Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Different Take of Racial Politics

Although these posts are in chronological order, I highly encourage you to read the first post first. Don't worry. I'll be waiting for you here when you return.

And now for Post 2. To refresh our collective memories. A very qualified minority student applied for an undergraduate position in our lab. At least some portion of the time, I would be working with this student worker. So, as might be expected, the professor has asked my opinion about the applicants. Keep in mind that this is not my hire. It is not my decision, and I can only act in an advisory capacity here. It turns out, the professor is experiencing some internal conflict about her desire to hire a former student of mine (see post 1) or to seriously consider this qualified African American student. Now, the thing that I have left out of the discussion above (and below) is that the minority who applied for a job in our lab is 20-something, accomplished, and rather handsome. I saw him for a total of about 30 seconds today. Knowing nothing more than this person was applying for the job in our lab (and as yet knowing nothing about his qualifications) D-advisor remarked that D would tell her to hire this individual because he was a handsome black man. I told her I wouldn't mind working alongside a handsome black man. Then she commented that perhaps she shouldn't hire this applicant because....

wait for it....

D wouldn't leave this individual alone, sexually-speaking.

Excuse me while I have a major WTF moment.

How did we get from point A to point B? You can't begin to imagine how entertaining I find it when the qualities that I find sexually attractive in the opposite sex become valid for disqualifying job applicants. By all means, hire the buck-toothed, fat, white slob with his butt crack showing. Because then and only then will D be able to keep her hands to herself. Is it just me? Or do you people out there love when this shit happens to you? What? You mean this shit DOESN"T happen to you?

When I pointed out that I don't date anyone under 40, she said she wasn't sure she trusted me anyway.


Now there is funny and then there is way the fuck over the line. Where do you think this falls? Is it in the "Ha, Ha, Ha, Let's make fun of D's outside-the-box sexual interests"? Or is this in the "Let's accuse D of being completely incapable of acting in a professional, legal, and moral manner with certain members of the community"? I think it is not only firmly in the second category, it is indicative of a growing habit by this person to publicly attack my character out of freakin' nowhere. This faculty heard that I date African American men, so in the presence of an African American man both he and I would be completely unable to control our sexual urges, regardless of how inappropriate such advances might be. I mean, the ramifications of her actually believing that are extraordinary for me as a professional. Is this the person I want writing letters of recommendation for me as a graduate?

I thought to mention that I don't JUST date African American men, but that I ALSO date African American men, but then I thought, "how is that relevant to this discussion? It's not."

I may have mentioned that this person has made over-the-line-comments about me in the past. About three or four months ago, she and I finally had to have a talk about a comment she made that indicated she didn't think I was appropriate for a job working with children that I ultimately got. Though she had no reason to suspect that I wouldn't excel at the job, her feeling was that I wasn't appropriate for it.

I have wracked my brain to think of any reason that this person would have to seriously believe I possess any of the character flaws that she has accused me of. I mean, she has never seen me teach. She has never seen me interact with children. She has certainly never seen me interact with African Americans, male or female, students or love interests.

And let's not forget for a minute that there is a highly qualified job seeker in this story. Let's not forget that he scarcely made it out of the lab before the comments about his race came up. Let's not forget that I have never heard anyone comment on any of the other applicant's races. Is it fair in any way to this guy that he might not get considered for a position because someone in the lab just happens to find members of his race attractive? Do I deserve the burden that she has placed on me?

Let's break it down. While the other leading applicant is a white male, and the other lab members are white females interested in white men, only when a minority student shows up does she feel the need to raise issues of sexual tension between lab workers? And what prompted this? I must admit, at first I tried to see the humor in this interaction. But the more it sunk it, the more disturbing it became to me. Let me run through some of the things that were running through my mind as she spoke.

Does she think I'm sexually promiscuous? Does she believe that I am incapable of dealing in a professional manner with African Americans? Have I ever led anyone to believe that I do anything except behave in a strictly professional manner with my co-workers? Does she think I'm a pervert? Was this her way of telling me that she doesn't approve of the things I find sexually attractive? Was it a really bad attempt at humor? Was this a racist response? Where the fuck did this come from? Is she seriously going to toss this guy out of the pile because I am attracted to black men?

I decided to answer these questions.

