Have You Ever Written a Neighborhood Plan (Young Lady)? Sexism and City Planning

Today I talked to someone who asked me if I had ever worked for a city planning department. Here’s what I said in response: Well,

Number one: I teach students who go on to work for city planning departments.

Number two: I have worked for city planning departments, but mostly in the role of a researcher/academic.

Number three: I am mostly engaged and committed to planning that is from the bottom up; my work in city and regional planning has been primarily with not-for-profits as well as local and state government agencies.

And then he said, “Yeah, but don’t you want to be a director of city planning?” Who came up with that?

I started to say: “What parts of numbers 1, 2, and 3 do you not understand?” But I didn’t.

And then he asked me: “Well, where did you go to school?” As if there was something deficient about my planning education.

When I named the schools for him, he said, “Yeah, I know about those schools; they are pretty good.” Like that had anything to do with anything.

And, all the while he was doing this, he was calling me “young lady.” Just for context: he was an older black man; probably about 25 years my senior.

This exchange reminded me of a more recent conversation that I had with a local white planner who was, I suppose, a little perturbed by my critique of his planning presentation. In response to my comments about his presentation, which were not hostile – I just didn’t agree on a method he was proposing (and I proposed another one instead), he asked me, “Well, have you ever written a neighborhood plan?” Just like that. Out of nowhere; who I am, what I said; none of that mattered. Like the man who asked, “had I ever worked for a city planning department.”

Why? Why should I be shocked when I encounter appeals to accomplishment and rank as a means to silence me and my critiques? I received similar receptions in my previous profession (I was a United Methodist clergywoman). When people learned that I was the pastor, the church administrator, the one with the authority to be in charge, they would ask me, “When were you ordained?” Or, “Where did you go to seminary.” By contrast, these were questions that my male counterparts rarely, if ever, had to answer. People just took their word for it that they were who they said they were, the “Reverend So-and-So.” Why should it matter to me that men who are black, white, brown, red, and yellow constantly question my credentials or my “fitness” for the work that I have been doing for years? Why should I be so offended since it happens so frequently? Even today.

Likewise, I have to ask myself, why do I think or want to think that urban planning academicians and professionals who call themselves committed to social justice, advocacy and equity are free from sexism, racism or any other “ism” for that matter? What makes me want to believe that women planning scholars should or could get equal treatment in the classroom, in the conference room, or even when it comes to discussing and implementing urban plans in “the real world of planning?” Where have I seen a good example of gender or racial equity in the urban planning profession, and in the U.S.?

In the classroom, planning scholars and urban historians often make reference to Jane Jacobs, a pioneering white woman who is known for her critique of city and neighborhood planning in the late 1950s. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, was written in the in the context of the urban neighborhood in New York City and not long after WWII. As noted by one of my colleagues, this is a book that you can still find on bookstore shelves today (including virtual book shelves). Jacobs is well-known for her critique of one of NYC’s “finest” a/k/a “The Power Broker,” Robert Moses. Of course, there was a lot that Jane Jacobs did not say or do in her important book (i.e., as it concerns matters of race and class), but, one thing is for sure, she was willing to stand up for herself and for her community, and she did this in spite of the sexism exhibited by the city and regional planners and the contemporary thinkers of her time. How did she do it? Indeed, with the power of the pen! And, voila, there is the example!

Well, it is 2016, and half a century later, women planners are still being ignored and dismissed; we still face sexism among  our colleagues, students (yeah, I said it!), and from practitioners that we know like the one who interrogated me today. Conference sessions on diversity, women, race, and planning are pushed to “the back of the bus” and scheduled on final days when nearly everyone is out of steam or they have gone back home, which shows us all how very important matters of gender, equity and inclusion really are for academics in city and regional planning and in the planning of its  conferences. Emerging feminist ideas about planning methodologies and frameworks, such as “loving attachment,” (made visible and palatable by Leonie Sandercock, Karen Umemoto, and Libby Porter) are not unknown, but they are not put into practice and thus they are not taken seriously by planners “in the real world.” Like, when have I heard this concept explained in detail for students or communities by one of my male counterparts?  That would be never. To make matters worse, it is not unusual for feminist proposals to be  openly criticized as divisive and unnecessary by those who are much more comfortable with traditional, Euro-masculinist theories and practices of city and urban planning.

