My Undergraduate Years as Seen Through the Lens of a Critical Race Theorist
I graduated from grammar school, high school and the only college in the small 3.9 square mile town of East Orange. The high school I graduated from (now called East Orange High Campus) has relocated to the exact same site of my - now defunct - undergraduate college. During my doctoral studies, I ran across an interesting theory. I would like to make the point of the theory by embedding my college experiences in the story telling – a key feature of the theory. The Critical Race Theory, originally coming from the Harvard Law School legal scholar Derrick Bell in the 1970s in what was called the Critical Legal Studies, has evolved to become applicable in many fields including the field of higher education (Ladson-Billings, G., 1998). The Critical Legal Studies (CLS) like all theories – has shortcomings. One blatant limitation in the CLS is that it reduces racism by making it analogous to class discrimination (Bell, D. 1980). Many of the original Black authors of the CLS questioned those shortcomings, and the CLS evolved to become the Critical Race Theory (CRT). The CRT is somewhat different from many of the educational theories discussed in education and psychology today, in that it consists of anecdotal, legal storytelling and biographical stories to make its point (Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. 2007). Although the CR Theorist supports the aims of the civil rights activist, they question many of their “Ban Aid” approaches to racism such as the U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling in the 1954 Brown v. Bd of Ed (Bell, D. 1980). The following anecdotal stories are used to highlight how White supremacy played a role in too many of my college experiences.
Although there is no single proclamation that defines the CRT, the Critical Race Theory has three posits, they are:
Race continues to be significant in the United States of America. Racism is perceived as normal and expected,
The United States of America is based on property rights, not human rights and,
The intersection of race and property creates an analytical tool for understanding inequality (Ladson-Billings, G., 1998).
One of the key characteristics of the CRT is storytelling. As an example, there is a story in “Voices of India” by A.K. Rumanujan about a poor widow forced to reside with her two evil sons and wicked daughters-in-laws. She was castigated for gaining weight as she aged. She felt terrible and went for a walk with no particular destination in mind. She came across an old, dilapidated home, without even a roof. She went inside the house, looked at one of the walls, and told the ugly story of how one of her sons humiliated her. The wall tumbled down. She went to the next wall and told the story of his wife’s cruel behavior towards her. That second wall also came down. Each time, she felt lighter than she felt before sharing her story. She went on to the other two walls, telling a story to each wall until she was surrounded by rubble. She returned home, only this time, feeling lighter than she has ever felt (Baltuck, 1994). The Critical Race (CR) theorist asserts that telling stories can be an enormous relief for the storyteller.
Race continues to be significant in the United States of America.
It was the first day of my first year at Uppsala College. I was seated on the floor, in a jam-packed, predominately White, freshman chemistry classroom, when my White chemistry professor, Dr. Joseph Most asked the class for examples of chemical or physical reactions. I eagerly raised my hand with enthusiasm and responded, “electronegativity!” Professor Most smiled, aggressively pointed at me and yelled; “Now that’s a man who has studied chemistry!” One White girl in particular, was very impressed with my knowledge of chemistry. She wasted no time befriending me. We frequently talked after lab. She told me about the racial unrest in her hometown of Boston. Rachel explained the anger between the Whites and Blacks in Boston. She blamed the busing policy, aimed to racially integrate the public schools. One night, I was in Rachel’s dorm room, and a small group of her White Bostonian Jewish home girls dropped by and acknowledged the intimacy of our relationship. One of the girls said, “Rachel, I thought you had more class than that!!” Rachel reacted angrily with Ann in my presence, but she heeded to her suggestion and gave me the cold shoulder ever since that incident. It can be seen very clearly through the Critical Race theoretical lens that Rachel’s White peers reminded her of her innate superiority for having White skin. My superior knowledge of chemistry compared to her lower level was not important. What was important was the fact that Rachel was White and I was not White.
The United States of America is based on property rights, not human rights.
