Recently two people I knew rather well at the University of Southwestern Louisiana which is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who had remained there teaching and doing other things that faculty at a university will do. Their names are Patricia Rickels and Bradley Pollock. Neither one were very close friends but both were friends. Both had an investment in education and the intellectual life. Patricia Rickels was a long time director of the Honors Program at the university where I received my bachelor’s degree. In that program I had a good number of my friends and where I began to date, court and become engaged to my ex-wife. Dr. Rickels and I also had in common that we each got a Master of Arts Degree from LSU although at very different times. She was married to another professor who was notable for many things but one of them was that he was severely physicaly challenged for much of his teaching career. Dr. Milton Rickels had died a while back. She was a complex person but among her many qualities one of the most defining was a commitment to the Civil Rights Movement.
That brings us to Bradley Pollock. Bradley and Dr. Pat both wore African items of dress or African themed clothes on occasion. I had not kept in close touch with either of them but there was a time when Brad and I and my ex-wife got together for pizza casualy enough. I was in class with a woman I believe was his sister and while on the college newspaper one of his brothers (or possibly a first cousin) was a source. He was a person one could tell had a fair amount of the genetic backgound of the negro races of Africa ( not all Africans do) but also that he was much more than half white by percentage. In Louisiana that made him part of a very complex and nuanced drama of identity and he and I had read some of the same books and had the honesty to talk about these things and to be honest about the fact that neither one of us could get into full disclosure and total honesty. His funeral will be held at the Imani Temple and I would not have known that would be the case even if he had died back when we were closer friends and did not know it until after his death. He also took the drama of race relations and racial history in the United States quite seriously.
I think that they both must have had a lot of things to say and suggest about the election of Barak Obama that I did not hear or have to respond to because we had fallen out of touch. I wonder if it would still have been possible for us to communicate in an honest and open way and to be cordial. Possibly our development as three active minds had been largely a development that made us more and more different. Perhaps most of all it was a time which distinguished me from them. But honestly I am too out of touch to be sure.
I have been by the university and I still see a pretty good mix of people of almost every human skin tone both sexes and several cultures from many countries interacting productively. That is what I remeber it was like then. Dr. Rickels retired from a beautiful building dedicated to the Honors Program which had housed the student newspaper The Vermilion when I worked on it and which was my grandfather’s dorm when he went there. I like a lot of what I see at my old alma mater. But I can’t help feeling that some of the old racial roadmaps that never worked perfectly or less relevant than ever now. I wonder where those who may succeed Bradley in History and Rickels in her many post will be trying to go in the future.
I am convinced that the transfer of wealth, position and opportunity to the most privileged black people and other African Americans has not been done in a way that was all that just or so very socialy productive. No that we are in the Age of Obama I am more sure than ever that much of the energy, rhetoric and thought of the more recent Civil Rights Movement has been bad. I think that we are very much lost in so many ways that there is almost no hope of getting found. Under Jim Crow Segregation there were almost no places where leaders of the Black and White Communities could gather to hold a conference to disagree about the problems faced by the country as a whole. There was no African-American Tribune in the legislatures of the states where only whites were seated. There was little soft power, little attempt at justice and little thought involved in the system. Now we have violent communities of African Americans who live out gangsta rap or think they are on a holy Jihad when the bring violence and destruction to the cities and White neighborhoods and institutions. We also have a President whose father was a Black Kenyan imigrant from Africa. I think it needs to be said that am easily displeased. No country on the planet is doing supremely well in my view. Humanity and its journey are largely tragic.
But as I watch and note the passing of these old friends I wonder where I am going to be standing. I do not think that I am going to be finding the solutions to any of the problems Brad and I used to dsicuss in those kinds of discussions. I am aware that the places I would like to see us go are not on the likely travel plans. I value neghborhood associations, extended family rights, ethnic and regional history grants and lots of other instruments of policy. It is not that Brad and Dr. Pat opposed such things it is just that just like corporate America and the Ivy League schools they tended to analyze a set of solutions and plan a set of solutions that did not take these things much into account.
I am not belittling the legacy of either of these people because both of them were builders and teachers who did many things and worked hard to make sense of things. They were responsible and not strident. I liked the interaction of diverse people at the school with which they were associated. But I am blurring over this chance to remember them personaly with asking a question about schools, the academy and scholarship. Is there going to be a change in the role or interpretation or priority the racial agenda that has dominated so much of pedagogy in the recent decades. Is there going to be change in the discussion of what our society should be progressing towards?