Time and time again, women planners and planning scholarship that is gender-specific is disregarded and deemed not “good enough” or important enough to be first in presentation or priority at gatherings of scholars and students of planning. In addition, name for me one city where you have heard of a development project that has been designed for women or girls or with womens’ issues or concerns as the primary and motivating force. Yes, in planning programs we have inspiring workshops and courses that encourage us to think in terms of gender and race, and as they pertain to the built environment; and, we have women who are visible and audible in the teaching and in the practice of planning. But, where can we see city and regional designs or plans that make women and girls the primary beneficiaries?  Where do we find women’s thoughts and ideas about space and place that occupy the center of local discussion about city and urban planning projects and designs (beyond a class session or two)? Where, beyond the work of Dolores Hayden, and the planners I have mentioned above, do we see women city and regional planners taking the lead, offering visions of urban development that are also predominantly women-identified and women-centered and “in the real world?” I am not saying that they are not there, but I would like to know what is really happening with women and planning in the 21st century when many of the women that I know in planning have ultimately been more than willing to act in the interests of self, tradition, tenure, whiteness and patriarchy. As bell hooks once said, “Where is the Love?

Now, about black women planners and scholarship. Of course, I want to believe that black womens’ planning scholarship is important to city and regional planners who are “in the real world,” but today, after the “motivating” conversation that I had with a local Kansas City resident who has been active in community and neighborhood development, and after thinking about my own experiences “in the real world,” I really don’t see where black women planning academicians who talk openly and powerfully about race and gender in city and regional planning are perceived of as significant or important to the development of planning theories and practices (and who are on full-time status at schools and colleges of planning in the U.S.). I see black women planning academicians and practitioners, but rarely do I see the ones who are openly feminist or womanist and openly anti-racist (just for starters).

That said, I am currently in the process of working through a hypothesis, along with a trusted colleague, which posits that black women planning academicians who operate from a gender-centered position and from a standpoint that privileges the experiences of black women and girls and black communities (e.g., the epistemological privilege of the poor) will be dismissed, disregarded and ultimately rejected in response to being openly critical of whiteness, maleness and the positivist roots of city and regional planning. For several months, we have been working to construct and test our theory which says that black women planning scholars who openly and unabashedly critique men, especially white men and white conceptual frameworks of  city and regional planning, will face negative consequences and negative responses from colleagues, students, administrators, and other institutional officials overall. And, we predict that this response will happen more times than not and in the form of some very specific consequences and negations. If our hypothesis is proven to be true, then we – as in city and regional planners – have not come all that far when it comes to women and planning. In other words, if a significant percentage or group of black women planning academicians are not free to theorize and to practice city and regional planning as they see fit, then we are not free (not individually and not as far as academic freedom goes)! Unfortunately, “in the real world,” if we have that finding, we believe that it will demonstrate that theories and practices of city and regional planning and the institutional terrain of planning schools, colleges, and thus municipal and regional planning departments are still as Barbara Hooper said in 1992: what white bourgeois men have said it is.”

And if our findings prove to be true, since I am a womanist scholar, I think that what we must then think in terms of is what womanist Katie G. Cannon, a theologian and womanist scholar whose work was critically beneficial to me in my 2010 dissertation, is whether we, as city and regional planners, have “structured academic amnesia.” And, if we do have this ‘structured academic amnesia,’ you can be sure that it will be played out “in the real world,” “as if this true [feminist and not this] womanist story] never happened.” Yet for some of us, like Jane Jacobs did half a century ago, who are willing and brave enough to utilize the power of the pen, nothing could be further from the truth!

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

For more on Katie Cannon, I recommend: Cannon, Katie Geneva.  2006.  Structured academic amnesia:  As if this true womanist story never appened.   In Deeper shades of purple:  Womanism in religion and society., 19-28.  New York:  New York University Press.

For more on Barbara Hooper, I recommend: Hooper, Barbara. 1992. “Split at the roots”: A critique of the philosophical and political sources of modern planning doctrine. Frontiers 13 (1): 45-80.

On the Spelling of My Name and the Seeds of Change

I have been spelling my name in lowercase letters for at least a decade; come to think about it, it has probably been closer to two decades than it is to one. All these years, embracing the spelling of my name has been my signature, my trademark. Looking back, I was first inspired to modify the spelling and thus the visualization of my name on papers and publications to lowercase letters because of bell hooks. Her critical thoughts and writings on feminism, love, men, power and many other issues had such a profound impact upon me that I decided to put my newly recognized consciousness out in public – and as a passive but powerful way of identifying with feminism as a way of thinking and being. At the time, I must admit, I really did not realize the power of what I was doing.

Recently, I was “advised” by someone associated with an academic organization that I needed to use the uppercase A and the uppercase F if I anticipated my name being publicized or in print. This directive, made by a white woman (who I knew formerly and casually) did not sit well with me. And that it came via email didn’t help matters either. Initially, I thought, was this advice or a threat? I wondered why she felt the need to tell me what to do with my own name. And, I wondered what was coming next. Maybe, I imagined, she would feel familiar or superior enough to me to tell me what to wear or where to sit. Since she knew of me from academic circles, it baffled me that she needed or wanted to tell me what to do with my own name; as if somehow she thought that I did not know. Of course, I responded to her just as boldly and confidently as she came to me, but I also thought that perhaps it is time for a blog on the spelling of my name, just in case others were having similar thoughts or urges.

