“Man on Fire” Documentary: One Man’s Final Atonement for Racism in a Sundown Town

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Last night was the third time in the past few  weeks I have heard the term “Sundown Town.”

The first time I heard the term was when my mother told me the town in which I grew up, Springdale, Arkansas, used to be referred to in this way. She said when she grew up in the 1950s-60s, there was a sign at the city limits that warned black people to not be caught there after dark. She never quite told me what exactly would happen, but my imagination filled in the rest. Mostly, I mused, it was probably just an urban legend. My mother is known for her storytelling.

Watching “Man on Fire” brought it all back to the forefront of my memory.

When I attended Springdale High School in 1987, it was pretty much an all white school. There may have been some Hispanic students, perhaps, but probably at least 95% of us were white kids. I do remember the day we had a black student enroll. It was all anyone talked about. It’s been a while, you understand, but I do remember one thing clearly: the student didn’t stay. Nobody was really surprised. There were whispers of KKK involvement. I don’t know if this is true or not.

Our nearby rival, Fayetteville High School, had a larger black population. One night, before the Springdale/Fayetteville game, somebody broke into their football stadium and hung a dummy, lynching style. The message was clear. I remember feeling horrified and sickened.

My parents taught by example, by commentary and racist remarks,  that we should be afraid of black people, mistrustful. Otherwise hard-working people who loved Arkansas and their neighbors, racism was their Achilles’ heel. They could not move past their own backgrounds. I grew up hearing racist jokes (black people, Mexican people, Asian people…really anyone who wasn’t white) on a regular basis.  In every joke, the white man was the only smart one, the hero.

Springdale has come a long way. It is now a rich, multicultural town. Thankfully, it has changed enough that other races have moved in and settled, and it has become so diverse. I still follow friends who are teachers at Springdale High School, and they cannot keep from gushing about how much they love their students… all their students. Some of my defining influences are teachers from this school. Being a part of the Springdale High School Band changed my self-image and directly impacted who I am (and who my children are) today. As a result of being a part of the Springdale Band Program, both my daughters are middle school/high school band/choir directors.

Recently, my friend Marjay Hignite, one of those teachers I spoke of, wrote a response to a highly controversial happening (so controversial Buzzfeed picked it up and ran with it) at SHS, and she mentioned the term “Sundown Town.” Just reading those two words brought it all back. The racial tensions posed daily in a small Arkansas town is not something easily forgotten.

The second time I heard the term “Sundown Town” was at the movies last weekend. My husband and I went to see Green Book. I highly recommend it. I may show clips of it to my own students when I introduce the Jim Crow laws during my “Fences” unit next time.

The last time I heard “Sundown Town” was in a brand new documentary that debuted on PBS last night, called “Man on Fire.” 

“Man on Fire”, recently debuting on PBS, chronicles the journey of Reverend Charles Moore, who ended his life by kneeling in a Dollar Store parking lot, dousing himself with gasoline, and setting himself on fire. A complex and deeply religious man, Rev. Moore is portrayed as a bold civil rights advocate in a tiny east Texan town where many couldn’t quite understand the need. Using personal correspondence Rev. Moore left behind, “Man on Fire” explores Buddhist notions of self-immolation as a form of protest. The film alternates between personal interviews from friends and family, local clergy, citizens,  and witnesses to the tragedy and a creative reenactment of Rev. Moore’s last few hours. The camera shots are simultaneously disturbing and bordering on voyeuristic, as well as hauntingly beautiful.

My friend, James Chase Sanchez, PhD., produced the film, and his personal connection to Grand Saline and the events that transpired in the town, is evident with each scene. I met Dr. Sanchez in graduate school where we were both trying to just survive our literature courses and working on our master’s degrees. We drank lukewarm coffee at the Writing Center where we tutored, and I frequently heard him talk about his childhood in Grand Saline, both the joy and the heartache.

His work with cultural rhetorics and race theory is not only fascinating, but could not be more relevant in our current times. Watching “Man on Fire” seemed akin to viewing a close friend’s newborn baby: magical and poignant. I felt privileged to witness this culmination of years of painstaking research combined with naked beauty and authenticity. “Man on Fire” doesn’t tell you what to think, it simply shows you the kaleidoscope of theories and viewpoints the citizens of Grand Saline hold about Reverend Moore’s suicide, and lets you decide. In an era where race dynamics are seen in the daily headlines, this film digs deeply into the fabric of Southern racism, painfully exposing racism at its ugly roots.

If you haven’t seen “Man on Fire,” I urge you to take a look. It truly is a life-changing film. Dr. Sanchez, Chase, I am so proud to know you, and I will always remember you with a frosty mug of beer, bullshitting about rhetoric.

