A Stranger in the Village: Coming of Age in a White College

A Stranger in the Village: Coming of Age in a White College

I am a professor of English at a small, selective college in central New York. Isolated in an obscure valley, the school and its surrounding village sometimes remain white with snow until late spring. A black tenured member of this community, I often feel similarly isolated in this snowy retreat from the multicultural mainstream of American life. So uncommon are other African Americans here, that the appearance of a clerk of color in the grocery store is matter for a week’s conversation at the family dinner table. Like other members of the village, we are known by face; however, our race gives our visibility a strange twist. For two years I was relentlessly confused with a recently fired—he was refused tenure—African colleague. Colleagues still unaware of his departure would approach me from behind and begin a discussion of Benin masks or kleptocracy in Zaire. I appreciate this relative anonymity and have exploited it well. My previous teaching assignment was in a tiny state university on the tornado plain of northeast Arkansas. There with a young family, I finished a difficult dissertation and taught seven courses a year. I now teach five in the relative luxury of a school that affords me a computer and some funds for my scholarly work. In my frozen leisure, I rediscovered the texts of my profession. Among endless identity confusions—mostly of others but sometimes my own—I wrote my first articles, finished a book, and set out upon a career.

...

Lima