First, the spelling of my name is mine, all mine. I don’t expect others to use lowercase letters to spell my name. But, every chance that I get to control the look (and feel) of my name, I use lowercase letters. One of the first public experiences that I had with this was in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had just given a lecture at what is now the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and a local newspaper reporter asked me how to spell my name. In addition to getting the spelling correct, I also asked if the “A” and the “F” could be written in lowercase. Much to my surprise, and at least for that particular local journalist, using lowercase letters was not a problem. On the other hand, the reporter did ask me how to spell my name. Seeing my name published in the local newspaper the next day in lowercase letters was very important and very powerful. It was an affirmation of my own identity, and it was a declaration, one that let other people know – in a very public or political way – that the spelling of my name was and is ultimately up to me.

Aside from the”bell hooksian” influence on the spelling of my name, there are a few reasons that I have continued to spell my name in lowercase letters. The first is that spelling my name in lowercase letter is a visual reminder to me of all the seemingly insignificant things that I did in life to get to where I am today. By no means do I think that I have done all that I can do, but I have accomplished a lot. I have also had the awesome privilege of traveling alone in and out of this country and taking charge of my own future or destiny. Sometimes, when I look back at those little things, including the places where I lived or worked, I am blown away. I have been through many ups, downs, stops and starts, and, of course, I did not get there all alone, but seeing my name in smallcase letters always brings me to a deeper appreciation  of my life’s journey and of the power that I have because of that journey.

Another reason that I spell my name in lowercase letters is related to the connection between the personal and the political. The more that I spelled my name in lowercase letters in print, the more that I was asked about the spelling of my name. Who knew that such a small thing could have such an impact! Consequently, the (re)spelling of my name brought me to the realization that even the smallest change to the social order of things or the status quo is always noticed. Indeed, I know how to construct a grammatically correct sentence. I know that breaking the rules with the spelling my name in all lowercase letters will be seen by many as incorrect, improper, and perhaps, need I say, DISOBEDIENT! And that is it precisely. Spelling my name in lowercase letters is a type of stand or attitude; it is a personal manifesto that speaks to popular thinking about women and identity. Spelling my name the way that I want to spell it is simply a way of accepting and loving myself. But, it is also my way of letting people know that I am not a follower, although I am totally capable of collaborating with others on various projects and programs. I don’t always need to be out front and in charge, but I have always been a leader. I have always been womanish in attitude and expression, or, as Alice Walker says about womanism; a womanist is “serious and in charge!” Others may disagree with me or reject the spelling that I give my name, and they may make it “proper” for personal or institutional purposes, but at the end of the day, I am in charge of my life, my actions, my body, and, of course, I am in charge of saying or determining who I am. How I spell my name is up to me, alone. Yes, it may seem like such a small or unnecessary thing to say, but control over my name, the power to name myself and thus to know myself is a powerful freedom, and I take that freedom very seriously as other black women, like Audre Lorde, have done without shame and without apology.

Most people don’t break the rules. We live in a society where conformity is the name of the game. People keep the peace; on the job and beyond, they often engage in groupthink and peacemaking. Even with all that women and men have been through, especially black women, by and large, people don’t “rock the boat.” Spelling my name in lowercase letters is a passive yet strong way of saying that I am not afraid to break the rules. I am not afraid to walk down a new path if necessary. When I look at people who cling to the rules without a willingness to question them or perhaps change them, I see followers. This is both sad and disappointing because a great many of the rules, laws and practices that govern us actually need to be broken. Many of the rules that dictate our living and our being, at the least, need to be challenged. When people express a desire to control how I spell my name, it lets me know that they are probably not willing to make a change, not even in the small matters of their own lives. And, if they are not willing to start with changing self, I doubt very seriously if they will be willing to challenge the order of things when it comes to bigger matters, such as sexism, such as racism, such as heterosexism. When people do not model change or plant the seeds of change when it comes to their own affairs, it is doubtful that they will do it for others.

I should not have to say this, but one of the things that the world  desperately needs is people who really are willing to be the agents of change. The world needs real change agents, not the so-called change agents or change makers who merely appropriate the rhetoric or talk of change during election season in order to get votes. Today, many are appropriating the word “change-agent” or “change-maker,” but there is little doubt in my mind that many of those very same people would not be the first ones to tell me or others to what to do if they could. If they could get away with it they would tell me and others – the ones they may attempt to control –  to know, get or stay in a specific “place.” Yet, the place they want others to go is the place that makes them comfortable or secure in life. And, what they tell others to do is often a reflection of their own self-esteem or self-image.