Again, well done, friend!

 

Blessed are Those Who Aren’t #Blessed

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Be careful, friends.

We are entering the #blessed season.

Social media will be flooded with happy family pictures: adorable cherubic children opening presents with big red bows… golden brown turkeys with impossible holiday spreads–enough food to feed a third world country… kissing couples… tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.

All followed by the ridiculous #blessed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing your “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments. Your “Grandma’s Gingerbread Cookie” recipes. Your fireplace pics.

But please, please—don’t do the #blessed thing.

Why? Am I a Grinch? Do I hate the holidays? AM I A CHRISTIAN AT ALL?

I’m thrilled that you just found out you’re pregnant with your second baby… that you were just promoted… that you made that offer on your dream house and will have the title by Christmas Day. Truly, I am.

But leave off the #blessed.

Why?

You may not know this, but someone reading your post just received divorce papers.

Just learned their house will be foreclosed upon.

Miscarried baby #4.

Learned that they have cancer.

Here is my point:

If you are blessed by God, then what are they?

Jf we agree that some people are chosen by God to receive his blessings, the good things, then the other side of the coin is that others, who are suffering, for whatever reason, are not the target of God’s blessings. That they are undeserving. That they … are less, somehow. That they are forgotten by God Himself, or worse…they deserve their pain.

It’s not wrong to thank God for good things. This is not what I’m implying.

But let’s just practice a bit of compassion and avoid the hashtag, in honor of those who are suffering.

It’s a really simple way to love our friends, and to exhibit the compassion the holidays encourage. You never know what people are experiencing unless they choose to share.

Blessed are those who are not #blessed.

 

On “Passing” as Educated: The New Impostor Syndrome

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I grew up working class poor. My parents moved to Springdale, Arkansas in 1980, and our house only cost around $14,000. I knew my family had less money than my peers, but it was only when a friend of mine asked to go home from a slumber party because she didn’t like my house that I truly realized how being poor made one an outsider.

My parents worked long hours to provide for us. My mother grew up in Springdale too, in the 1950s, and dropped out of school in the eighth grade. She didn’t drop out because she hated school; she quit to find a job to help my grandmother feed her nine siblings.

My grandfather couldn’t read. I don’t even know how much schooling he had; he was a hard, calloused man, and I was afraid to talk to him much. My grandparents lived in a broken-down trailer in the country that smelled of cooking grease and cigarettes and rot. My grandmother read the bible a great deal, and wrote letters. This is mostly what I remember about her. She looked so old for her age, and I don’t remember her smiling very much. I remember her as a serious woman. Then again, getting married at fifteen and having ten children would be cause for seriousness. I believe that poverty and struggle smothered out any remains of youth or joy. Her life was hard from the moment she entered this world, and she found joy where she could, in the smiles of her children.

My mom always wanted to earn her GED, but she was too intimidated, so her job options were always limited. As a kid, I remember worked in a lot of restaurants. In Arkansas, she worked for a while in an insulation plant, and her last job ever was working in a freezer in Tyson Foods. Working those long hours broke down her body, and by 2003, she simply couldn’t physically do the work anymore.

My dad, a high school gradute and military veteran, also worked in factories most of his life. I remember him working for Bama Pie in Tulsa, in the warehouse. Once, I was able to go in with him, and I still remember the fragrance of cinnamon and clove, clinging to him like a second skin.

He worked for Glad Manufacturing, which sold to Clorox, for over 20 years. That job was everything to him. When he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 57, and was told he couldn’t work anymore, a part of him died right there in the doctor’s office. He loved his job, but I belive that job killed him. Twenty years of inhaling plastic fumes and glue residue sealed to his kidneys like cement. He didn’t have a chance of beating the cancer. The tumor was nine millimeters in diameter when they found it. He died two years later.

Even though my parents worked more than forty hours a week, it wasn’t enough. Our family of five had food and a house, but just barely. Mom and Dad fought constantly. Sometimes, after work, Mom would pull up in the driveway and just sit in her truck chainsmoking. She didn’t want to come inside.

When we moved into that house, it only had two bedrooms and one bath, and it had a curious smell, like mothballs. It didn’t have central heat or air, only a gas stove that cracked and popped, heating a small circumference of the living room.

My parents remodeled the attic into two bedrooms for my sister and me. There were no closets in the house, so my dad built them. The floor in the attic was porus, and light shone right through. I remember tin cans were smashed into the floor  in an attempt to plug up the holes. Dad and mom replaced the floor and put in drywall. They opened up the walls to put in insulation, and there were newspapers inside from the 1920s. There was also a giant scythe, like the one you see illustrations of Death holding, inside the wall. I couldn’t sleep for weeks thinking about why that sythe was in there. My ten-year old imagination went wild. I pictured a lone serial killer, hiding his weapon of choice in the walls. Honestly, it still freaks me out a bit.

