Penn State University, Student, African-American history, Black History Month, Campus "Why is Sam Teaching a Race Class?!" #SOC119

That is when i started teaching this class at penn state. I came in 1990 and that’s what i look like by the way that photo that you see was taken um right around 1991., so um that’s, what social 19 used to be. But now look at me: i’ve got still got a little bit of hair left and uh, though it’s entirely gray and almost and uh it’s a little things are a little bit different but i’d like to think that i have some more wisdom behind me than i Did back in my hippie days, uh, although i’m still hippie uh at heart and uh, no i’m, still a hippie in every way, except the hair, and so but anyway, 1990 was a long time and the class was very different back. Then it was uh 150 students and um, and i really started teaching this course. I i my background is on is latin america and africa in international political development and economy, and so when i, when they asked me to teach a course on uh race relations, it uh it kind of threw me a little bit because you know it wasn’t. My specific area but i’ve really been focused on cross cultural um issues, and i had been at that time um a great deal, and so this became a really fascinating journey to dive into the deep end of race and cultural relations in the united states, so um. So i’ve been privileged to continue to teach here.

I guess in many ways i’ve chosen to continue to teach it uh and – and i would say privileged and the class has grown. Lots of things have happened: um and yeah, so it’s it’s awesome – and here we are right. So i have this this photo that i like to show in the beginning of the semester, because i think it says something about me and that’s. A photo of me with my father – and i think i was about to i don’t – know how old am i in that photo? I have it’s impossible for me to to to ascertain, but it looks like i’m, maybe two and a half or something um and what’s interesting is that so my parents were older. My mom was 45 when i was born and my dad was 55 or 56 and um and they look at i’m wearing pink right i’m playing with a a doll. It was called a raggedy, ann doll and uh, and i just i’m very i that photo represents and some i think, there’s like a little giraffe on it or something represents my entire life as being a life of iconoclasm. Just like really outside the box, like i can’t, be put in a box anywhere, i refuse to be it’s in my dna it’s in my in my earliest years, my i was being socialized to not be inside of a box. You don’t have to think. Like other people, you don’t have to be like other people, you can wear pink, you can be, you can carry dolls, you can do whatever it’s all good doesn’t matter and in many ways that’s how i think that’s how i am so.

I was really lucky. So, first off my my father died when i was nine, so i i was largely after he died. My mom was working. You know two two and three jobs all the time and i and largely um to a great degree raised myself and uh. You know i would come home from school and make my own lunch and make my own breakfast and you know all sorts of stuff right. Um by the age of 12, i was buying my own school clothes and all right, because we were very, we didn’t have a lot of money. What it meant was i didn’t. Have anybody really looking over me uh telling me how i needed to be and how i needed to think now? My father would have been like that, because he had very much had this kind of engineer type, mind um thought that you know math was really important. All sorts of things, so he would have much more been like that, but but he died. He was out of the picture, so i was really on my own um and you know i discovered i actually have to say i discovered marijuana when i was 12. and that was like a big, huge shift right, because when i got high for the first time I realized that there was another world out there that i didn’t really understand in this world in which i was living. But i was smart enough to know that that wasn’t a really cool path for me to go down, because i was watching because it was really big.

You know i was watching a lot of my friends and a lot of people who were really taking. That kind of a path um and you know it’s it’s, fine. It was fine for them, but i could see that that wasn’t really going to do it for me, but the key was here: i didn’t take school seriously like and and it really i didn’t have anyone telling me i had to get good grades and what i Had was um uh, oh, i had developed kind of a love of reading and love of thinking, but i didn’t care about grades and no one. No one looked at my report card and said like well, you have to get at this great or that great or whatever it didn’t matter to anybody, because i had nobody really looking over my shoulder. So therefore, i got to go to school and go to school and get the best out of school, meaning that i could arrive late. I could leave early. I could do whatever i wanted to i’d skip school i’d. Go down the library. I would read. Books i’d. Go out to the railroad tracks and i’d, you know do that or whatever later on and i’d come back in and i do all sorts of stuff right um, but i didn’t care about grades and what what i cared about. I i started to learn to care about thinking and i started to ask questions, and this was and again i don’t want to harp on that because i don’t think Music.