By contrast, I don’t require others to spell my name in lowercase letters, but I don’t let others tell me what to do or how to spell my name so that they will feel better about themselves or what it says about their day to day choices. Fortunately, we live in a country that allegedly values “the freedom of speech.” And, that freedom applies to the spelling of one’s name. I feel free to model that freedom to name myself in my personal and in my public life, which are very interconnected. In the (re)spelling of my name I also model what it means to be in control and accountable for who I am. Last month I watched the politicians and pundits claim to be the agents or makers of change. Yet, I don’t see how they are much different from who or what has gone before them. To be an agent of change you’ve got to be willing to change yourself. If you are not willing to change, if you don’t know the power of changing things on your own, how in the world can you expect or require change from anybody else? And, if you are quick to tell others where to go, what to do and what to do when they get there, then I doubt that you will allow yourself to get out of place for a worthy cause (and perhaps not even for an unworthy cause). These days, there’s a whole lot of talk about change, but that talk is often just what it is: talk.

Oh how I wish that more people would be willing to break the rules and get out of the places that people and society have constructed for them to be. I long to see people who lead and from a place inside of them that is authentic and thus political (or socially responsible). Donald Trump, for example, is the antithesis of authenticity and accountability. He uses the rhetoric of change yet promotes the ideas and nostalgia of a troubled American past. What former greatness does he want to revive or replicate? Yes, there were times in my past that I was pretty good, but the person that I have become today is much better, stronger and confident. There is actually no part of my past to which I would like to return. Indeed, I look back and I learn, but life is moving forward, not backward. My being who I am today is based on my ability to grow and  learn from my past mistakes and successes; yearning for something that I once did, for the person I once was, or for the life I once experienced would indicate to me that there is some preoccupation or unfinished business that I have with regard to my past. Perhaps, in some weird, twisted kind-of-way those who want to go back and revive the past, like Trump and his followers, really are preoccupied by something that is back there. Clearly, for better or for worse, they have some preoccupation or attachment to the persons, places or things of the past that they remember. Maybe they want to fix something that was broken in the past; or, perhaps they want to repair some damage that was done in the past, or maybe they have regrets. As far as I am concerned, I cannot fix the past; no one can. But, what I do with the present and what happens in the future depends on my ability to interpret the past accurately and then to plant the seeds of change that will bring forth powerful and better futures.

To the would-be and rising change agents out there, I must say that you cannot bring forth better futures if you keep looking back, longing for what was once there. To feel the power of change, to be the power of change, you have to be willing to break  the rules, to cross lines and usually that means you will be in the minority. Don’t be fooled by those who merely talk about change, because to be a  true change-agent or a change-maker you’ve got to be willing to be in a new place, not the old. Indeed, it is not easy being in a new place, or being in the minority. But please know that today, more than ever, if we are going to create powerful and better futures, we desperately need those who are bold enough and brave enough to spell their own names.

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

To Honor Great Ones

I am watching the movie Roots

To honor great ones

Those who surpassed terror.

And one day those who come after me

Will honor me

And my struggle

By having the wisdom and the courage

To re-member my story

And my roots.


© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Dude, Read My Book! Tanner Colby, Kansas City, and the ‘Psychological Wages of Whiteness’

I was excited when I heard that Tanner Colby was coming to Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, to discuss his “best-selling” book, Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America. His being at Rockhurst (a private Catholic/Jesuit institution), held on Monday, April 18, 2016, was promoted to be a “conversation on diversity, inclusion, and cross-cultural communication,” and it was facilitated by Lewis Diuguid who is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.

A little bit about my excitement: I had read parts of Colby’s book at the recommendation of my colleagues at the University of Missouri Kansas City. Initially, I thought those parts that I had read detailing what is known locally and perhaps beyond as the “Troost racial divide” in Kansas City (what Colby describes on pg. 77 as “the Berlin Wall of Kansas City”) were worthwhile and compelling. Kansas City is a place that has a very visible racial divide between black and white neighborhoods/residents/communities; and, throughout the city there are many pockets or spaces of uneven development that articulate socio-spatial disparities and the complexities between race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. At one time in Kansas City, black residents couldn’t even think of going west of Troost to socialize and to own own a home. Kansas City’s earliest and most notable racial divisions were set in place largely because of the the infamous developer/real estate practices of J.C. Nichols (and others) who crafted racially restrictive covenants to create exclusive all-white neighborhoods and spaces in areas that were once the white suburban hinterlands of Kansas City and the neighboring suburbs of the Kansas, and thus what we know as the Kansas City metropolitan area is “hypersegregated.” Unfortunately, Nichols wasn’t alone. The landscape and thus many of the neighborhoods located east of Troost are mostly black, poor and lacking in development and resources (you might want to check out this recent video documentary on KC, “Our Divided City,” but please note that I think that it is lacking on several accounts!). They were created through the exploitation of human fears of the other or the unknown. Due to racist real estate practices, white xenophobia about black humanity and any other culturally-othered groups for that matter (including Latinos), the landscape west of Troost has been constructed as white, privileged, and a preferential focal point of local community and neighborhood development. In contrast, the landscape east of Troost has been consistently othered, ignored and demonized by real estate and business developers, .e.g., one might say many areas or neighborhoods east of Troost are consistently underdeveloped.

