Full Moon

I like this poem, but I don’t know why. What does it mean?

Full Moon

Robert Hayden

No longer throne of a goddess to whom we pray,
no longer the bubble house of childhood’s
tumbling Mother Goose man, 

The emphatic moon ascends–
the brilliant challenger of rocket experts,
the white hope of communications men.

Some I love who are dead
were watchers of the moon and knew its lore;
planted seeds, trimmed their hair,

Pierced their ears for gold hoop earrings
as it waxed or waned.
It shines tonight upon their graves.

And burned in the garden of Gethsemane,
its light made holy by the dazzling tears
with which it mingled.

And spread its radiance on the exile’s path
of Him who was The Glorious One,
its light made holy by His holiness.

Already a mooted goal and tomorrow perhaps
an arms base, a livid sector,
the full moon dominates the dark.

“Leadership is not for sissies”

So, it’s been a great week. Is it because I haven’t been in the classroom much? Rubbing shoulders with philanthropists and politicians? Hard to say.  On Thursday afternoon, I was thoroughly impressed by the humble demeanor  and playfulness of F.W. de Klerk. Moxie gets a little star-struck at times, not by A-list actors or musicians (well maybe a little), but face-to-face with a former head of state? I melted.

My question: “When did your ideology change about blacks and whites in South Africa? When did you come to realize that all should be equal under the law?”

His Answer: “It wasn’t a road to Damascus moment, rather it was a gradual change over time. Ask me that in the Q&A, rush right up there, and I will give you a fuller answer.”

Below is a blurry shot I took while I listened to a rather ignorant undergrad ask the President his thoughts on a federalized Africa. OBVIOUSLY, de Klerk debunked the idea by praising Africa for its love of multi-culturalism. He reminded this young man of how difficult it has been for the relatively homogeneous EU to become federalized, a tremendous continent with varied regions would not benefit from such a system.

While I wasn’t talking to the guest of honor, I snooped around a little and learned that he had flown in that morning on his private plane from Naples, Florida (we have so much in common), and now that he is retired, he spends much of his time on a yacht in the Mediterranean. Must be nice.

Before the speech we had about an hour to kill, and since it feels like spring in Atlanta these days, my professor, another former student, and I basked in the sun and discussed black nationalism. (glorious) Our question: Can you be a black nationalist and believe that race is socially constructed?” In other words, if race is a created concept, how can one promote black unity?

My initial response: I thought all educated people believe that race is a social construct, certainly it is not biological, is there something beyond the obvious binary?

Dr. R: Saying that race is socially constructed says something about power. It means that it is something created by human choice. In the case of race, if white people created an oppressive system, then they created the social construct, which undermines black nationalism…

To introduce his speech, Bridging the Gap: Globalization without Isolation,” he told the audience that after talking to us “students” beforehand, he realized that we wanted to hear about South Africa’s radical transformation over the past 20 years. He was right, and what an incredible formative assessment! He proceeded to discuss the role of leadership in a time of dramatic change. He gave eight qualities leaders need to possess to be successful. I’ve c&ped some of my notes below…

  1. Impartial, dispassionate assessment of reality: relentless self-assessment

South African context: The Nationalist Party could have held on, they could have endured sanctions and international isolation, but they decided  to admit and confront the fear that they had failed to bring justice to South Africa, that their policies had led to manifest injustice, and they had to change course. In history, we know that the prospect of imminent disaster has not always caused leaders to change; this is a hard decision since resistance to change is deeply seeded in all of us. We naturally fear unknown, unchartered territory.

2. Take calculated risks.

It is riskiest to do nothing

3. Avoid temptation of pretending to change

Ex: Gorbachev’s perestroika—didn’t want to admit that there was something deeply wrong with communism, tried to simply alter it to make it better, but that didn’t work

Ex: white South Africa fooled themselves into thinking they could reform softly to avoid dramatic decisions and risks.

They had to abandon separateness and embrace inclusivity. Only then could they initiate real change.

4. Real and achievable vision that gives direction and purpose

You need to be able to measure your progress and convince others to come along with you.

5. Outstanding communication skills

6. Good timing

Even if you are right, if you have the wrong timing, it can be ineffective

You can’t move so far ahead that your followers can’t hear or see you

7. Leaders must persevere until they achieve their objectives

There will be far reaching and unforeseen consequences to decisions, and you will feel like you are steering a canoe in a storm. Many crises will cause or almost cause the canoe to capsize, must learn to endure and react

8. Plan for his/her own departure, leadership is not for sissies!

Accept that change is a never-ending business

Biggest take away: De Klerk’s greatest achievement and legacy is his surrender of control


The past few days this India.aire song has been in my head (hair?). I watched this video featuring Akon today. It’s good stuff. Rock it and take the trash out, take it to the gym, take it to heart.

