The following is my final product from Prof. Leon Dash’s Immersion Journalism class. Prof. Dash is a two time Pulitzer Prize winner, author of Rosa Lee and a great professor. Immersion Journalism allows journalists to conduct extensive, personal, in-depth interviews with a single person over multiple weeks, months, or years.
In January 2009, I attended a concert at the High Dive in downtown Champaign. The rapper on stage proclaimed between songs, “Today is a great day. My President is Black. My President is Black!” After the show, that statement inspired me to ask the rapper, Edward Moses, if I could interview him about his experiences as a young African American male.
Moses grew up on the South Side of Chicago. His earliest memory from school comes from second grade in the Edgar Allen Poe Honors School. He walked up to his teacher, Ms. Pope, on the first day of class and said, “Hello, my name is Eddie Moses.” Ms. Pope responded, “Mr. Moses, go sit down and be quiet.”
He learned that Ms. Pope did not like children, “What got me was that this woman who had such a dedication to education seemed to have such a strange rancor toward children of our age. But she was teaching children of our age. Most notably, I found it very strange and very, very perplexing that some of this rancor and some of this disgust seemed to be directed toward minority children, because Edgar Allen Poe classically had been a very mixed school.” Eddie recalled a couple of conflicts with Ms. Pope during the first half of second grade.
The most prominent confrontation occurred when Eddie turned in an English assignment asking the second graders to correctly punctuate sentences with commas and quotation marks. He completed the assignment and then asked his mother, Laverne Moses, to check his work. His mother was an English teacher at the Harriet Beecher Stowe School. They reviewed his work and checked it against a punctuation style guide. Eddie confidently submitted his assignment. Ms. Pope gave him a grade of “F.” He immediately objected and insisted that he had done the assignment correctly. Ms. Pope responded, “Everybody has to fail sometime. You have to learn to come to accept the fact that you are wrong sometimes.” Eddie looked at her and replied, “But I’m not wrong.” She said, “Yes, you are. I’m a teacher; I’m right. He pleaded with her to allow him to redo the assignment, but she refused. During our interview, Moses turned flustered and angry. His memories swelled his body with passion. He reenacted his response to Ms. Pope by pretending to snap an imaginary pencil in half by pushing hard against the eraser with his thumb, “She’s trying to teach me the margin, basically. Black does not necessarily equal right in some people’s perception. So therefore, it appears absolutely foreign, strange, off-kilter, 12 as opposed to the baker’s dozen of 13, whatever you want to call it.”
She sent him to the principal’s office to receive punishment. The Black principal expressed shock to see Eddie in her office, given his good reputation. He explained the situation to the principal and the principal called Eddie’s mother to confirm the story. Eddie’s mother met with Ms. Pope and both sides vigorously expressed their belief about whether Eddie correctly completed the assignment. Ms. Pope questioned Mrs. Moses’ authority in English. Mrs. Moses replied, “I’ve been teaching English for 20 years.” Ms. Pope replied, “I’ve been teaching English for 40 years and this is the way I’ve been teaching it.” Mrs. Moses replied, “Well you’ve been teaching it incorrectly.” Eddie described their confrontation, “My Mom and Ms. Pope are basically giving each other, ya know, the Millennium stink eye, ya know.”
Seeking resolve, Ms. Pope, Mrs. Moses, and Eddie brought the assignment to a 6th grade teacher who Ms. Pope regarded as an English language authority. The 6th grade teacher supported Eddie without reservation and said, “Ms. Pope, we have to have a talk.”
At the end of the first semester with Ms. Pope, Eddie’s parents asked him whether he was happy in Ms. Pope’s classroom. He said, “I don’t like Ms. Pope very much.” He disliked Ms. Pope with passion. His parents removed him from the school and sent him to a predominantly White magnet school. Eddie’s parents played a proactive role in developing his education.