I started to learn to ask just ask questions right like i was asking really big questions. I didn’t know it at the time, but they weren’t questions that other people were asking me. I wasn’t memorizing stuff people. You know i never once from sixth grade all the way through high school. I don’t believe i ever once took a book home from school except a couple novels here and there never once because it didn’t matter, but i would go home from school and i would think i was always thinking right. So in any case so here’s what happened. So i made it through high school um. I took the acts and i scored in the in the i actually when i took it, i didn’t even know what it was like. I only took the act because i found out. I could get a day off school if i went and applied to uh to college and someone said well, you have to take this test, so i went and took the test. I was hungover when i took the test. I should say uh anyway, but i took it and i scored in the 51st percentile, and that meant that i was above average. 50 51 is above average right, so that felt good, like all i ever wanted to be was above average, and so that was cool. So i went to the university of toledo and found out that you know i got in because they let everybody in um i flunked out the first monster.

I did okay, but then i started flunking out like i would just stop going to class right like i would take these classes and i would stop going because i just didn’t know what i wanted to do. I wasn’t i’m a musician, so i was a musician. I was playing music in the time i was playing in a band and we were playing clubs and doing all sorts of stuff. I was working all the time, it’s just school school, just i didn’t, have it it just wasn’t calling me other things were calling me thinking was calling me. Music was calling me all sorts of things, but not school. In the whole thing in college, like i had to i’d had to really step up, you know i had one class one class left and i was on my way to that class. I dropped all my classes right and this is it man. I was on my way to completely drop and i was on my way to that class and i went in the library and i and i skipped class, but i went to the library because that’s what i always did i went to library and i would read Books right and i was reading this thing and it just captured my imagination. It was about prisons and i said damn i think i could do that. I think i’d really do. I think i could work in a prison that sounds really fascinating and so not as like you know, burly tough guard kind of thing, whatever, just like the mind of just understanding how it is that people get into prisons, really what happens and so um.

So i called the social work department and i started taking courses in social work, but then i moved over to sociology and everything changed from that moment. Everything changed in my life. I decided i was gon na. I needed to understand the world which i still don’t understand the world, but i needed to organize and categorize the world. I i really. There were so many big questions that i wanted to understand, and so i um just started. I was 20 years old. I never looked back. I just was studying 24 7. I started traveling a lot. I mean it was just one thing after another: we are in a in an in an incredibly politicized environment right now and imagine being me and being part of the social 19 team and having to talk about race and politics and culture and inequality and social issues And do it in a large classroom with lots of people and be fair and thoughtful to many sides of issues not take sides all the time, be fair and be thoughtful to many different sides of issues and be um and really challenge. Everybody right really take lots of roads. I mean and and honest to god, not not bring all of my personal beliefs in to the classroom. All the time really be willing to bring lots of contrasting perspectives and hear from lots of people and so on. I don’t care how you think when you leave social 19 in in may, i i don’t care.

I don’t have any sense at all of certain ideas that i want you to believe or certain things i want you to think uh. I i honestly don’t and part of that is because i’ve been teaching for 37 years, and i know that no matter there’s nothing. I can say that you will walk away with that. I know you’ll walk away with right, if i say x it just as often you’ll walk away with. Why and secondly, i don’t really have many firm beliefs in anything. I am like i’m all over the place in the way i see the world. I you know like i have really um what would be considered. You know really like conservative ideas, really liberal ideas, really radical ideas, really backward ideas. Really these ideas, all i wake up in the morning and i just sort of get out of bed and say: okay. What am i thinking today like? What is it like and part of that is because the world is so damn complicated. When you dig beneath the surface of the and beyond the headlines, the world is so incredibly complicated and i’ve discovered that, and i really it’s funny that the wisest people, the smartest people i know are, are almost always the people who don’t have very firm opinions on Anything everybody’s going to get challenged in here like white people will get challenged. Absolutely black and brown people will get challenged. Absolutely um, you know, theists will get challenged, atheists will get challenged, americans will get challenged, people who are not americans will be cha.

