reflection Archives - The Jose Vilson


Father’s Day As A Healing Day

by Jose Vilson on June 15, 2014

in Jose

It’s weird.

With the World Cup in Brazil going and Father’s Day happening all around me (and for me), I’m reminded how, once or twice a year, I’d spend hours watching my father watch soccer in my grandmother’s (his mother’s) house in Brooklyn. I didn’t get why it was so exciting, especially since the Italian league games often ended in nil ties and shootouts back then, but he’d try to run down the best teams. For him, it didn’t even seem to matter who was on Telemundo for the matches as much as it was actually on TV for him to watch.

Over time, I learned that it was a much more fun game to play than to watch. In middle school, I dabbled in futbol (defense) since it seemed to be the only team I could legitimately get on in middle school. I remember my father playing futbol with his friends at a company party and me thinking, “I doubt I’ll be as good as he is,” and to a certain extent, that was true. But I rarely got to see him play because I rarely got to see him period. I relied on my peers and coaches to take me through understanding the game, one I didn’t even try to pursue on a serious level.

The thing is, I’ve been through a series of emotions every father’s day, from longing to anger to disappointment, and recently, understanding. This one is perhaps my most reflective because, as bitter as I could have been for the oft-detached relationship we had, I’m cognizant of the things he left behind for me.  My father’s passing this past December only made these feelings more concrete.

As a father now, I’m even more aware of the things I leave behind for Alejandro, and hoping that they will be plentiful. Before I even became a father, I constantly tried to measure myself as a person trying to be a better father than he ever was, but all that did was dig me deeper into my resentment. Now, that hole is full with the love I have for my son, and the way I consistently measure myself as a father against … myself. It’s been the best way to heal, and that might be the best gift I’ve gotten this year.

Thanks be.



Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that my boys and I wanted to have fun at an Irish pub, jamming to every rhyme and curse Shawn Carter could muster for three verses. It’s already 11pm and we got a few drinks flowing in our system, flirting with a few women of different skin tones, cracking jokes with the a bunch of random guys from the local university. The service was a little slow to get us our drinks, and messed up our drinks more than once, and

All of a sudden, we’ve got DMX’s “Ruff Ryders Anthem” blaring out of the speakers. My boys and I do our usual bop, slurring the chorus when we turn around and see the rest of the bar singing along, too. The first verse drops and I’m just staring at everyone about to say “Niggas wanna try, niggas wanna lie! Then niggas wonder why, niggas wanna die!” A few of them relent after seeing my stare, but a few others keep jamming because one of my boys is riling them up.

I look at him like, “What are you doing?! This is MAD racist!” He’s like, “Well, it’s in the song, so there is that.”

Does it make it OK?

So fine. The DJ moves on to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” One of my boys gets to flirting with a group of women near the bar’s exit. They’re talking it up. Laughs exchange. Everyone’s jumping. My friend gets bumped by a group of muscle-headed frat boys who were jumping and staring directly at him talking to his new acquaintance. My friend takes exception, but my friends and I notice that the situation might escalate, so we pull him away. We all leave together, so we didn’t think there’d be problems.

“EVERYONE, COME OUT HERE!” I feel a bump from behind. It’s one of the frat boys from inside, wanting to start something. He’s like, “You don’t think I’ll beat your brains out? I’ll Rodney King this whole shit right here!” His boys crack up as the rest of the bar had come out to see the sparks fly. “You got your niggas and I got my niggas, too!” A few shoves get exchanged but before we started swinging, the cops came through. The frat boys stayed. Our group left.

After reading this incident, your initial instinct might be to sympathize with me because, whether you know me or not, calling a Black person, unprovoked, the n-word is problematic at best, racist at worst. After a few times reading this, though, the pushback usually comes in the form of questions, private messages, and other perspectives that blunt an initial reaction:

  • What if the provoker saw me and my friends yelling along with DMX with the n-word, so he thought it was OK? Why even use it, Jose?
  • You know the “Jump Around” song gets people riled up. The boys were just being boys and maybe it was a misunderstanding.
  • You probably aren’t a regular to that bar whereas those guys were. Why go to a bar where the owners and bartenders don’t know you like that?

This all sounds forgiving of the folks who otherwise provoked the situation.

I’m not sharing this simply because a combination of these things have happened in my life. I’m also sharing this because, as much as we are all complicit in some form to racial dynamics, it doesn’t deny either use of the n-word, especially the second time when the other guy didn’t even have to say the n-word to try and treat us like one. The truth could be hiding in plain sight, but we need everything to fit into a neat box, the way Donald Sterling’s does, or the University of California Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger.