Ms. Pope was White. Every teacher Eddie had from first through eighth grade was White. Although he did not suspect Ms. Pope of discriminating against him while he was in her class, he now believes that her poor treatment of him exposed her racist attitude. Eddie said, “I couldn’t quite perceive race. My Grandfather is mixed, as is my Dad. So, you stand my grandfather and me next to one another, it looks like I’m adopted. As a matter of fact, such an occasion happened where a teacher said to my Grandfather, ‘Oh, is Edward adopted?’ Because that was in hindsight the only explanation for me being an intelligent young Black boy, was the fact that I had to have been raised by a White family.”
Moses’ father has been a strong presence in his life, “My Dad was one of my best friends when I was a kid. I swore to God that everybody’s daddy was supposed to be a bigger version of them because kids can’t go to stores and buy toys by themselves; they have to have a daddy to do it. So my Daddy was just a big kid. He played Legos with me. He played Nintendo with me.”
Moses attributed his father’s non-denominational Christianity to an incident when a White, Roman Catholic priest called him a “nigger.” His father served as an altar boy, “The way my father put it to me made perfect sense. These are people preaching love, understanding and just treatment of everybody across the world, but they will still call a young Black boy a nigger.” Moses, now a Buddhist, described his father as a young man as being “unusually respectful,” which adds to the mystery of why the priest called him a “nigger.”
On the first day of class at his new school he introduced himself to Ms. Harmond and she replied, “Hello Eddie, it’s great to meet you.”
Eddie’s father, a triple major from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Chicago Police Officer, had been teaching him mathematics far beyond his grade level, “One day we’re doing math and same instance where I’m raising my hand getting every question right. She pulls me aside and asks, ‘Edward, are these problems too easy for you?’ I said, ‘I’ve done them before.’” Eddie could do fourth grade math in second grade. Ms. Harmond moved Eddie into a 4th grade math class for one day. Eddie said, “It’s an all White class and they’re sort of perplexed at this seven year old Black kid sitting down and doing problems. They’re having trouble and I’m helping them. And that sort of set Ms. Harmond off.” Ms. Harmond wrote on Eddie’s report card that his attitude is impeccable, but she questioned his parents about whether he enjoyed sufficient social time.
Eddie took the Iowa State Aptitude Exam, an SAT exam for elementary students. He scored in the 99th percentile on the mathematics and English portions of the exam. Mrs. Moses asked Ms. Harmond to put Edward in higher level classes. Ms. Harmond said, “I can’t. There has to be something wrong with this.” Eddie said, “My Mom got this look on her face like ‘Not again.’” Mrs. Moses told Ms. Harmond to “put Edward in 4th grade math for the rest of the year and watch what happens.”
Ms. Harmond gave her students “mad minute” math exams that asked students 30 math problems in 60 seconds. If a student successfully completed a mad minute, the student received a free pizza for lunch. Eddie said, “I ate free pizza for four weeks straight.” Ms. Harmond expressed disbelief at his performance. She said, “Have you been looking on other student’s papers?” Ms. Harmond asked Eddie to do a mad minute right next to her desk to ensure that he could not cheat. He completed it in 45 seconds with a perfect score: 30 out of 30. “She’s like, OK, you’re going to sit next to me from now on when we do math, OK? And so as opposed to asking the teacher for help, the kids starting asking me for help. Ms. Harmond took that as an affront. She calls my parents in again. She’s like, ‘I’m gonna put it out there, I think Edward is cheating.’” Mrs. Moses was “angry as all Hell.”
Moses said, “In a lot of people’s minds, Black people are seen as tricksters, hustlers, swindlers, gangstas, all of which is a subset of the container metaphor of what people perceive as Black. Therefore, when you present them with something different, you’re a fluke or there has to be an angle you’re working. At seven and eight years old I had to be working a grifter’s angle with regards to getting grades. Sitting next to the teacher’s desk, staring at a paper, gripping a pencil.”
