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Jimmy - Bio and reflections

Pay Reparations Now

July 1, 2021


My name is Jimmy Fleming, a White male of late middle age.  I have lived in Brooklyn, NY, for almost forty years, but I was born and raised and educated in the deep South and I think of myself more as a Southerner than a New Yorker.  I have family roots in South Georgia that go back several generations on both sides, although my ancestors before my great-grandparents are unknown to me.


I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, intuitively sensing the differences my privilege afforded me – in terms of education, employment, leisure, and just the everyday walk-around circumstances of public safety and well-being. But I took all of that for granted and was slow to understand just how the privilege and opportunity that was afforded me was more than just a matter of fate.   Over time I learned that it was a factor of systemic and historical and entrenched racism and that by simply accepting my status without question or objection, I was also substantiating the very architecture of racism and otherness and perennial cultural and economic abrogation - not to mention actual violence – that was exacted from or acted upon people of color in my community.  


I experienced first-hand the unease and anger and violence that accompanied forced busing of the schools in Muscogee County in Georgia in the early ‘70s.  I remember hearing the vitriol spewed at the radio as Henry Aaron tallied historic numbers in pursuit of a legacy’s home run records.  I remember being taught that The War Between the States was really about states’ rights and that most Southerners enlisted to protect their homes from aggressive Northern armies.  I remember my elders talk about slavery as a benign good that helped Christianize a lot of people who were better off for that.  


I grew up dreaming of becoming a writer or an editor and I moved to New York in 1982 almost on a dare to try to make that happen.  I found a job with a college textbook publisher and for a big chunk of my working life I was the composition specialist, a role I have reprised with an educational software company a few years ago.  Most of my professional life has been spent talking to college faculty who teach writing.  Recently much of my work has been with scholars who advocate anti-racist teaching and assessment practices, a development in research strategies that seems long overdue.


When I moved to New York, I was also thinking I would find a place where equity and fairness, and not the Southern vestiges of The Lost Cause, were the norm.  It took me a few years and a few nostalgic trips back to Georgia to realize the roots of Jim Crow were everywhere and I had not outrun much of anything.  Nor had I done much of anything to ameliorate what I knew to be wrong, whether in Georgia or Brooklyn, nor even to personally accept any responsibility.  


As a kid I wanted nothing more than to be able to being able to hit a curve ball for a living, or write the next great novel, or play guitar in a band fronting for one of my rock heroes.  I’ve learned to give up what I am not capable of or to which I invested no time or training and to focus instead on changing the few things I can. I gave up softball a few years ago when I began to lose depth perception on fly balls to the outfield.  About four years ago I started taking guitar lessons, which has become a passion. And in the short time since I’ve joined my friends old and new in PRN in the summer of 2020, I’ve come to a new passion.  


I believe that our efforts are part of a long, complex, messy reckoning.  I am not sure we will affect all the changes we hope for.  But we will foreground the conversation and we will make a difference in some ways if only because this has become the work of our lives.   And I will be changed for it. 

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