During my second semester, a Black freshman girl told me that she was leaving school to return home to Boston. After having a long, deep and emotional discussion with her, she finally disclosed how four White students raped her during the previous semester. She reported the rape to the school. However, Uppsala College chose to protect the White rapist and never reported the crime to the local police. Angela’s grades dropped precipitously, and the same school official that took the rape report expelled her from school for “substandard academic performance.” She took the bus back to the racially segregated section of Boston - where she undoubtedly had an inferior education from the start. This school official, Dean Aaron Nierenberg had a Ph.D. in psychology, and I only wonder which theories on student socio-psycho cognitive development he was reading in the 1970s. Angela had a burden she carried alone. Because of self-inflicted shame, she could hardly bring herself to tell all of her friends and family of the violent trauma she experienced, nor could she elaborate about the inferior academic preparation for college or the lack of professional support or legal redress after the rape- without sounding irresponsible. The fact that those four white rapists had their way with her beautiful black slender body, speaks to how for centuries, Black people in America were legal property -owned by White men. According to the Critical Race Theorist, the intersection of race and property creates an analytical tool for understanding inequality (Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W., 1995). Angela was property, owned by four White rapists.
The intersection of race and property:
Critical Race Theorist advocates that the United States of America is built on property rights and citizenship as opposed to human rights (Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W., 1995). This dates back to the early colonial days when only White men enjoyed the franchise of property rights and land ownership. The concept of race and citizenship was demonstrated in the first Black President of the United States of America having to actually show everyone his papers (i.e. birth certificate) - while presiding in office - to verify his American citizenship. The intersection of race and property rights is reflected in citizenship on campus as well. Although Uppsala College was located in a Black town, the small predominately White college demonstrated its property rights by erecting a high, black iron fence around the circumference of the campus.
I frequently shacked up in the dorm rooms with scores of Black and White girls. However, I mostly lived at home with my parents on the corner of Lincoln and William Street - walking distance of the college on Prospect and Springdale Ave. There was a #96 New Jersey Transit public bus from the corner of my house to the campus. I often rode my Motobecane bicycle or drove my MGB English convertible sports car when I didn't take the 0.8-mile flat walk to school. In any event, my commute to the campus was not extremely challenging. The college population was predominately White and conversely the surrounding neighborhood where I lived was largely Black. I remember one autumn morning, approaching the campus on route to the library, and noticing a high, black rough iron fence enclosing the campus. The fence had a blockade appearance. Except for its blackness, the architecture did not blend with the community -in any way. It was clearly erected to protect the White transplants from Boston (and other American cities), by keeping the Black “townies” out. (‘Townies’ is a term used by college students to identify municipal citizens not attending the college). The black Iron barrier offended me; I was one of those Black citizens! I wondered if that black fence protected the four White rapists from the Black townies, or if Angela ever saw the interior of the protective barrier.
After cycling past the black iron barrier, and stepping onto campus property, I noticed red spray paint across the glass of the student’s center, and on the nearby sidewalks. The large print read: “Niggers go back to Africa and Spicks just die!” (Spic is a derogatory term for Latino people.) Someone eventually removed the graffiti, but no school official made a formal apology or even admitted to having recognized its offensiveness.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
The student’s demeanor was somber that week. No one openly discussed what happened, but you could see the thoughts in students’ eyes. The hate speech was not openly discussed nor mentioned in Uppsala Gazette newspaper. It was kind of like Angela’s rape. Nothing said, nothing done! These events took place in the 1970s when the NJ minimum drinking age was 18-years-old. Many colleges -including Uppsala College - had a pub. One evening, I was having a cold mug of Budweiser beer, when a popular dance song came on by the ‘Average White band’ entitled, “Pick up the piece,” (No, I am not saying the band was average, “The Average White band” was the band’s official full name.)