Moses believes that Ms. Harmond would not have accused him of cheating if he wore white skin. After Eddie graduated 8th grade, he encountered Ms. Harmond by chance outside of his Beverly neighborhood home. Beverly has a median income of $66,823, “I’m outside raking the lawn and Ms. Harmond walks by and she says, ‘Edward?’ I said, ‘Hi, Ms. Harmond. How are you?’ She’s like, ‘Good. It’s good to see you’re earning yourself some money on the side.’ And I was like, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ She’s like, ‘It’s a gorgeous house. Do you know the people whose lawn you’re raking?’ And I said, ‘Yes, they’re my parents.’ And she sort of got taken aback. She’s like, ‘You live in Beverly now?’ I’m like, ‘Yea, we moved here about two years ago so I could be closer to school, plus my parents, I think, just wanted a big house again.’ And she’s like, ‘Well, it was nice seeing you.’ She just sort of keeps walking. She’s just so perplexed at what just took place that she’s almost in the equivalent of shell shock, ya know? There’s nothing she can do about it. I have not seen her since. She knows where I live, but I have not seen her since.”
Eddie suffered an educational malaise in the 5th and 6th grades, “Having taken all of these child psych classes and learning about zone of proximal development and all this other business, maybe in my hindsight, in my child mind I associated achievement with being somewhat of a social outcast, a scarlet letter of achievement, to put it in sort of an oxymoron. I’m not getting anything by doing well. So in 5th and 6th grades, I just let go. I didn’t do well, ya know. I tried, but I didn’t try my hardest. I studied, but I didn’t study my hardest. It’s strange that the teacher I had in 5th and 6th grade, Ms. Ronin, was one of the best teachers I ever had and was pushing me and was saying to me, ‘I looked at your grades in the past, you were doing this kind of math when you were in third grade. Why aren’t you trying now?’ And I couldn’t give her a reason. I don’t know.”
Moses attended Mount Carmel High School, “I tested into the honors program. They didn’t put me there. They put me in regular courses. This is a tuition-based, parochial high school. For two semesters straight, I make a 4.0. My Mom told them, ‘Put him in the honors program. He can do the work.’ And the high school basically says, ‘We’ll see.’ And I show them I can do the work. My Mom says, ‘Well?’ They’re like, ‘We can’t.’ At this stage, I was saying to myself, ‘OK, school I know like the back of my hand. Let’s coast.’ So I coast making A’s. And then Father Carl, the principal, pulls me aside one day and says to me, you’ve been making a 4.0 for three semesters straight, what do you wanna do? I’m like, ‘Well, my Mom wants me to be put in honors courses.’ He’s like, ‘Do you wanna go in.’ I was like, ‘I think I can do the work.’ He was like, ‘Well OK, we’ll put you in.’ They put me in – coast. Father Carl, my professors are all just like ‘Wow.’ No discrimination, no nothing. And this is the thing, the Catholic high school system in Chicago has a history of racism. Mount Carmel has a history of sometimes racism. But I have never been treated, it’s not to say the racism didn’t happen there, but I’ve never gotten a more fair shake than I have at Mount Carmel. It took the kids in the school to show me racism.”