I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am a soul that lives within

If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a bit Lauryn Hill-esque–without the hating white people part, and she’s a little bit softer. She is an Atlantan who has played music with a former lacrosse assistant of mine.

Interestingly enough, she has lots of different “looks.” Her hair changes quite often, as you might be able to tell from the video…Here’s one image of her I like.

Black Nationalism: A definition

Here at Moxie, themes change suddenly without warning. (Other bloggers will catch the double meaning here). Today, I’m back to black nationalism. Or is it Black Nationalism? Historians do not agree.

This morning, I thought I would offer you a definition of “classic black nationalism” in my own words via a small excerpt from one essay in my comprehensive graduate exam. (Keep in mind I was locked in a room with no notes and a finite amount of time while I wrote this, so please be gracious in all stylistic critique.)

Side Bar:  When writing the words African and American together, the phrase is only hyphenated if it is an adjective. African Americans‘ relationship to….vs. African-American identity.

Peniel Joseph in Waiting ‘Till the Midnight Hour describes defining black nationalism as trying to eat Jell-O with chopsticks; it is slippery and difficult to grip. However muddled and complicated it may be, there are concrete ways in which black nationalism can be understood. As Africans were transported across the Middle Passage, they began the process of creating a common racial identity; the slave ships served as a racial incubator. As they arrived in the United States, they saw that the people in power were generally white, and the people forced to work were generally black. Since that moment, black Americans have struggled to create a unified identity. Over the course of many generations, competing theories about how to organize have shaped black nationalism, and conceptions about African Americans’ relationship to Africa have played a major role in formulating political thought and action. Since race is socially constructed, cohesiveness and unity of purpose has proven difficult, if not impossible. Historical study shows that one of the greatest barriers to unity has been the formation of class. In each era of black nationalism, there have been two main streams of thought: one for the elite blacks, which tended to be more assimilationist, and one for the masses, which tended to be more pluralistic. 

Typically, 1850-1920 can be classified as “classic black nationalism.” In his work Golden Age of Black Nationalism, Wilson Jeremiah Moses makes the case that Christian ethic and Anglo-Saxon values formed the backbone of black nationalist thought during this period. Strong black leaders, often referred to as “Black Moses'” due to their claims to save their people from slavery, characterized this period. Alexander Crummel, a missionary in Africa exemplifies this character with his conservative and narrow views of what African-American identity should be. Often this authoritarian collectivism took the shape of one black man speaking for and leading “his people.” Moses’ view of black nationalism tends to speak only for the elite blacks; the ones who benefited from adopting “white” culture, and the ones who believe that the race will rise up through assimilation.
Contrary to this view, Sterling Stuckey in Slave Culture asserts that retention of African culture was stronger than historical analysis has previously allowed. Through citing specific examples of ways in which African-American culture reflected African cultural practices, Stuckey’s work speaks for the masses of African-American society. For example, Stuckey explores how the dancing and shouting type worship often seen African-American Christian churches can directly correlate to the “ring shout,” a practice seen in some traditional African cultures. Although they look like they are practicing Christianity, Stuckey claims they are really practicing a culture of dissemblance and hiding their true religion. However, this type of worship tends to be more characteristic of the “masses” of African-American culture rather than the educated middle class, who might more likely be found in a more traditional Episcopal church, like Alexander Crummel.

In general, classic black nationalism had a patriarchal view of Africa. After the Berlin Conference divided up Africa into various pieces of pie for European nations to devour, African Americans saw African people as needing help. They saw themselves as uniquely qualified to help, not only because of their racial connection, but also because they had ideas and ways of living that could improve the lives of Africans. The missionary movement gained momentum in the late nineteenth century. The AME Episcopal Church was very influential in sending missionaries to help their brothers and sisters in Africa. The Christian Recorder, a publication of the church, gives insight into rhetoric characteristic of this movement. African Americans saw themselves as called by God to bring salvation to heathen peoples of Africa. By planting churches and starting schools, they could restore God’s plan for this fallen continent. They even used the concept of Ethiopianism, the idea that God had a specific plan for Africa, as Biblical backup of their calling (Psalm 68: 31). However genuinely they meant to help, African-American motives in Africa were always muddled with economic incentives in Africa, and a longing for a place where they could be in charge and free from oppression. The missionary movement represents the late nineteenth century elite population.