I purposefully asked a familiar hot Italian girl, that I suspect liked me, from my physics lab to dance. She had a Black girls butt and lips and graciously accepted my invite for the dance. Then, one of my Black friends- took my lead and tactically asked another White girl to dance. She accepted. Then one of the nerdy but cool, socially smart Jewish boys caught on quickly and strategically asked a Black girl to dance with him. She graciously accepted. Before the song was over, every Black student was dancing with a White student, and the surplus of White students danced along as well. It was very clear that 100% of the people in the pub were dancing -which was unusual that everyone would be dancing. Nevertheless, it was a protest dance against racism spontaneously and eloquently executed. Everyone on campus heard about the interracial protest dance faster than today’s social media could have informed anyone. It was at that time an informal apology was made and accepted. One aspect of the CRT is that progress in race relations is made through grassroots protest as opposed to legal procedures (Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J., 2007). I got to know my hot Italian physics lab partner much better over the course of that night. Except for her sky-blue light eyes, she looked just like Maria Bartiromo (CNBC television journalist). After leaving her dorm room that next morning and hearing the positive responses to the 'protest dance' at the dining hall during breakfast, I felt like THE BIG MAN ON CAMPUS.
Coloreds need not apply
The following year, during my histology course, I needed more study time viewing the tissue slides. The cool Jewish boy from the pub sneaked me upstairs to his private research laboratory to use his compound light microscope. I’ve taken classes in Puder Hall many times but never thought to go up that extra flight of stairs before this invite. I never knew that ‘certain’ students had research labs for independent study. During my histological study of the slides, a group of White boys came rushing up to the area. My Jewish friend stepped outside into the hallway and immediately closed the door behind him. I instinctively remained silent while the White boys were questioning him about me. I overheard one student asked my friend, “Did you see a colored boy come up here?” My friend lied, and said, “No”. The only thing that I could think is “why am I hiding?” I am not doing anything wrong. Matter of fact, I’m studying, which is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. One of the canons of the Critical Race theory is that White people have privilege, and these student’s laboratories were for White people and not for ‘Colored’ folk such as myself.
After college graduation, I landed a job as a research Biochemist for Merck & Co., Inc. My former chemistry professor Dr. Most, asked me how “they” [White biochemist] treated me at Merck Pharmaceuticals. I was not sure how to interpret or even answer him until 2012 when a White union president – asked me the same question. The president and I have a long-term working relationship, and he knows that I serve as an officer and trustee for the Community College of Morris, so he felt free to ask me, “How do the [White] “Republican” trustees treat you?” Like everyone, my identity is more than my mere race. The intersectionality of my identity includes me being: Middle class, African American, a cis-gendered heterosexual man, able-bodied, a writer, a racial justice advocate, a Woke Atheist, a swimmer, a jazz saxophonist, a stargazing amateur astronomer, an avid reader, etc. Interestingly, both lines of questioning regarding how I was treated circumvented my race, and phrased from job title or political affiliation. Critical Race Theorist would hear the affirmation of a racist system and the subtler question - How are you navigating under this system of White supremacy?
White scholars of education typically don’t embrace the Critical Race Theory, largely because it is not optimistic that “colorism” will ever be resolved in the interest of Black people (Van Allen, Michael A. , 2012). Numerous White scholars profess one of several schools of thought:
1) Colorism doesn’t exist anymore, so move one and stop making excuses or,
2) OK. Sure, racism may exist here and there to some extent, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. You have your Black president [Obama] now, so institutional racism doesn’t exist any longer or,
3) Sure, colorism exists in America today, but it will soon fade away when White people become racial minorities (2043) and it becomes in White people’s best interest to eliminate it once, and for all.
