Overcoming: The Challenge to Rise Above Society's Limits

I went to college at DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana, in the mid-1990s. I’d grown up in Washington, D.C. and New York, so it was a bit of culture shock. It was also a valuable cultural education. I got to see that social power and stereotypes are more complicated than I imagined.

One of the first things I remember noticing was the jokes.

In the D.C. area growing up, kids told jokes about people from West Virginia, making them out to be unsophisticated; I guess it was supposed to be a locally acceptable type of cruelty that had nothing to do with race. I heard the jokes again in the Midwest. First I heard peers from Michigan and Illinois telling those jokes about people in Indiana. Then I heard people from Indiana telling the same jokes, but aimed at people from Kentucky. Later, during an internship in Northern Kentucky, I heard people again telling the jokes, about people from Eastern Kentucky.

What that taught me? Very often when it comes to social power, one person’s victim is someone else’s bully, and vice versa.

Which brings us to The Black Experience in America: The Course.

When I designed The Course, my intent was to design for complexity. Among the themes is that, even within the Black community, every era has brought competing ideas about what type of progress is most important and how to achieve it. Another is that the Black experience potentially shows us something about America, about survival, about navigating difference and struggling to overcome society’s stereotypes and expectations.

At some level, we can all relate to that drive to overcome the stereotypes and expectations of others, no matter what cultural group — or state in the Union — we come from.

Speaking of DePauw: This past week, I began welcoming members of the community of my alma mater to The Course. If you’re at DePauw, feel free to share this newsletter and encourage others in your living units to sign up for the DePauw Dialogue Edition and go through this journey with you.


Everyone else: Remember, you can take portions of The Course online. You are among the first to know about it, and I appreciate your early support. You can buy a lesson bundle, and send others the link:

Also, it’s now easy to purchase a lesson as a gift:

New: Buy a $5 lesson in The Course for someone else! Fully-paid access to an interactive lesson will go to the email address of your choice. This is a great option for introducing kids to the lessons.