One student provided the six-feet-four inches tall Moses with his most intense experience with racism, “These are all kids from the same neighborhood I’m from – Beverly. Uh, Tom Dart. Five foot three, probably like 120 pounds. Little, little runty, pardon my French, motherfucker. Son of a bitch. White guy. Hates my guts. Do you wanna know why? Cuz I don’t act Black. And because I don’t seem Black. So he’s teasing me in gym one day, alongside a couple of football players. Mount Carmel is a football school. I don’t play football. It’s one of the few fights I ever got into in my life. They’re making fun of me. One kid, Marty Mangian, who he and I were at each other’s throats and then we realized, eh, we’re both smart, we’re both crazy, we might as well be friends. He’s still one of my best friends to this day. Marty tells these kids, ‘Leave Moses alone.’ They’re like, ‘Why?’ He’s like, ‘Moses is nuts, he’s been made fun of all his life, do you wanna be the person he’s gonna snap on?’ The football players don’t learn, neither does Tom Dart. Tom Dart one day makes fun of me in class. We’re sitting in folding chairs one day while they’re showing a film. Tom Dart keeps whispering racist shit into my ear. I turn around. The gym teacher is like, ‘Do you have to go to the bathroom?’ I’m like, ‘No.’ I fold the folding chair and I hit Tom Dart in the head with it. It takes four teachers to pull me off of Tom Dart because I’ve got his head in my hands and I’m hitting it into the floor. Tom Dart is not hurt; he’s scared to death. The football coaches pull me downstairs, calm me down. Tears are streaming down my face, because when I get angry to that stage, I’m crying. Tears are streaming down my face. The head football coach, Frank Lenti, who always sort of viewed me as this smart kid who every now and again he talked to. He liked me. Frank Lenti comes up to me, he’s like, ‘I hear you hit Tom Dart in the head with a chair.’ I’m like, ‘Yea, I did.’ He’s like, ‘Why? And don’t worry about language.’ I’m like, ‘Cuz he fuckin’ deserved it.’ He’s like, ‘Why did he fuckin’ deserve it?’ I’m like, ‘Because he was calling me a nigger and I wasn’t going to take it. It almost got to the point where he put his hands on me, so I’m gonna keep them off me. I bet he ain’t gonna mess with me no more.’ Sure enough he didn’t. And that’s how the rumor spread through the school – Moses is a very smart kid, but don’t mess with him. Tom, I think, is gonna remember it forever. I hope he does. Like I said, it took the kids to show me racism.”
As Moses tells me this story, his eyes widen. He moves his hands and his arms to demonstrate the incident, but his gestures also reveal the lingering emotion of the incident. Moses was not punished by the school for responding to Tom Dart’s antagonism. He never told his parents about the incident. I asked Moses, “There were no consequences then to you attacking, err resp-, responding, to Tom Dart?” He replied, “There were no consequences.” I consciously and deliberately chose my words when interviewing Moses. I changed the word “attacking” to “responding,” because I thought it expressed more empathy for the situation. It showed my understanding that he was not the aggressor who attacked Tom Dart, rather he was the victim who responded to an aggressor.
Mount Carmel High School expelled Dart. When Moses was 22 years old, Tommy Dart showed up at a party in Beverly looking to start a fight with Moses, “At some point or another he came in drunk already and looking to start a fight with me. This kid comes into this party and the first thing he does is walk up to me and he spits on me. To some extent his racial animosities showed through at that party. He knew other people at that party but he didn’t make a B-line toward them. He made a B-line to spit on me, ya know? In hindsight, it is what it is, it takes what it takes. I still wonder what the Hell he’s doing with his life and I’m not trying to sound arrogant in that regard, but I wonder. If for nothing else than the occasional arrogant chuckle. I have the feeling my Dad’s right. They never learn. They’re never going to learn. And all you can do in your role in their lives is serve to some extent to show them that yes there are decent people still in the world and you can try to positively affect them. That’s about the long and short of it.” Moses’ friends mocked and beat up Dart after he spit on Moses at that party.
Moses wrote slam poetry in high school that expressed his disdain for the diminutive Dart, “And to the naysayers with Napoleon complexes / I would dare say to you / That despite my asthma inhaler / I am Darth Vader / Prepare to be cut down / I am Black nerd / Hear me roar / In shades of Star Wars.” Moses said, “Yes, it was directed at Tom Dart. And if he was there, I would have stared directly into his eyes and flipped him the bird while I said that line.”
Moses told me a lengthy story about Joe Baesian and four high school classmates who picked on him relentlessly. He said, “They took it upon themselves to try and make my high school career ridiculous because I was the smart Black kid.” The story depicted unmotivated, less intelligent students picking on Moses. Nothing in the story indicated direct racism, but Moses interprets the motivations of the students as being racial. Joe Baesian was also kicked out of school, which Moses predicted in a heated lunchroom exchange he had with him.
All of the students who bullied Moses were White. He says that he “had no problem with any Black people at that school.” He describes the student population as being 25% Black, 10% Latin, and 65% White.