Ironically, Rockhurst University is situated in 49/63, which is a neighborhood on the east side of Troost. In the 1960s, residents of the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition organized against racist real estate practices  and real estate brokers; specifically they stood up to Bob Wood, who rather blatantly took advantage of its white residents’ racial fears. In his book, Colby  wrote about Wood  – a real estate developer – who openly spread the word to neighborhood whites that blacks would be moving to the neighborhood and he then offered to buy their homes at a low rate and then resell them to blacks at a higher rate (This is called “blockbusting and it is what most decent and rational people would characterize as predatory and unethical lending). In an effort to stop Wood, the organization of the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition created a local movement to mitigate neighborhood white flight and the furthering of the “racialization of space” (for more on this subject I recommend Kevin Fox Gotham’s book: Race, Real-Estate, and Uneven Development: The Kansas City Experience, 1900-2000).

Upon hearing of Colby’s talk at Rockhurst, I wondered how he would articulate the basis for his book and I was definitely curious about how he would talk about diversity, inclusion and cross-cultural communication (especially given the fact that he did not grow up in the Kansas City metropolitan area nor does he live here at the present time – he lives in Brooklyn, NY). But, I regret to say that Colby’s delivery and conversation about his book and about race, racism, diversity, inclusion and cross-cultural communication were so disappointing that I don’t know if I will ever use it or recommend it again. Here is why.

Lewis Diuguid, who first-off reminded me of “Grady” on Sanford and Son, was probably the most non-challenging facilitator who could have been chosen to moderate the talk with Tanner Colby. If you know anything about Sanford and Son (a 1970s sitcom – and it re-aired in the 1980s ) and if you know Mr. Diuguid then you might understand why my reference to the character “Grady” is even worth mentioning (if not maybe it will come to you when you watch this link). On the other hand, I do think that Diuguid asked some very useful questions, like “How long did you [Colby] spend in Kansas City researching for the book?” – to which his answer was one month; and ,”What are your thoughts on racism?” I also think the conversation with Mr. Colby would have been very different had the questions been asked by someone who didn’t talk like a therapist, but most of all if the questions were asked by someone who has made the study of racism and urban systems central to his or her life’s work. Indeed, this is NOT to say that journalists like Diuguid and Colby cannot or do not speak intelligently on the racialization of urban space, but, if CNN or other media outlets have anything to show us it is that often high-profiled journalists’ understandings of these issues are often quite limited and often quite elementary.

Secondly, I took issue with Colby’s claim that there is nothing that can be done about the racism or racist thinking of his generation or those otherwise known as Generation X (according to Colby “they are already half-baked”). Much to my dismay, Colby believes that there is hope for his children (he has two under the age of five) to overcome racism and the legacy of racist real-estate practices. This was shocking and beyond comprehension to me. I mean how on earth are the children of “half-baked” parents going to learn from parents who model acquiescence or compliance with the status quo; how will they learn to  make or be friends with black or other non-white people when their parents have admittedly failed to do this? Is it the responsibility of the society at large? Or maybe it is their primary or secondary teachers who must, according to Tanner Colby, have the ability to do something other or greater than their parents? I found it interesting and even compelling that it was the subject of friendship that gave him the initial motivation to write this book. Colby noted that it was his realization that he did not have any black friends that led to this book project (which was accepted by his publisher although initially he did not have an intended audience or an idea of “who would buy the book”). I think it’s pretty clear what Colby needs to do if he wants more black friends – as one person in the audience pointed out quite audibly – : to make friends with black people “you have to go where they are.”

