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102 4 BLACK SCHOLARS AND MEMORY IN THE AGE OF BLACK STUDIES A black student cannot merge “into the university scene” without consciously striving to forget his past. —William Sales, “Response to a ‘Negro Negative,’” Columbia Daily Spectator If our history has taught us anything, it is that action for change directed only against the external conditions of our oppressions is not enough. In order to be whole, we must recognize the despair oppression plants within each of us—that thin persistent voice that says our efforts are useless, it will never change, so why bother, accept it. —Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider My first tenure-track job was at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). I was in one of the most beautiful places in the country and in a first-rate department, but all wasn’t perfect. I was only an acting assistant professor, since I had yet to complete my dissertation. Although I was able to remove the “acting” from my title at the end of that first year, I began my professional academic career acutely aware of how tenuous things could be and that I needed to be mindful of doing all the right things (publish a lot, teach effectively, be a good citizen) if I were to earn tenure down the line. In my third year on the faculty, I was leading a lecture course on black politics in the twentieth century. Things were going well enough. My lecture notes, a mad improvisation the year before, were coming together nicely, Black Scholars and Memory / 103 and I even had a teaching assistant. In truth, I didn’t actually have an assistant , just an undergraduate who seemed to think that she was helping me out by actively supporting my comments. (It was still a small lecture class, and she could turn her chair around when she wanted, face the rest of the class, and underscore my points with her own. She also doled out unsolicited advice to her classmates.) Since I was still a new teacher and learning how to manage a lecture course, I was trying to find a way to offer my unofficial assistant some gentle, corrective advice about her contributions . Coincidentally, just when I was about to engage her in that uncomfortable conversation, she started accompanying me after class as I walked to my department, where I was about to hold office hours. We would talk the entire fifteen minutes it took to cover this ground, going over topics from the course, and beyond. I had to admit that she knew the material extremely well. These exchanges continued another week or so until we had what turned out to be our final conversation. We had arrived at the department, and I thought we were about to part company—she never actually came to my office hours, instead claiming my free time between the class and my office—when she said that she had an observation that she wanted to share with me. I had no idea where this was going but thought it would at least prove interesting, so I told her to go ahead. It turns out that her observation wasn’t about my lectures, the books I selected for the course, or the mixture of exams and papers I assigned. Rather, it was about my appearance and mannerisms. Apparently, my style of dress (in my opinion, pretty unremarkable: khakis and a button-down, long-sleeved shirt) and my way of talking (proper English?) made it seem like I was “trying too hard to appear legitimate.” I like to think I’m fairly good at masking my emotions, but I was completely unprepared for her comment. I was so taken aback that instead of biting my tongue—an instinct I had carefully cultivated in my adolescence— I responded acidly, “I actually like these clothes. This is how I speak. And, to be honest, I already thought I was legitimate.” For the first time since she started taking my course, I saw a flicker of uncertainty cross her face. She stammered a bit while saying, “But, Professor Holloway, you know what I mean, right?” Before turning to head upstairs to my office, I offered a fully loaded, quick reply: “Yes, I believe I do.” I lost my assistant that afternoon. She continued with the course and I’m sure she earned an A, but for lack of a better phrase, she kept to her place from that moment on. Given her “post-legitimacy...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469612546
Related ISBN
9781469610702
MARC Record
OCLC
856021380
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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