Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Starting Over, Passing Through

I didn't get to watch today's inauguration because I was busy running around trying to get a variety of things organized. One of my colleagues is out for two weeks, as per doctor's orders, so I am having to pick up one of her classes and a joint project we are working on. This isn't really a big deal, but when you combine it with essay proposals in both of my courses and the general high anxiety levels of my second year students...well, let's just say that it makes for a busy day.

A few good things did come out of all the busy times, though: I snagged a waffle iron and a hot air popcorn popper, and my new glasses were finally in! The types of people who "design" glasses frames (or lend their names to such) fascinate me. There's everything from Hilary Duff to Nintendo to Eddie Bauer to Cadillac. The pair I wound up with are Cosmopolitan (...I know) and I have to say that I think they are pretty sharp. This is my first new pair in about 3 and a half years, and it's marvellous to be able to SEE again.

Reading the status updates of my friends on Facebook today has been a tremendously uplifting experience.[1] It's hard not to catch that optimism, that hope. In one of those moments that is truly serendipitous, my first year students are reading Nella Larsen's Passing, a novella that will challenge them to consider and re-consider how they perceive race and gender. Right after the first lecture, one of my students asked me, "But how can it be that no one notices that these people are black?"

Which is, of course, a very loaded question to deal with in that few minutes while your class is filing out and the next class is filing in to the lecture hall.

My students attend a *very* white school. (In fact, every time I see the school's latest marketing campaign, I laugh a litttle, since it suggests a student body that's much more diverse in terms of both race and gender.) A lot of them will have never thought about race in anything more than an abstract way, much less realized the myriad of ways that race shapes discourse and interaction in our society. I'm hoping Obama's inauguration allows at least some of them to engage with the ideas that Larsen proposes in her novella.

1. The other thing that really struck me, upon reading through pages of Facebook status updates, is how many people viewed this as a historic moment. Which, duh, it obviously is, but it's interesting to see how people identify it as such in the moment: "...is watching history being made" etc. CNN has historic t-shirts, too. The half life of nostalgia is truly growing smaller each year...

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