Third, this whole idea of making friends with black people, as the basis for the book, is dripping in white guilt vis à vis white privilege. On the one hand, I do think that Colby has some important things to say to people – mostly white people – who have never thought about why they do not have many or any black friends, nor why they have little to no knowledge about the structural and spatial production and the racialization of space. However, when I did a little research on Tanner Colby he has openly asserted in at least one article that whites have all the power and that blacks are dependent upon whites for this power which leads to access. I found this sentiment particularly condescending and unfortunate. No doubt, this attitude [highlighted in the comment below] is standing in Mr. Colby’s way of making friends with black people. In a very poignant way it reflects what the late sociologist W.E.B. DuBois termed “the psychological wages of whiteness,” or the belief (philosophy) that whites in the U.S. are, by virtue of their skin privilege, entitled to material accumulation and social status.

…The result is that black people end up with integration fatigue. Many black writers responded to [a] Reuter’s poll with essays on why they didn’t want white friends, and didn’t need them. White friends weren’t worth the bother.

This is their prerogative, but ultimately, it’s to society’s disadvantage because white people control the access to, well, just about everything. If you don’t have white friends you might have a decent job and a comfortable life, but all the doors of opportunity in this country are not open to you.

Listening to his lecture, I got that feeling from Mr. Colby. Implicitly, he communicates a kind of superiority and apologetic posture for whites who have fled to the suburbs – and this notwithstanding that he is an Obamaphile. Being a fan of Obama will not solve his dilemma: his lack of or desire for black friends. Rather, what might help him gain more black friends and understand why so many other whites like him do not have many black friends (although I don’t know what number of friends he is trying to achieve) is that he drop the “possessive investment in whiteness,” which is a term enunciated by Black Studies scholar George Lipsitz in his book The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics. Black communities, neighborhoods, people are not waiting on white people to befriend or to save them. Nor are they waiting for Generation X’ers like Colby who see themselves as half-baked and ineffectual when it comes to the problem of race and racial integration but who think that miraculously, somehow, their children will be able to do what they have not done or modeled before them. In response to a rather abrupt question from someone in the audience about whether Colby now has any black friends – asked by a person who actually grew up on the east side of Troost – Colby defensively responded, “Dude, read my book!” And there it was. Colby’s knee-jerk response demonstrated an attitude that is not all that uncommon for journalist-types or writers who believe that because they have written a book, or because they have become “best-selling” authors that that is actually doing something or anything to change things for the better. And, here is the thing: if I go to hear and see an author in person and that author cannot or will not explain the subject of his book in a clear and concise way, or answer tough questions without kind of losing it, then why would I read or buy the book (and on such a hot-button subject for crying out loud)? Because he has written it? Because he is white? C’mon man, really?

And, if reading the book or buying Colby’s book is written by a man who 1) sees himself as half-baked when it comes to changing social and spatial inequities, and who 2) does not understand or articulate how it is that white people have profited from their identity as whites while also maintaining a possessive investment in whiteness and the psychological wages of whiteness that have dubbed them into thinking that black people need them to be valuable or worthy of being in possession of fair and decent housing, or education, or employment or much of anything else that is needed to survive in this terribly racist social and spatial reality that we live in, especially in urban places or cities like Kansas City, then what is the purpose of reading Colby’s book? What words of wisdom does he actually have to give? And why in the world is he invited to speak about diversity, inclusion and cross-cultural communication? What qualifications make him a go-to writer on the subject of race, diversity and inclusion in Kansas City? For crying out loud, just before writing this book Tanner Colby had NO BLACK FRIENDS!

What do I think about Tanner Colby and his book now that I have had the chance to see him talk about it in person? Here is what I think: Dude, if you want friendship with black people you’ve got to make friends with black people. And, unfortunately, history has shown us that when whites have committed to being in authentic friendship with black people (which is not about liking people on Facebook, nor is it simply a matter of being in close proximity to black because of work, church or working on a political campaign); when whites have decided to situate themselves as equal partners with blacks and non-whites they have often been labeled as race traitors and in some cases they have been killed by those who hate to see and know that blacks and whites have aligned and especially when that has been to break down the structural and spatial barriers that have been constructed and placed between them to make them believe falsehoods about themselves (usually upwards or downwards). Reading a book or even writing a book does nothing to change the fact that whites and blacks have been divided, and we will continue to be divided no matter how many Tanner Colbys are remarkably able to write and publish books because they have realized that they have no black friends.

To all the Tanner Colby types out there I will say this: if you want to be friends with black people, you’ve got to be willing to put yourself on the line with black people and to know and treat them with respect and dignity as your equals and you cannot see yourselves as their saviors. On the other hand, I regret to say that doing this, seeking friendship with black people and giving up a savior’s complex also means that you must let go of the the possessive investment in whiteness although doing that in a culture that is dominated by thinking that says that “white is right” will be seen as “treason” to whiteness, and thus if you challenge or offend the ideological power of whiteness you will probably also be targeted, lied on, demonized, hated and perhaps killed by those who have a vested interest in keeping black and white people and their communities separate and unequal. But, Dear Mr. Colby, if you are not willing to break your loyalty to whiteness then…Dude, it is probably best that you stick to writing books while the rest of us get down to the nitty-gritty of stopping racism in its tracks and transforming society and making neighborhoods and real-estate development more equitable and more diverse (like the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition in Kansas City was able to do many decades ago). In the end it will be because of these people and these efforts that your children will be able overcome the awful legacy of segregation that has led to the construction of so many horrible socio-spatial racial divides. And, unfortunately, they will not learn how to do this by reading your book!

