the torch high, because the blood done sign your name too.  Earn that… earn it…”

     Who has been in that course where we discuss and learn to analyze neo-diversity intergroup tensions? Well, it turns out that at NC State, a neo-diverse mix of the Wolfpack signs up. That is why I know, “…a change is gonna come.”

     For the first time ever, on the last day of the Spring-2017, after I gave my final words to the class, we took a class picture together to close out the course. Who signs up? Well like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words..

posted by Rupert  |   7:39 PM  |   0 comments