Dr. Derrick Bell, the Harvard university professor and pioneer of the Critical Race Theory addressed what he coined “the Interest Convergence Dilemma” (Bell, D., 1980). The concept is that White people would not do anything to benefit Black people unless it was in the interest of White people. The student demographics at Uppsala College darkened as time progressed. It was in the interest of the school that was increasing its Black student body population to have additional Black faculty. As the first student of color to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, I later became the first non-White instructor in the Chemistry/Physics department, hired by Chairman Joe Most, Ph.D. When Uppsala College ultimately went out of business and closed its doors for good in the mid-1990s, Professor Most sought a chemistry teaching position at the Newark Public Schools. Ironically, had he been hired I would have been his supervisor. Had I seen him at the job fair, I would have aggressively pointed my finger at him – in plain sight of the interviewers and yelled, “Now, that’s a man who has taught chemistry!” (Joe is a good man and fortunately secured another chemistry teaching position for himself at a neighboring institution of higher education i.e., Bloomfield college/Montclair University.)
I shared these undergraduate accounts with my wife – who has white skin. She naively asked me with a frightful tone and shocking frown, “Michael, are all your college experiences race related?” I responding lovely with, “Debbie, I was Black the entire time I was there!” We both laughed aloud, and I felt “lighter” having shared the story with her. Thank you for listening to my story! I only ask you to think about the kind of employment Angela may have accepted for not having a college degree. Could Angela possibly be a waitress serving food to the children of her rapists while they enjoy the American Dream by attending upscale schools in Mass? Might some of those Ivy League students look at her with disdain wondering why she never did anything with her life or even worse not see her at all? More importantly, I wonder if that beautiful black- complexioned, brown-eyed, sexy, lean girl with that radiant white smile and contagious laugh, ever came across a roofless, house where she was able to share her experiences to four walls so she too, could feel lighter than she felt before she was violated.
Michael fell in love with his high school sweetheart, whom he had taken to the senior prom held at the West Orange Manor. Michael lived with Laverne in Providence for a short time. She graduated from Brown University and succinctly, Laverne had a miscarriage and later died of cancer. These were the saddest times of Michael's life. This heartbreaking period prompted him to take a life audit and re-prioritize his life's values. At first, he threw himself into his work. He accepted a medical research position at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark and worked at the Blood Institute in the Hematology/Oncology department. He coordinated medical research projects for the separation and purification of plasma proteins from AIDS patients using Isoelectric Focusing, High-Pressured Liquid Chromatography, SDS Three-Dimensional Gel Electrophoresis and several hematological methods. At the same time, he transformed from the life and physical sciences to the social and political sciences. He was appointed chairperson of a chapter of the Organization of African Unity and a supportive member of the "People’s Organization of Progress” (POP) chaired by Lawrence Hamm. He was elected block association president, appointed municipal fourth ward Treasurer, and Essex County Committee executive board district leader. He was the host for the cable television show, "The first Step." He was appointed by the mayor (unanimously confirmed by the City Council) to serve as the Commissioner for the City of East Orange. After several campaigns and re-elections, dissatisfied with the failure of politics in serving the best interest of the people, Commissioner MAVA decided to return to the pure sciences via academia. After he was awarded a Master's degree, he returned to his roots becoming the first and only Black instructor in the chemistry/physics department at his undergraduate college. He taught Inorganic, Organic, and Biochemistry. Listed in Who's Who in American Education, he served as a debate coach and senior class advisor at Newark Central High School. Born at the New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, he continued his formal education and returned to the island of his birth. He did his graduate studies in Biochemistry at Columbia University in Harlem, New York City. Michael accepted a chemistry teaching appointment at America’s oldest public high school specializing in the Fine and Performing arts, Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey where his sister graduated as a violinist. Many talented people graduated from Arts High School including the legendary songstress Sarah Vaughn, Melba Moore, Beverly Marcell, Woody Shaw, Connie Francis, Jazz artist Wayne Shorter, actor Tiesha Campbell-Martin, Savon Glover and Michael B. Jordan. He served as the advisor for the Allied Health Careers' and the National Honor Society. Michael returned to Rutgers medical school to do Pharmacokinetical research, and co-authored publications in medical journals including Clinical Research.