Moses started attending the University of Illinois in the Fall of 2002. He begins by describing his experience at Illinois as “strange, subversive racism at this institution, which I began to learn about. I graduated 11th out of my class. Good ACT scores, good SAT scores. Extracurriculars out the wazoo. I got a thousand dollars. Kids that did less than me got full rides, ya know? My family has been attending this institution since the 1920’s. Legacy is established with my family. Maybe their families as well. I don’t know about financial need. All I know is that I feel as though I got short end of stick. But undergrad is long since over and best not to be bitter.”
Moses was one of about seven Black students living at Allen Hall. About 550 students lived there in total. He perceives the dorms as being segregated along racial lines: FAR/PAR houses Blacks and Latinos, ISR houses Asians, and the Six-Pack houses Whites from the suburbs of Chicago.
Allen Hall changed Moses. He went from an isolated youth who concentrated on his studies and on music to a popular nerd, “Talking about diversity, so many people the same. I suppose that’s also part of what I despise about this campus. To some extent there are pockets of individuality and the individuality herd itself into groups to help maintain it, but then you develop this clique mentality, ya know? And you can see it anytime you go out to a house party. I’ll admit, I am that dude, that when I walk into a house party, I get 30,000 handshakes. ‘What’s up Moses?’ ‘Moses, what’s going on?’ I liked the idea that because my interests were so diverse, I traversed groups.”
I asked Moses, “So, socially, am I correct in perceiving that you went from being, not completely isolated, but . . . .” Moses anticipated my question, “But relatively isolated to blossoming? Yea, I definitely hopped out of my shell in college. Allen [Hall] helped me hop out my shell quick, fast, and in a hurry.”
Moses feels that in high school he mostly endured racism from the students and that the faculty treated him properly. He feels that at Illinois, he has endured racism from both students and the institution. He associates most of his racist experiences on campus with the Greek system, “Ranging anywhere from frat boys shouting stuff at me while I’m walking past the frat house and then denying they ever said it. They never expect you to just be like, ‘Yo, that’s bullshit.’ I was walking to a gig I had at a Champaign frat house and I walk past this one house and this guy is like, ‘What’s up my brotha?’ and I keep walking. Then he’s like, ‘I guess you don’t understand. What’s up my nigga?’ Then I’m like, ‘What did you just say?’ and he’s like, ‘Nothin’.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I heard what you just said. At the very least, I want an apology.’ He’s just sort of taken aback by it, ya know?”
Moses has noticed substantial self-segregation at Illinois, “Self-segregation, institutional segregation. Self-segregation, the Black, the Asian, the Filipino, the Hindi communities around here, only seem to associate amongst themselves. I break dance, as well, in Floor Lovers Illinois. It’s one of the most multicultural organizations on this campus. People will look at you funny when they see you with a whole bunch of different colored break dancers. The Black students on this campus are just now sort of coming around to accept me. Where, you know, they’re like . . . .” I interrupted him, “Who’s starting to accept you?” He replied, “The Black student body on this campus. Where they’ll have me as judge for a show. I’m getting ready to be a panelist on a conference they’re having on the current state of hip-hop, ‘Does the Mic Still Have Power?’ And I know I’m gonna make some people mad at that conference, because I’m gonna say some shit that people need to hear. Or, I hope I am, ya know? It’s a matter there where people will be like, ‘Oh, Moses. The enlightened brother. I guess he’s cool. Where now I have a mold that I fit into. Everybody else on this campus, if they’ve been involved with hip-hop around here, ya know, I am a name that floats. They know of me, thus when they meet me in person it’s not a concern of skin.”
