The other reason for sharing my anecdote is very simple: the conditions of that exchange contour every aspect of my professional life. This affect occurs on two levels: the writing process and the institutional experience. My research always begins with a quotidian scenario, a happening that gives me pause - an incident that cannot be explained away by prevailing theories nor removed from occupying a particular place in my consciousness. From that place, I begin to search for an argument that can handle the complexity of the experience. On the other hand, my institutional life is shadowed by the "how dare you" of that parking lot question. While I am encouraged to do cutting-edge work, to be a voice in the department, my experiences tell me that when you continually push people to see what you might be seeing, to come close to that cutting edge, they will ultimately resist; they will offer phrases like "departmental tradition" and "institutional memory" as an excuse for a kind of stasis that reminds you that you have forgotten your place. There is plenty of fodder for an unfettered intellect, but our academic strivings have little space to maneuver in the daily landscape of stereotype and mediocrity.
When average people participate in racist acts, they demonstrate a profound misreading of the subjects they encounter. For that woman in the parking lot, the civil rights struggle was not about freedom for us all, it was about acquiring a kind of purchase on black bodies. I would be given the right to participate in "democratic process," but the ability to exercise such a right would be looked upon with disdain and at times, rage. This scene from a mall stays with me as if that woman and I were locked in a past that has tremendous purchase on my present. In my mind, we hover there with the lie of difference and non-relation balancing precariously between us - like Rosa and Clytie at war on the dilapidated staircase in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom - it is a primal scene par excellence. The logic of "race" has as its primary defense the action of racism and it continues to work because we rely upon it to perpetuate the beautiful, but catastrophic lie of biology, of family and of kinship. Racism defends us against the project of universal belonging, against the findings, if you will, of the human genome project, pernicious though it might be.