In 1997, Van Allen was appointed a teaching position where he taught biochemistry in the pre-medical program at Rutgers Medical College. Contemporaneously, he was promoted to position of science department chair by the Newark Public Schools. Education runs in his family; his sister Barbara teaches college mathematics and her son David attended Dartmouth University. Michael received his pinnacle of recognition- after twenty years of service as a high school science educational leader- when appointed in 2007, by the New Jersey Department of Education to establish the benchmarks to the NJ Board of Education for the Science High School Proficiency Assessment. HSPA is a NJ exit exam that 80,000 science students throughout the State must pass in order to graduate from High School.
Michael A. Van Allen still does not qualify to be part of any respectable musical bands
“I love it when people doubt me. It makes me work harder to prove them wrong.”
Derek Jeter, NY Yankee Captain and Short Stop
Unfortunately, Michael A. Van Allen still does not qualify to be part of any respectable bands, although he still practices on the baby grand piano in his living room and the keyboard in his home office. However, he loves the challenges of his administrative responsibilities, the positive differences he makes in students’ lives, and the personal satisfaction he receives when he gives to his favorite charity- "The Boys' and Girls' Club of America.”
He is engaged in the happiest times of his entire life as he lives in the moment- the here and now. He has a passion for his profession, social life, hobbies, and personal interests. He treasures living, learning, loving, laughing, helicopter flying down the Grand Canyon, touring through Europe, camel riding across Africa, climbing the Great Wall of China, cruising the Caribbean islands, deep sea scuba diving in the Pacific Islands, day-break jogging with his rottweiler, early morning lap swimming followed by MSNBC- TV, black coffee and the New York Times. He enjoys movies, music and playing on his hometown softball league. Mike drives the BMW 5-series.
For 15 years, (from 1990 to 2005), this bachelor lived the international playboy’s lifestyle in his single-family colonial home in the West Orange Township at 3 Watchung Avenue, right up the road from where the famous scientist Tom Edison once lived and developed his inventions. Michael lived a cosmopolitan lifestyle, made friends with books, drank fine wines, and in addition to, dined and dated countless pretty, petite Latina, African, Asian, American and European women.
He moved with Mia - the daughter he never had - his very pretty, smart and loyal black female Labrador retriever to the suburban township of Randolph in Morris County, New Jersey- a paradise on Mount Freedom. When he was not campaigning for a Randolph town council seat or studying legislation at the Rutgers Eagleton Institute in New Brunswick, NJ he listened to NPR and Jazz FM radio stations such as: WBGO 88.3, and WNYC 93.9. He is proud of the nomination he received from the political machine and of the support of thousands of his neighbors who came out in the pouring rain to vote for him in the November General Election. He served as the Morris County Committee District Leader and Treasurer of the Randolph Democratic Committee. He plays second base and catcher on his softball team. His teammates and opposing team players called him [Derrick] “Jeter” not because he played so well, but there were several Mikes on in the league and Michael frequently wore a Jeter Jersey, making him an easy mark for the alternative name that he wore in honor. His Dutch Colonial 'castle' with township and private well water, is located on a couple of acres of a bucolic evergreen, private setting, surrounded by forest, mountainous lakes, and parks. Their Lake Valhalla home often visited by schools of fishes from the fresh water brook in the wooded area of the property, herds of deer, flocks of birds, a really smart fox, and an occasional uninvited but well respected huge, black bear affectionately named Yogi – is located in Montville, New Jersey. He was re-elected by his colleagues to represent them as their labor leader on the City Association of Supervisors and Administrators union's executive board (CASA, local #20), under the American Federation of School Administrators (AFL-CIO). He is a member of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), and the New Jersey Science Education Leadership Association.