Continuing my disbelief and lack of understanding, I asked Moses, “I wanna go back to the statement about the Black students accepting you. What are you talking about with that?” He replied, “I didn’t really, or I don’t really, attend Black Student Council functions on this campus, because I believe to some extent it’s a dead-end because of the self-segregation aspect of it. Of Black people, for Black people is a powerful movement. All power. But you have to also realize that there are people around this campus working in the same movements against the subversive racism that you are. But to elevate yourself into some manner of clique, which is something that everybody on this campus does, is fruitless. It’s not gonna get anybody anything and it’s gonna get everybody nowhere fast. Some people don’t realize that though.” As a freshman, Moses resisted substantial pressure to join the Black fraternity house that his uncle had co-founded. Moses describes himself in the “About Me” section of his Facebook profile, “So what do I call myself? Student. Lover. Fighter. Contradiction of common sense while preaching it. Human first. Black next. But some would dare to call me out of my name. What do I call them? Fools.”
Moses has dated an ethnically diverse array of women. His current girlfriend, Jane Mazur, is Russian. Many of Moses’ friends have interracial relationships. He perceives negative reactions from strangers of all ethnicities when they recognize that a tall Black man is dating a petite White woman.
I confessed to Moses, “I have to admit that the first time I heard about stuff like that going on in this campus, I was totally taken aback. And I didn’t hear about it until I was probably a junior or a senior. I was really active on campus and I didn’t hear about stuff like that going on. And the first time it was just shocking.” Moses and I began as freshman at the University in the same year, in 2002. We have experienced the same epoch of University history. He said, “The thing is that it’s [racism] been here for such a long time that so many people have just glossed it over. The [retirement of the] Chief is an incident that people are working against, which is something I will never understand. The University talks about it like, ‘We’re making these offers, we’ve got these positions out there, no Black people are applying to them.’ Why do you think that is? Because this is not a nurturing environment for said study. You can come here to study repression, oppression, and regression, but you can’t come here to study how things are changing because to some extent they’re not because people are not willing them to change or people are willing them to change but the status quo is so powerful, so thick, so reinforced with like 30 layers of Bakelite that you can’t crack through it, ya know?”
Moses said he does not allow his past experiences with racism to influence his judgment of strangers, “I prefer to treat each person on a person-by-person basis. I’m not going to assume that you have any mal intent toward me until you actually direct some, ya know? Some people call that foolish or myopic or whatever they want to. I call it having faith in humankind. I would be dead wrong to make any judgment of you until I meet you, talk to you, sit down with you, have a pint with you, whatever. Any judgment I make therefore of you would be defying whom I am and how I was raised as a person or as a human being. I was taught to weigh every person on the merits of their interaction, not the color of their skin. So, therefore, I got nothing against ya, unless the first word that comes out of your mouth is a racial slur when you walk up. Then it’s like, ‘Yea, this dude’s an asshole.’”
Race is not the focus of Moses’ rap lyrics, “It only comes up occasionally in my songs, because I’d rather be the person that you think about as a really cool musician coming over the stereo, as opposed to, this is a really cool Black musician. And people that look to identify me, the way I speak now is the way I speak when I’m rhyming, save for like a lax pronunciation. I’d rather people see me as that awesome rapper who has that really dope album, as opposed to that awesome Black rapper who has that really dope album about Black stuff, ya know? I discuss race in two songs. One called Requiem and one called Amnesia Lane. Amnesia Lane is about me growing up. There’s a sequence of lines that says, ‘Departed the only home known at age eleven, uprooted / Parents had a dream of fitting my potential to location better suited / Became a high school kid / My classes a chance to expand / And a view of progress / The growth I had wrought with my own hands / They found me strange / Trying to break from my shell and feeling diminished / They act as if they never saw a brother who could speak decent English / First time I heard the word nigger / Skinhead wanted us out of the neighborhood / Swastika rockers were sayin’ my ass kickin’ was for the public good / A bloody nose, knees scraped, and fresh bruise / But still carry myself Black and proud, as opposed to colored and confused / Want to speak on the matter / So my scripts became my pride / Took much time took myself and wrote verses by the wayside / Professors didn’t believe the inspiration / Save them for weekends in the basement / Never wrestled them to perfection nor settled for any complacence.’” When growing up, Moses’ father said to him, “Carry yourself Black and proud, as opposed to colored and confused.”