My husband and I were married months after graduation. I tried college, but was unprepared for the rigor, the cost, or the time. I dropped out. We had three kids, and we were also poor. We worked dead end jobs and never had enough.

My husband decided to go to college first. I thought he was crazy at first. We could barely pay our bills. We were my parents. But, he insisted education was our way out. I wasn’t sure. He worked full time at night and attended class during the day. It took him five years, but he earned his BS in Chemical Engineering, and it changed our lives. We moved to Texas, and his salary doubled. We felt like celebrites.

It took me a while to decide to go to college. I flirted with higher education for a few years before I committed. I earned my AA at a junior college, and every single day I attended, I felt out of place, until I found writing. Writing helped me feel a bit more like I was part of things.

When I transferred to a four-year university, I never quite felt that I fit in. For one thing, I was fifteen years older than most of my peers. I struggled quite a bit with assignments. I was working night shift, full-time at a hospital, and most of the time exhausted. I constantly felt guilt for not spending enough time with my husband and kids.  I fought introversion and did not want to ask for help, or to spend any more time than necessary with other students. Luckily, I made friends in spite of all these factors, and I had very supportive professors. In the back of my mind, I worried incessantly that I’d fail. I always felt like an outsider, in spite of everything. I didn’t belong.

Once, I mentioned this to one of my favorite professors. She said, “Oh, that’s called “Imposter Syndrome.” It’s very real.”

I began reading everything I could find on the topic.

I ended up graduating with honors, and I was the President of our school’s chapter of  Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society. I won awards for my writing, and was published. My college featured me in their magazine. The local paper did a story on me. I was interviewed by the local news channel. I still did not feel like I belonged. I felt like a fake.

When I walked across the stage with my diploma, I felt an enormous relief. I was the first in my family to ever graduate. Until I held my diploma in my hands, I worried (just a bit) that there had been a mistake.

I began teaching right away. I realized I wanted to teach college, and that required a master’s degree.

I still remember the first time I logged onto Blackboard as a graduate student. I had no idea what anyone was talking about. I had to look up terms right and left. I felt that most of my time was spent trying to cover up my ignorance. Any moment, I thought, they will find out I don’t really know anything. Any day, everyone will see what a fraud I am.

I did earn my master’s, and I’m working on my doctorate. My dissertation is exploring the intersection of academia and working class studies. I have been reading everything I can find on these topics, and I’m obsessed.

In an article entitled “Social Class and Belonging: Implications for College Adjustment” (Ostrove & Long, 2007),  the authors cited daunting statistics regarding retention numbers of low-income students. Citing a New York Times study (2005), “Class Matters,” the authors focused on students feeling alienated among their peers as a factor hindering adjustment to college life and persistence.

Using the NY Times study as a springboard for their study, Ostrove and Long evaluated social class as a primary factor regarding the feeling of belonging among first-generation, working class students, specifically focusing on  how alienation to others within a shared college experience (whether perceived or factual) might be related to student retention/success.

The authors found their hypothesis to be true in that class background was indeed a dominating factor to a student’s sense of belonging and adjustment to college;  it was not as significant to their overall experience of adjustment to college life.

The most significant correlation noted in regards of student GPA was the mother’s education level, but mostly only among female students. Mom’s education matters to their daughters.

Perceptions of students’ family class status was noted as significant to feelings of belonging or exclusion from peers.  Family status was not found as significant to adjustment to college, but remained important to a student’s sense of belonging.

Admittedly, Ostrove and Long recognized the study’s limitations in the demographics studied in a small liberal arts college that often had more upper-class or upper-middle class students factored into an increase in alienation among low-income or middle class students. However, the authors did note it “critical” that readers understand  the importance of social class background and its substantial influence on belonging, which directly impacted student success and retention.

I’m very glad my daughters are both college graduates. My son is a current student. They have seen the importance of education. They lived it.

I published two books, magazine articles, poetry, and editorials. The feeling of “passing” as educated will probably never leave. It’s stamped like an internal tattoo, completely self-inflicted. In my mind’s eye, I am always the little girl in the poor neighborhood, the one in the old house that has a bit of a funny smell. I’m not ashamed of where I came from–I’m proud of my roots. But I will always be an impostor in my mind’s eye.

The Introvert in Your Church: I’m Not Antisocial!