He serves as the Affirmative Action Officer for Malcolm X Shabazz High School -formerly known as South Side High School when former NYC Mayor Ed Koch graduated in 1941. Interestingly, comedian Jerry Lewis graduated from South Side High School two years later, only after being kick-out of the nearby Weequahic High School for roller-skating through the hallways. Michael met President Bill Clinton and, on another occasion, - the daughters of Malcolm X at his work site of Shabazz High School. (Martin Luther King delivered his last public speech, in the auditorium of South Side High School, before his assassination.) Michael earned recognition in the field of education again when he received a gubernatorial appointment to serve as a Trustee for the County College of Morris located in his hometown of Randolph Township, and appointed to serve Malcolm X Shabazz High School as a School Administrator for the Newark Board of Education.
“A bachelor is a man who comes to work each morning from a different direction”
Michael’s insatiable thirst for Pinot Noir, compounded with his libidinous appetite for women of all nationalities and ethnicities, has meant partying and laughing loudly among his baseball teammates about his world travels. He roared, “I take ‘em from 18 to 81, blind, dumb and crazy, if they can’t walk, I’ll drag ‘em!” On his recent return from Denmark, followed by the “Virgin” Islands, he boasted with laughter from the batter’s circle shouting to his team in the dugout, “Oh, they just call them the ‘Islands’ now!”
THE GENESIS OF A PUBLIC POLICY ANALYST AND ADVOCATE
"If you've got 'em by the balls, their heart and mind will follow."
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson
The most intriguing and interesting course Michael took during his recent Seton Hall University’s Education Leadership, Management and Policy doctoral program was "Higher Education Public Policy Analysis", under Professor Rong Chen. Incongruously, it was during this seminar that Michael broke his perfect attendance record by “cutting” his policy class to cast his vote on a highly controversial higher education public policy issue. The board of trustees at County College of Morris (CCM) conducted this important meeting in the college gymnasium, which was full of students, protestors, supporters, community leaders, politicians, advocacy groups, Tea Party activists, stakeholders, and television/newspaper media. Michael flew into the Newark International Airport from an educational conference held in Vancouver, Canada and got to CCM just in time to cast a vote allowing undocumented immigrants to matriculate there as long as they met the federal DREAM act requirements. This was the most important policy change at the college in a decade. In 2001, the CCM Board of Trustees made a policy blocking “illegal aliens” from attendance at the school since a series of four - completely unrelated - coordinated suicide attacks conducted by al-Qaeda upon the United States on 9/11 took place.
In 2011, Michael – an advanced doctoral student of education policy - had just become chair of the Minority Enrollment Committee and this was the first motion coming out of his committee. It was this process of policy change when Michael recognized the full appreciation of being a policymaker. On his return, he explained the 'behind the scenes' policymaking process to his colleagues, and what had taken place besides the information they received via the media. Michael’s goal continues to intersect the worlds of theory, research, law, policy and practice to create educational success for underserved populations. Besides the information they received via the media. Michael’s goal continues to intersect the worlds of theory, research, law, policy and practice to create educational success for underserved populations.
Michael believes that socialism never took root in America because the most white poor Americans see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but an inheritance or lottery ticket away from being wealthy themselves.
He continues to advocate for racial justice. Important issues that must be addressed include: Racism, White privilege, inequities, the racial academic achievement gap, the racial health and wellness gap, racial segregation in housing, employment and schools, mass incarceration, the war on drugs, the "Schools-to-Prisons" pipeline, income disparity, felony disenfranchisement, voters' suppression, unemployment, police brutality, and the police "Blue Code of Silence". We must look into the criminal justice system, sentencing reform, raising the minimum wage to living wages, provide healthcare for all, increased voters' participation, global justice, and democracy.
I am a web developer with experience in both front-end and back-end development. I have a strong passion for coding and enjoy creating websites and applications that are both visually appealing and functional.
I have a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from XYZ University. During my time there, I gained a strong foundation in programming, data structures, algorithms, and computer architecture.