Everyone gets challenged. Men, women straight people, gay people, trans people, everybody every my job as a teacher – is to challenge every single person’s belief system, because my job as a teacher is to get people to see things they don’t already see if you, if i, if i didn’t, have that, If that wasn’t, what was going on, then what would be the point right? Why would we have a class like what would be? Why would you need me? You just go into a classroom and you just regurgitate everything you already think and everything you already know and then what what role would i have like what job would i have and so like? What do you think, like some of you, think, like all these conservatives and people who support trump, they really need to get challenged because they really need to see that yeah, okay, well, people on the other side are like. Where are you getting your information? Where are you getting our ideas? Those of you who don’t like trump where’s, your information from right? Have you gone to really thoughtful, really smart trump supporters and said: hey, listen, trump, supporter, who’s, really smart and i know some brilliant people who are strongly not the stuff that trump did recently very few people support that, but i mean just trumpism whatever. That is right. His existence and like, if i can go to them and say, have you ever gone to them and said like somebody like that and said, hey tell me why it is that you would vote for this guy right and then listen to what they have to say And the vast majority of people who don’t like trump have never done that so it’s like well.

If you’ve never done that, then how do you know you have a really thoughtful critique of trump? If you’re a person who thinks you know black lives matter is really not a good movement in the united states like this is just this is a problem and um. I just think that black lives matter it’s, just like it. We we should we shouldn’t separate ourselves. We shouldn’t be doing that stuff. We should all like. We should see ourselves as americans. This one come together. It’S protesting in that way is not the best way to address social issues. Well, have you ever like had a conversation with people who are protest, organizers and movement, organizers and people that really are strategic social change initiators? Have you ever sat down with someone who’s like a a social change, strategist and said: hey tell me exactly why you do that like? Why do you? Why do you have a a protest in the way that you do like? Why does that happen and walk me through that? If you’ve never done that, then how? Where do you come off? Where how where do you even have a critique of that like where’d, you get your idea that that you know a black lives matter. Protest is actually a problem like. Why is it a problem like? What do you mean like? Where does that come from where’s? Any ideas come from right, so so anyway, that’s my job that’s. What this class is it’s kind of we’re gon na everyone’s gon na get challenged so it’s it’s awesome in that way.

So mike, i always say that my goal at the end of every class is that i want everyone who’s in class, to be arguing with me about something very early on when i was uh 21 when i was 20. Actually i went to french speaking quebec for the first time and then the next year i went and spent six months in spain and then traveled around europe and at that point in time i decided that hey, i didn’t want to have children and b. I wasn’t going to spend money frivolously and see. I was going to save all my money and i was just going to go, see the world and i was going to meet people all over the world, and so this is the parts in the blue. Are all countries where i have visited or spent time so i’ve lived a number of quite a number of years outside the united states in different countries, though, most of my time in in ecuador and in spain it’s been, i spent some total of over a year In spain and over a year in ecuador and a year and a half in ecuador and um and uh i mean i, i speak spanish, so that’s but i’ve traveled a lot. But you know i’ve been to india three times, i’ve been to qatar, probably ten times i’ve been to you know, all just all over lots of places multiple times many places. So i i travel and i and i don’t just i travel and i learn so.

I have colleagues all over the world and i sit and i talk and i meet people and i and i learn from people and i see the world from other people’s perspectives. And so when i talk about the united states or when i talk about the world i’m, also talking about the world through the eyes of lots of other people and – and so you know, i put that map up there, just to kind of have a sense that This is this is that’s.

What do you think?

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