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Opinions Sun, 15 Dec 2013

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My Madiba Moment - Part 6

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

"Trust me, we will fight and get back our land!" I shot back at Professor Keating, after he had hung the racialized political map of the African continent up in front of the blackboard. The man seemed to be more amused than either peeved or worried by my passionate riposte.

Refreshingly, I would see him grow exponentially in perspective and pedagogical approach. Once, he stood in front of the class and pensively observed as follows: "A lot of lies have been peddled to justify Western expansionism and colonial conquests. As a child growing up in Canada, I was alwasys made to believe that colonial subjugation in Africa and Asia was all about the altruistic business of spreading civilization. It took me years to realize that it was all about the economic improvement and material comfort of the colonizers."

Now, that was really a sea-change of an epiphany, coming from Michael Keating. He would also, somewhat, modify his hitherto parochial and jingoistic stance on global affairs. Once, while the class was engaged in comparative media analysis of various American newspapers, and I admonished my classmates to go to Radio Shack and purchase a short-wave radio-set, so as to enable them to compare the differences in reportage of the same news events by broadcasters of different nationalities, such as the erstwhile Soviet Union's Radio Moscow International, and even the Voice of America, the most powerful satellite-radio broadcast in the world, Professor Keating stopped me in my tracks and casually brushed my admonishment off as pure hogwash, or completely irrelevant.

"I don't think that is necessary. The United States is big and diverse enough to provide enough media grist for comparative analysis for our purposes."

"Well, but America contains a relatively insignificant percentage of the world's population," I returned plaintively, albeit politely.

"That may well be the case. But the fact still remains that America represents a microcosmic gamut of global human experiences, which cannot be said for most other countries including Ghana, your own."

A semester or two later, some of my associates and friends in the Communications, Film and Video Department would report to me that Professor Keating had been advising them to listen to and watch other foreign radio and television stations, and then compare their coverage of news events to that of the United States.

"We are finally getting somewhere," I told one of my good friends.

Indeed, it may be tantamount to grotesque exaggeration to say that Professor Keating hated my guts, as New Yorkers are wont to say. And I am quite convinced that the man actually liked me. Once, he even told me in a private conversation with him in his office that he had had occasion to commend me to some of his colleagues in several of the other departments on campus, that I was easily one of the best students in the CCNY journalism program. This was right after I had "vengefully" informed him of my acceptance into the doctoral program in Africana Studies at Temple University.

"Why, Kwame! I thought you were into media studies?" Keating fumed with wistful regret. It was almost as if to imply that I was literally wasting my talent, or whatever it was that he considered to be my remarkable talents. You see, with these folks, you never can tell when commendation may actually have to be read backwards to mean a curse.

"But, Sir, you gave me a D+ for the report I wrote on the Rev. Al Sharpton," I declared with a tinge of anguish in my voice. I was, of course, trying to pull a guilt trip on him.

"But you still got an A as final grade for the class, didn't you?"

That was not the point, and Professor Keating was more than smart enough to appreciate this fact. There had been times when he either carelessly or deliberately undercounted my exam and quiz scores and gave me Bs; and when I had confronted him on each one of those occasions, he had looked flustered, counted his own score marks several times and then reluctantly corrected his "mistakes" with a A, and then barely apologized.

The point was that he had awarded me the invidiously punitive grade of a D+ not because my news copy was poorly crafted, but simply because he didn't like the subject of my reportage. In a remarkable sense, opting for graduate studies in African and African-American Literature, History and Culture was my pointed way of getting back at the man who had refused me internship under his supervision at CBS News, merely because I won't sit toy-duck fashion and shut up while Professor Keating volubly and smugly badmouthed Africans and African-Americans.

Till this day, I still don't know exactly how Professor Keating felt when The Madiba proudly and deliberately emerged out of Cape Town's Pollsmoor Maximum-Security Prison that sunny midday in February 1990, about three years after I had shouted to him in class, in furious response to his palpably racist African political map thusly: "We will fight to get back our land, trust me!"

Perhaps he felt a little taken aback, horrified and tail-in-between-legs ashamed of himself. I will never know for certain; for I neither know whether Professor Michael Keating is deceased or alive. But would knowing so really matter one way or another? Dr. Earl Rovit, on the other hand, was a quite likable old southern "gentleman." They don't come in a better package than this middle-statured, pipe-smoking and bow-tie wearing gentleman. A gentleman, indeed; and a good one to boot.

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*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Department of English

Nassau Community College of SUNY

Garden City, New York

Dec. 11, 2013

E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net

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Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

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