Black Nationalism and Procrastination

There are lots of things I should be doing today.

1. Finishing writing my exams.

2. Grading students prezi projects about African nations.

3. Creating a check-list for Sunday set-up at church for our upcoming meeting.

4. Planning for my faculty fellow (student teacher) next semester.

5. Scheduling a dentist appointment.

6. Preparing for a Library Task Force Meeting.

But all I really want to do is be at Caribou with a mac writing about my experiences and thoughts over the last few weeks while I sip a holiday specialty drink from mug. I want space and time to think and process. I haven’t been making space for that recently. My reading chair has gotten cold.

sidebar: I feel stifled without a mac, really I do. They are so pretty, and I seem like the type of person who would have one I think.

Most present in my mind is a conversation I was asked to be a part of last week at school. A colleague and friend of mine invited me into a room with the 12 black male eighth grade students at our school. This colleague (G) may or may not be the only black male teacher in our division. It’s not surprising that we have become friends given my affinity for all things chocolate colored.

Here’s the issue:

A teacher overheard the boys calling each other the “n” word on the basketball court last week. The Dean asked G and another black male to address the boys and discuss their use of the word. He asked me to come because a) I’m female b) I’m white c) I’m on the diversity committee…and he thought I could add a different perspective.

The word n____, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America.” –Langston Hughes

I appreciate the space and time our school gives to conversations  that need air. I like that we don’t brush past hard things. In general, we aim to face them head on. I feel like at another school, this would have been dealt with very differently. That being said, I would have dealt with it differently. Maybe this is a gender thing.I would have wanted to hear more from the kids. Put them in a circle and make them talk it out. And we did some of that. They said they use the word because it’s causal, they hear it on the radio, from kids in their neighborhoods, at church (at church!?).  G wanted to preach at them and tell them why it was wrong. He said some good things, such as “when you use that word, you have accepted the stereotype that comes along with it–slave, disadvantaged person, inferior race.” He asked the students “what would you do if a white person directed that word at you?” They responded in unison that they would get violent. G told them about his experiences, how he had to be different, how he had to move beyond settling disputes with his fists. G exposed their double standard.

Three boys in the group told us they don’t use it at all; their parents taught them not to; they think it is degrading. It’s more than the word though. To me, their use of it shows me their desperate need for affinity as they develop their racial identity. In these years, they are learning what it means to be “black” in a place dominated by “whiteness.”

How do we facilitate racial identity development in junior high and high school?

W.E.B DuBois came to mind as I listened to two educated black men tell these boys why they were different. Why going to this school called them to something higher. How they need to rise above and be better men. Are black independent school attendees the new Talented Tenth?

Action step:

Several of these boys were in my history class last year. They got fired up about fighting human trafficking, and we were close. I want to hear from them how things have or haven’t changed since this conversation.

How can we keep the conversation on the table?


In 5 days I will begin to finish my graduate work.

Friday I take an oral exam, and Monday I take a written exam. Yesterday, one of my professors told me I could stop studying right now and do better than 90% of graduate students. I kiiiinda wish she hadn’t said that, but I think she could tell from my puffy eyes that it’s been a stressful few weeks. I needed some encouragement, but there is still a lot to do.

Imagine the scene: I was at Henri’s Bakery (popular hot spot for Buckhead Bettys and the like) with my GSU professor. We both looked the part: She in yoga garb coming from a nail appointment, me in a Vineyard Vines skirt and green polo…talking about militancy in the black nationalist movement. It was quite ironic. And I loved it.

Here’s what we discussed for the African-American portion of the exam. (This is 1 of 3 concentrations–others are gender and 19th century biography)

1. What is the African diaspora as a global concept?

2. In the US, who were important political and intellectual influences on the African diaspora model?

3. Discuss black nationalism in the United States.

4. How is historiography moving toward an elaboration of Sterling Stuckey? (historian who says African-American culture retained African influences in the middle passage)

5. What was the “Back-to-Africa” movement? Were all emigrationists seeking the same thing?

6. How did European colonialism and African independence influence black thinking about Africa?

7. What is the ideal black woman?

Then I ran into four sophomore girls stopping for sandwiches before shopping on the rainy Atlanta spring day, and I remembered that you can take the Buckhead out of the girl, but you can’t take the girl out of Buckhead…or something like that.

Where are the sisters, Tiger?

Reader Em Em Li turned me on to this little bit of satire…too true. I mean, we were all thinking it…and just because it came from the only celebrity blog for Islamic extremists doesn’t mean it’s not true…I’m just saying.