I love the American southwest. It’s been pulling at me ever since I discovered I had blood relatives there from my father’s side. Something I had somehow sensed all along but needed proof; and it may very well be where I eventually decide to retire. It’s the red soil. The mysterious yet beautiful desert landscape. All the mystical rumors we hear about that go back to Native American tribes and African cowboys who framed their windows in turquoise colors to ward off evil spirits. The finger-sized blue lizards that tag along old beaten down trucks. Never ending highways that disappear into the horizon. And that majestic blue sky hovering over stories of past discoveries, dusty adventures and escape from forced servitude. All this had been waiting for me, so I flew to New Mexico as soon as I made the chance happen.
Besides re-connecting with my peoples, I was learning the land that seemed to recognize my footprints. And this is where my story takes a turn towards the absurd. I had heard about the Atalaya trail and wanted to see for myself what it means to be so high up on sacred ground that you get nose bleeds. At the beginning or the end of the trail, depending on how you look at life, there was a college campus set amid the desert bushes and cactus trees. I got so distracted by it that I ended up walking towards the main building where bohemian-looking White students met me with surprised looks. I had already caught the welcome sign to St. John's College and assumed it was a Catholic school, but that was merely a formality. Like calling someone 'doctor' when they're really an educator. Other than the fact that the campus sits proudly on Atalaya grounds, a popular mountain trail overlooking Santa Fe, St. John's offers an interesting approach to learning whereas students don't necessarily take the standard liberal arts courses but instead are expected to write essays based on questions relating to classic European readings, with at least one mention of W.E.B. DuBois because, I was told, the famous African American historian had once visited the campus. I got the sense that the overall objective of the curriculum is to glorify Greek mythology while not preparing White students for the real world; a world that consists of different perspectives and skin complexions. Native American philosophy, for example, since the College already sits on stolen land, so that young Anglo scholars can learn to think outside of their privilege, outside of their bubble. Because when you place a kid in such confinement in an effort to provide him or her with the best education, you actually set them up for a rude awakening later on when they're forced to interact with people who could care less about Homer, since their definition of education is in learning how to interact in a multi-cultural society. And by the way, just so you know, Greek philosophy is based on African teachings. Pick up a book called Stolen Legacy by George G.M. James. As in most literary accomplishments and inventions by African and African Americans, it was first hidden from the public until a fair-minded British scholar let the black cat out the bag!
So where am I going with this? Well, I had just finished meeting a few cool young dudes who were fascinated by a live Black New Yorker when I noticed on one of the bulletin boards a loud sign advertising a slave auction. In a matter of seconds, I experienced what Dr. Joy Degruy calls post-slavery psychosis where a visual or word takes you right back to the scene of the crime. I did that thing Scooby Doo does whenever he's confronted with something he just doesn't get, or gets it and right away looks for the nearest exit-- Huh?!?! And I did look for the nearest exit. That's just generational survival instincts. Out of the five or six would be scholars, two of them had opted not to suddenly shy away and return to their routines. They quickly assured me that it was simply a play on words; that it's a dorm thing where students offer free labor, as in washing other students' cars or doing their laundry. Of course, this sounded like bubbleclop, to me. Because where I come from, that's called a ‘dolgier’ or a sucker. Or in the worse situation, prison time, and guess what? You're it! But when in Rome you try to remember you’re in Rome and not at home, so I chilled. It wasn't until the following day that I got a call from one of the students who expressed his displeasure with the whole matter after reconsidering the sign. He offered his apology for such an insensitive act. I told him it wasn't his role to apologize unless he helped put up the sign. And the person he needed to come clean with was himself for allowing his parents to encourage his miseducation. We began an honest discussion about race-ism, White denial, Black trauma and when does free speech become costly and to whom exactly? The kind of open discussion that hardly ever takes place in American classrooms and living rooms. He later wrote me to say he had complained to his fellow students and student government, and urged the Dean of Students to ban the ritual. He admitted that they avoided the issue altogether, lost some friends and, with the exception of one conscientious professor without the power to change campus traditions, began feeling so isolated that he was forced to transfer to his home college in Georgia where there are no cactus trees and mystical highways, but voter suppression laws and nooses that hang off campus signs just for fun.