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

P.S. I would like to send my sincere thanks to a very important but private person for helping me to develop my thinking for this blog. He knows who he is.

A Brief Word on Harriet Tubman, American Hypocrisy and Tokenism

Harriet Tubman on the tool that greedy humans use to manufacture their wealth while murdering and impoverishing millions on this land and on lands around the globe? What is there to applaud? Why should I rejoice?

I want those who made this decision and the United States government to use money to do justice, not to divide nations, destroy the Earth, and re-enslave people and their communities. This thing called “money” is used daily to rank and classify the quality of our lives. It is a small piece of paper that has become a very destructive yet powerful global mechanism of social and economic control. Try to exist without it. Try to matter without it.

How can I be happy or moved about the decision to put the face of Harriet Tubman, a courageous African and American woman who liberated herself and others from those greedy for profits and power on a $20 “bill” while a bounty was placed on her head, as if putting her image on money is an adequate way of honoring her life that was repeatedly threatened and endangered by white hate and contempt? And, does this mean that the American people and the U.S. government respect and honor black womens’ lives, especially poor black womens’ lives, just as they honor famous white men who are memorialized on U.S. currency? Of course, black women are noticed and appreciated by the powers that be if and when they are making money to the ultimate profit of a small white minority, and often to a single white man or family who is hidden behind a sheet, or in today’s terms, he is hidden behind a screen (which sounds a lot like a plantation economy to me). On the contrary, in many U.S. cities and towns, black women make less money than their black male counterparts, thus, though we may be very visible, economically and socially, we are not valued equally as black men, and certainly we are not as valued and thus not as compensated as white women. And, if recent events have demonstrated anything, we know today that in the eyes of the law black women (like Marissa Alexander and Sandra Bland), black mothers, black men, black lesbians, black gay men, black-trans, black children, and black lives in general DO NOT MATTER. If in fifty to one-hundred years from now the Department of the Treasury or the Federal Reserve puts their faces on paper money it will not make them matter. It will not erase or undo the past and the harm that has been done in the name of American economic and so-called globalized progress.

Harriet Tubman, one of the greatest Emancipator’s this nation has ever known, does not deserve to be made a monetary token to support the American economy that was built on the backs of African peoples and others this nation’s colonizers chose to exploit. To honor her is to dare to set the captives free and thus to live an emancipatory life! To respect the life and legacy of Harriet Tubman, whose first name was Araminta Ross, we must live by her motto, “go free or die.” Because in the end, when we take our last breaths, it will not be money, the Department of the Treasury, or the Federal Reserve that made our lives what they were: it will be our humanity and the courage we had, in spite of our oppressors and oppressions, to face life and death, free.

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Black Lives Still Matter

We Africans have been declaring that


Since captivity at the hands of the greedy Europeans of the past.


That the greedy Europeans of the present do not want to hear us or see us

Does not silence us

Black lives still matter.

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Why I Didn’t Get Married

First of all, this blog is long overdue. I have been meaning to write this blog for months, but I could never bring myself to do it with everything else that has been happening in my life for the last four to six months. But, from day one, when this idea came to me, I felt that it was a very important topic to write about. And, besides, it is one that never gets old, at least not for me.

Frequently, I am asked about marriage. The closer that I get to being fifty years old, I guess, for some, it seems an appropriate question for a woman. And, for some, I suppose that it seems strange that a woman has managed to stay unmarried with no children in her adult life. I’ve been close to marriage once. It has been more than twenty five years since I was engaged to be married, but it was an engagement that lasted all of two months. The deceptive actions of my ex-fiance made the idea of marriage – with him – simply unimaginable. Now, when I look back, I don’t regret backing out of that engagement for a moment, but when it happened, when it was clear that our relationship would not lead to marriage, I was devastated. But, that was to be understood; I was in my early twenties and marriage was an idea that I had been taught to embrace from my childhood. To be more exact I would say that I was indoctrinated into embracing and believing in the idea of marriage.