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Photo by Ashley Elena on Pexels.com

 

Here’s the thing: I actually love church services. I love hearing the pastor’s interpretation of scripture and arguing about it afterward on the way home. I love the worship (mostly). Throw in a pipe organ and I’m yours for life! I’ll never forget the time Lee and I snuck into a service at Notre Dame cathedral and the rich, vibrant music from pipe organ seemed to hit the high beams of the soaring rafters, into the very ears of God Himself.

I love seeing little kids in cute outfits sitting in their grandparents’ laps. I even love bulletins with lines on them for my notes.

It’s just…the people.

It’s not that I hate people. I’m a teacher. I have a family. I’m aware there are people in the world, and that there are more of them every day.

Hello, I’m Tina, and I’m an introvert.

Being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m “antisocial.” People misuse this term all the time. Did you know that to be truly antisocial means to have a mental disorder? According to Dictionary.com, “Antisocial [is] a personality disorder, beginning early in life, characterized by chronic and continuous antisocial behavior in which the rights of others are violated, as by lying, stealing, or aggressive sexual behavior.” So no, this doesn’t describe me. The dictionary further explains that an antisocial person is “antagonistic, hostile, or unfriendly toward others; menacing, threatening an antisocial act” or ” opposed or detrimental to social order or the principles on which society is constituted.”

So no, I’m not a deviant. But, to be introverted is more than being shy.

The meet and greet portion of nearly every service makes me break out into a cold sweat. I know it only lasts two minutes. But to me, it seems as if I’m in some strange space-time continuum where one minute equals an eternity. Some people, in an effort to be friendly, ask really personal questions on the spot. I just want to tell them, “Look, we just met. Can I maybe discuss childhood traumas with you another time?”

It doesn’t take long, in most churches, before the pressure to join a small group pops up. People can get really pushy about this. They insist you “plug in.” I’m not a toaster. I don’t want to. Granted, my actual experience with small group has been largely positive. Except for the time we were appointed small group leaders by some leadership and they didn’t ask the Small Group Leader first and we were told, awkwardly, that we weren’t really his first choice but since everyone knew about it they would just hope for the best. What are we, Satanic cult members? Are we incapable of holding a bible study once a week? Was there some worry we’d pollute the Sheep?

Then, we did start leading the small group, and I found it to be so much work. I’d spend Sunday cleaning the house as if a Marine in white gloves was going to come by and inspect. Sorry, Sargent. I didn’t see that M&M behind the toilet. I don’t know how it got there. How many pushups?

There was also the question of the meal. It seemed as if I ended up cooking for the 15-20 people who may or may not show up. A lot of times the group contribution was chips. I’d make pasta; they’d bring chips. I’d make burritos; they’d bring chips. When we stopped offering meals, instead of having coffee and dessert almost everyone stopped coming.  But we still saw them in church every Sunday. They just stopped talking to us.

These are just a few of the reasons why I find it difficult to begin the search for a new church. It can be daunting. Churches are full of people, and people are imperfect. I’m included in this description, no question. But this is just one reason why as an introvert I find church heartbreaking. Sometimes, it seems those who call themselves Christian can be the mean girls in town.

That day in Notre Dame was unforgettable. I’ll never forget it. My hubby and I listened to the sermon (though we don’t speak French, so for all I know, the priest was selling us a condo), took communion, and spent a few minutes in the undeniable presence of God.

Shockingly, nobody brought chips.

College Pantry Essentials: Preparing for Your Rodeo

 

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Tina Bausinger lives and works in Tyler, Texas. She teaches high school English, and has been published in multiple venues, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Five, In Magazine, the Tyler Paper, and the Northwest Arkansas Times. Tina holds a MA in English from the University of Texas at Tyler, and is working on her doctorate in Higher Education Leadership at Texas A&M Commerce. Her novel, War Eagle Women, was mentioned in USA Today, and her book Cold Coffee and Speed Limits: Encouragement for Mamas of Teens, spent several days on Amazon’s Hot New Releases. She blogs about teaching, cooking and being (everyone’s) mama on http://www.tinabausinger.com

 

 

Aunt Sandi’s Best Baked Beans: A Known Cure for Depression

Tina Bausinger

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I’m not gonna lie. It’s possible that just SMELLING these beans can add ten pounds to my butt. It’s so worth it, though. Sizzling bacon, spicy garlic and dark brown sugar blend to make a delicious dish that people would sell their souls for. Ok, maybe not that far, but almost. Aunt Sandi made these for us and we have never loved her more. We’re really loyal people, especially when you cook for us.

Aunt Sandi’s Best Baked Beans

One pound thick cut bacon
2 large cans Busch’s Baked Beans
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. dried mustard
1 cup ketchup
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350. Slice the bacon into small strips. I use kitchen scissors. In a giant skillet—the biggest one you have–brown the bacon, onion and garlic together.
This smells heavenly.

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