Moses’ three times removed grandfather, John Sullivan, earned his freedom by fighting in the Civil War, “I wrote Requiem when I was finding out about who my family was. There’s a verse in there: ‘I hear the voices of ancestors telling stories of slavery / Who I was in past lives and what these people made of me / Muted revolutionaries / Fists raised defying silence / First words of just origin were fire hose and violence.’ Supports that idea that you can discuss where you come from in that context. And I discuss in sort of like a self-therapy sense, more so than anything else. The following line: ‘Choruses of ignorance / People mentally impotent / Skin color as inference / They question our intelligence / These narrow minded statements / Exercise their hatred / Grew up as racism / But passed down as discrimination.’ So it’s acknowledging that idea that yes I’ve seen it before and this will not be the last time I see it.”
During our interviews, Moses shows the capability of speaking in multiple dialects, “When I’m being introduced on a panel, some people, they hear rapper, and it comes to me for the first question, and out comes this voice. And they’re like, ‘Woah, really?’ It even sets some musicians off. They’re like, ‘Man, relax your speech.’ I’m like, ‘I am relaxed. You can’t hold a decent conversation. There’s a difference between my voice when I’m on a track and here.’ Which is something else my parents instilled in me. People take it as me being high strung, or just like wound tight. I was like, ‘Nah, that’s just me. That’s just who I happen to be.” His parents taught him “how to code switch.” They taught him to “talk” to his friends and to “speak” to adults. When he is talking to his friends “the Ebonics comes out.” At five years old, when the parents of his friends would invite him to have a sleepover, he would respond, “Thank you m’am, but I don’t want to impose.”
Moses, a Master’s student in Education Policy, said, “It’s the idea that speech is a racialized container metaphor and metaphors are a method by which we understand the world around us. Black contains so many different subsets that I fulfill. Black contains sneakers, baggy jeans, hoodie, tilted baseball cap, certain way of speaking. But if I dress in this manner and walk into a professional situation and I can conduct myself, that is taking Black and making something completely different of what the container metaphor of what Black actually is. It is being Black, but not being Black. It is being Black, but being professional. We claim to be all these things and even if we don’t claim to be them, we appear as though we are. I live that contradiction. So therefore, my code switching is a working metaphorical, living contradiction of how I negotiate my world and how people negotiate my space and my interaction inside their world. So therefore, I can be Black, but supposedly not talk Black. I can not dress Black, but sound Black as Hell, which is perverse and strange to me. I’m speaking, that’s the way it works out for me. If I’m speaking English, I would appreciate it if you made an attempt to understand. My ears are open to listen, I hope that yours are the same.”
The eloquence with which Mr. Moses portrayed his view brought this interview in a direction I did not expect. I had thought to explore how an African-American male perceived race in America and how that perception changed with the election of an African-American President. I assumed the story of Mr. Moses would correlate well with the story of Mr. Obama. I hoped this might garner interesting insights. Both are intelligent. Both successful students. Both have struggled with perceptions from both White and Black America. But the story of Mr. Moses is interesting on its own merit and the course of the telling drew me toward his life experience.
The story brings more questions than answers. Good stories often do. It is about a boy who tried to do all that was asked of him. He encountered racism, both personal and institutional. His environs molded his perception. Much of what he went through was overt. But much was subtle and it is here that interpretation, his and mine, comes into play. Was Ms. Harmond being racist when she saw young Eddie raking leaves? After all, she had known him to live in a different neighborhood. My perception would allow her leeway, but young Eddie suspected her and the rapper Moses was utterly convinced. So who is right? I do not know. Do our backgrounds interfere with our ability to understand the nuances of prejudice? Is there racism on this campus to the extent Moses feels? Do we naturally self-segregate unless we make conscious efforts to defy the roles we are cast to play? Can any of us shed the racial identities that society thrusts upon us? He comes to these issues with eyes far different than mine. He adds the weight of his experience to that of his father and his mother and he reacts to the world out of the necessity of training. I do the same. We do the same.