Today, marriage is not a priority for me. In fact, there are times when it is not really an idea that appeals to me; at least not with so many relationships and marriages in the U.S. falling to pieces. One book captures this concern. In Is Marriage for White People: How the African American Decline Affects Everyone, professor of law at Stanford, Ralph Richard Banks queries:

White adults, men and women alike, are more than twice as likely to be single now as in 1970. More American women in their early thirties are single today than ever in our nation’s history. African Americans lead the marriage decline; other groups follow…Still, marriage has diminished more among African Americans than among any other Americans, including whites with whom I typically contrast African Americans for ease of exposition. Black women are only half as likely as white women to be married (11), and more than two times as likely as white women never to marry (12). As others marry, black women often remain alone (13).

I came to terms, years ago, with the idea of being alone, as in being not married. At first I was not married due to a failed relationship – or so it seemed. Later, I was not not married by choice. Why? Well, by my early thirties I came to understand that being alone does not mean being without male companionship or intimacy. I do not have trouble finding men to date. Shucks, “some of my best friends are men,” and I often enjoy the presence of a man for fun and relaxation. However, rarely have I found that many of those men would make good or worthwhile lifetime partners. Yes, every now and then I meet a man who is quite intriguing, but marriage is the last thing on my mind. Most of the time, I’m just trying to ascertain what is possible with that man. Ultimately, I want to know can we get along! Do we have what it takes to last as a couple? If we can’t get through the first month or two, or six, without too much trouble, then, duh, there is no going forward. I am simply not into the idea of getting married just for marriage’s sake.

Today, my approach to marriage is similar to my approach to teaching and to my life as an academic in general. I expect college students to put their all into doing well in a course; and, likewise, I put my all into what I am teaching and writing. Furthermore, I believe that we are all students of life, and with that comes recognizing the lessons we learn about ourselves and love. I try to give my all when I feel love with a man, but, a man who shows me that he is not willing or capable of giving his all and of doing the emotional work of relationship is not, as some might say, “marriage material.” In fact, such a man is not really “relationship material.” I enjoy being in an intimate relationship with a man; it is where I do some of my best work, so to speak. I enjoy talking and working things out, but rarely do I meet men who enjoy talking and working things out. On the flipside, I find that many men enjoy the fun of being in relationships, but they often avoid the not-so-fun part of being in relationship. And there is at least one good reason for that: when you open up yourself to someone of interest, you are making your whole self visible and thus seen. All the good parts are visible, but so are all of the not-so-good parts. Being seen wholly like this makes us all vulnerable and thus open to pain or hurt. Patriarchy and the social construction of masculinity teaches many men (from childhood) to avoid being so seen with such vulnerability. One of my favorite authors, feminist bell hooks, has explained, that boys, especially black boys, are often only seen in part, not wholly. For some, going through life not being seen as vulnerable, often expressed as cold or hard, is a means to surviving traumatic and painful conditions. The downside is that refusing to be seen as vulnerable and making oneself invisible to avoid being seen as a way of life can also lead one down a very lonely and dark path. On the contrary, I have found that being vulnerable is the way to thrive in life and in love. Embracing our vulnerability (being willing to share our whole selves with another) is the lifeline to experiencing a good, healthy relationship. Of course, this kind of vulnerability, which leads to intimacy, doesn’t happen overnight, but gradually and with time and effort it has beautiful and rewarding consequences for those who are willing to make themselves visible to each other, scars and all, and in spite of the fact that they might get hurt: unfortunately, getting the possibility of hurt goes with the territory.

So, before I close this blog I will say openly that I am not against getting married, nor do I think that it is something that is only for white people. However, I will say that until people – men and women no matter what color or class – are willing to be seen as vulnerable then marriage is not something to be embraced or taken seriously. That said, I will also say that instead of constantly finding paradigms to fit ourselves into, such as marriage, we must endeavor to find the wherewithal to construct healthy social or relationship paradigms that work for us in the here and now. And, whatever paradigms we construct for ourselves, must be specific to who we and our own lived experiences.

In conclusion, if a person is not good at developing healthy relationships – ones that are based on respect, honesty, equity, and lovingkindness –  then how is marriage imaginable? No marriage will survive if there is disrespect, dishonesty, inequity or animosity for the other, unless, I suppose, there is some kind of covert arrangement or transaction at work. In addition, it is very important to recognize one’s own autonomy or worth and completeness apart from anybody else. Thus, what I have learned from life is that I, as a black woman, do not have to be married to be happy or fulfilled in life. Being happy or fulfilled is something that is up to me to cultivate and so far I do not require or need marriage or children to find fulfillment or happiness in life. Yes, it is always great to share myself with a man that I care about, and I have known some amazing men, but I can love a man wholly without being married and without bringing children into this world. The happiness that I feel and know for myself is something I know and create from within, for myself, and right now there is nothing more important than doing that at this point in my life.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.