Does she think I'm sexually promiscuous? Although I am decidedly not, I think she does believe that someone attracted to African Americans must necessarily have loose standards. For the record (as though you care) I have had a total of four dating relationships and two sexual partners in the past 9 years.

Does she believe that I am incapable of dealing in a professional manner with African Americans? Apparently so.

Have I ever led anyone to believe that I do anything except behave in a strictly professional manner with my co-workers? I have never, ever, under any circumstances commented or acted on my sexual attraction toward someone with whom I have a professional relationship, whether it is as colleague, boss-subordinate, teacher-student, or even something much less formal. I dare anyone to give me an example otherwise. *Starts humming the theme from Jeopardy* Unlike many of my peers, I do not mine the department for potential dates. In fact, I turned down the only offer of a date that came from one of my fellow grad students.

Does she think I'm a pervert? From the nature of these comments, I believe she finds interracial dating perverse and me by extension.

Was this her way of telling me that she doesn't approve of the things I find sexually attractive? I'd have to give that a big thumbs up.

Was it a really bad attempt at humor? I am sure she thinks her comments were hilarious. My question is, how serious was she about not trusting me with a black man?

Was this a racist response? I'll let you decide.

Where the fuck did this come from? Your guess is as good as mine.

Is she seriously going to toss this guy out of the pile because I am attracted to black men? I honestly have no idea.

So if there are people in this world who wonder why D's bullshit meter is full up, consider these sorts of interactions that exist as a part of my day-to-day interactions with others in a position of authority over me. We are going in to have a talk about this tomorrow. Oh yes we sure as hell are. Wish me luck.


  1. Hope the talk goes well. I'm sure I'd be furious if put in your shoes. I have no good insightful words of wisdom to offer. Just know that if J and I lived closer, we'd have you over for some drinking, bitching, commiserating and hugs.

  2. Hmm.... good luck! Or, perhaps the showdown already happened. In either case, I think you have the right of it of course. Though I also think this is one of those cases where you put eight times more thought into it than she did. You have a pretty good case for her harboring the various biases and idiocies you attribute to her, but I think that these are a little more sublimated, or at least unconscious to her than they appear. For instance, rather than making these comments as a reflection of her real thoughts, her real thoughts generated verbal garbage and "humor" that reflected her deeper prejudices transparently. I guess I'm trying to say, her prejudices may be less strongly felt than latently present, and shaping her idiotic and thoughtless behavior. What you perceived -- correctly or at least reasonably -- as a deeply unprofessional personal attack, she perhaps thought were laugh-worthy gentle nudges or some such.

    Frankly, actually, I can't imagine what the fuck her problem is. Way out of line -- the only thing I'd perhaps slightly disagree on is actually an agreement with your previous post -- that she had already made her mind up on this other student and the well-qualified dude posed an obstacle to this. And she sounds like someone who feels the need to assert her power and "confidence" by standing behind idiotic choices, no matter how idiotic they prove to be, thus it could be that she's standing by Student #1 to show your evaluation of that student wrong, in her mind, and further insulting you about Candidate #2 just furthers her pissing on you to make herself feel more justified. After all, if you're a reasonable person, she'd have to listen to your points and caveats, and take the risk you were right. if she shits on you and tells you it's raining, that is, discredits you in her own mind, then even if Student #1 turns out to be a total jack-hole, she can say you got lucky rather than made a good call, because obviously you're so far out there anything wise or reasonable you do is a matter of chance rather than competence. For whatever reason, she seems to view competence on your part as a threat to be fervently wished against.

    I... I don't know what else to say about this one-woman clusterfuck, except, finish and get the hell away from her ASAP (and it's not as if you needed anyone to tell you that). --J

  3. I love Guv. Guv is my previous internet boyfriend up until he got married and then I became his internet mistress, I guess. LOL In any event, Guv talked me out of going in there half-cocked and blasting her. So I'm giving myself a cooling off period before launching my attack. Unfortunately, she is leaving town for a few weeks and I won't see her again until I'm out in the field and I doubt that will be the appropriate place for this discussion. In any event, there are times it is good that I don't get the opportunity to do the things I planned. At least for the security of my own future.

  4. Ah, ok. Probably a good thing to have a cooling-off period. Hopefully this won't happen again (not holding my breath on that one), but if it does you've already had the internal dialogues of what you want to say.