For what, I’m not sure.

My experiences have made me see my own privilege in terms of dealing with sexism in educational institutions, and why we need to consciously work against trying to excuse it. It’s really easy to tell a woman that she needs to take personal responsibility, because personal responsibility only belongs to those least advantaged by a given relationship. It’s easy to disagree with a woman, then yell / type sexist nonsense at her because you feel there will be no repercussions.

It’s much harder to set rules about how the marginalized in a situation should behave instead of the (intentionally or otherwise) marginalizer should. That’s why, let’s say the same guy who tried to beat my brains in apologized the next morning or not, it’s not as simple as forgiving him. It’s about understanding the power dynamic that, should things have escalated, the odds were against me.

The dynamics of race and gender only get complicated when you’re on the marginalized end of both, as so many of my friends can tell you. When I’ve been called to task on issues of gender, I readily admit I make mistakes, try to learn from them, and apologize when appropriate. It’s a much better response than saying, “My heart’s in the right place! I’m popular so you have to believe me!” or “You’re wrong! I don’t have a sexist bone in my body!” Whereas, just understanding that, as a man, I consciously or unconsciously contribute to patriarchy (and associated oppression) and I have to be aware of my biases thus.

Also, note bene, even without having called the frat boy “white” or “racist,” people would double down on defending him against the latter label. As if I put the race card in the deck.


p.s. – Racism and sexism aren’t exactly the same in the way it plays out in our country, but there’s a lot of similarities, intertwined far too often …


How The Book Is Going So Far

by Jose Vilson on June 1, 2014

in Jose

People often ask me how I do everything I do, especially surrounding my book.

I can’t reveal it all, but even my typical Saturdays aren’t that typical.

Yesterday, I took a three-hour National Board exam, unprepared due to circumstances beyond my control. Then again, everyone told me this test should be no sweat because it’s everything that I’ve been doing since I first started teaching. Except that it wasn’t. I can’t say more because Pearson would have me redact this whole paragraph I signed a non-disclosure agreement, so there is that. However, I spent the better part of three hours looking at a timer and scribbling down as much as I could without my hand falling off.

I’ve been favoring my left hand since.

Shortly after staring at a computer for three hours, I started to explore some of the bookstores in Lower Manhattan because I’m a glutton for punishment. Barnes and Noble on 44th and 5th? No books. McNally Jackson in SoHo? No books either. I should have taken a hint from the weather because, while everyone else took shelter under umbrellas and coffee shops, I was running around looking to see if a few bookstores had my books. Even though I already had a thousand plus, I couldn’t be satisfied with only a thousand sold.

Clearly, if everyone couldn’t see my genius, what was wrong with them? Ugh!

These are the moments that keep me humble. It’s super-easy to doubt myself and see the shelves without my book as a sign of failure of my writing and not the huge machine behind other books. Then it hit me. Concurrent with this weekend was Left Forum, a huge conference for progressive organizers, laborers, and like-minded thinkers from all across North America. To that end, my publisher, Haymarket Books would be there, and even took a tall stack of books with my names on them.

I needed to go where my people would go.

I planned on staying an hour or two, but ended up staying three, having conversations about our current state of education, hanging with friends from different circles, and signing my books for onlookers and fans alike. That plus the daily tags on Facebook of someone’s copy of my book, and getting listed with the likes of Rebecca Walker and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at The Root, all is right with the world again. It’s as if my people are telling me this unconventional path I’ve taken towards getting published will continue to be so.

Maybe Barnes and Noble won’t carry the books in their stores. But the people will in their hands. Right where my book belongs.


Sunglasses and Advil, Last Edit Was Mad Real

March 30, 2014 Jose

I’m surprised a few of you haven’t put out on APB or Missing Persons Report for me since I haven’t blogged on any site for the last two weeks. Instead, I’ve focused exclusively on my new book, This Is Not A Test. The endorsements, pre-orders, and events have rolled in steadily, with very few hitches. […]

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You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You

March 17, 2014 Jose

After a difficult day “at the office,” I sat on my couch and did next to nothing. My e-mail count ran up. My food got cold. My son played with his cars, and, while I partook in a little chasing around the apartment, I soon fell into the couch again, contemplating whether any of the […]

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Vilson Unplugged (Featuring Deepak Chopra)

February 6, 2014 Jose

  Confession: I haven’t had earphones on for the last month and a half. Perhaps some of that has to do with my iPod’s phone jack loosening up, causing me to twist the plug too much to get maybe 20 minutes of uninterrupted listening. I generally use my iPod for 90 minutes, 45 minutes to […]

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