Archive: Feb 2016

Blackasotan is a soon-to-be launched website about the experiences of Black Minnesotans. From its “Share Your Story!” section:

Every creative venture has an origin story. Ours? A lot of shared meals and amazing conversations about our individual and collective experiences of blackness in the frozen tundra, AKA Minnesota.

At some point, we became determined to make this idea a reality. We aren’t the first to try to capture stories through the lens of a place: shout-out to sites like 1839 and Stuck in DC. We also know for sure that we didn’t invent the idea of featuring stories of Minnesotans from communities of color / with underrepresented identities (hello, Opine Season).

But, we’re doing it anyway. An idea doesn’t have to be new to be impactful. And we know these stories that we tell to each other, our friends, families, and co-workers at happy hours and house parties and in the hallways are powerful.

Indeed! Sharing our stories can be useful in so many ways. I came up with a possible story, and sent a note to the editors:

I have an idea for a short non-fiction submission: “30 years a Minnesotan.” I first visited Minnesota in the summer of 1986 after graduating from an all-Black Atlanta high school. Today in 2016 I’m the Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San José State University, but in between I spent four summers in Minnesota as an engineering intern at 3M, lived there for 14 years as a professor (including five years as Chair of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota), and visited at least once a year in the other 12 years. I now consider myself a Minnesotan: I pined for home during my first two years away while at the U of Wisconsin-Parkside, and recently changed my hometown listing on Facebook from Atlanta to Minneapolis. I’d talk about how many think that an existence in a state with a relatively small number of Blacks is extremely limiting, but I found it full of possibilities for Black identity after living in a more regulated all-Black environment.

Blackasotan will launch in April, so they’ll need stories by the end of March. On one hand I hope that I’m not selected to develop the idea into a submission, as I have several deadlines and tasks due in March. On the other hand, it will be fun to write this piece!

One of my favorite books of all time is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I used an analysis of it as my first published article. I enjoy speaking about it with students (the book, that is; I can barely remember an article written 22 years on the past!). Usually these students are enrolled in college, but three years ago a high school teacher in Iowa asked me to interact with her students while she discussed the book with them during Black History Month. After some brainstorming, we decided that she would set up a blog for us to interact: in groups students would post questions to me, and I would answer them. At the end of each response I posed a question to each group, which generated additional discussion. It was a lot of fun, and the students learned a lot, I hope. This year Kris asked me if I would repeat the project with her current group of students in AP Literature, and I readily agreed. Check out our discussions by visiting the course blog!


Two years ago I posted a note about the commercials in Super Bowl 48 (or, I should say, Super Bowl XLVIII). In that year a 20-year tradition came to an end, as I did not generate notes about Super Bowl commercials during the game. I also didn’t take notes last year during Super Bowl XLIX, or this year in Super Bowl 50. [It appears that next year’s edition of the big game will be accompanied by a return to Roman numerals after a one-year departure.] A change for this year was that I missed a few commercials, including the top-rated spot in the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter. As always, I never got up to leave the room during a commercial, but once I left while the commentators where discussing an instant reply deliberation and found that a commercial was in progress, and I mistimed the start of the second half after the Halftime Show (which I never watch) so may have missed a commercial break. I know, you can watch all of the commercials online — and many before the game itself! — but it’s not the same as seeing them live. Next year I’ll need to sit glued to the tube!

Last week I attended an advisory board meeting for the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center’s Immigrant Stories project. This initiative enables both long-term and recent immigrants and refugees to create and share digital stories, which are short personal videos with images, text, music, and audio. After an initial pilot project conducted in the Twin Cities, the project has received funding to go nationwide. I’m looking forward to helping, as it is an extremely timely effort given recent anti-immigrant bias. Hopefully efforts such as the Immigrant Stories project and a full-page newspaper expression of the power of inclusion will help remind folks about our better angels.