Mark Naison

Personal Remembrance and Rap

Dear ……..

I haven’t been able to sleep too well since our online conversations about my participating in the events commemorating the Columbia strike. You were right to prod me to participate, and even though I agreed to do so out of loyalty to and respect for you, rather than any real enthusiasm about the event, I now look forward to the opportunity to read a few passages from “White Boy” about my ambivalent experience with Black Nationalism during the strike and in its immediate aftermath

But the whole discussion about my participating, triggered a whole set of feelings about Columbia as an institution, about the people who led the strike, and about how the strike affected my relationship with Nettie, my African American girlfriend from that era, which have festered in me ever since.

As someone who came to Columbia from a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, it took me a long time to get acclimated to the university, and when I did, it was as an oppositional figure, a combination jock, scholar and community organizer. By the time I fell in love with Nettie, and was kicked out of my own family, it was no exaggeration to say that the movement community at Columbia became a surrogate family, along with my other surrogate family, Nettie’s sisters in the Bronx. who lived on Clay Avenue and 167th Street, and on the North side of Claremont Park. Until the strike in 1968, the Black students at Columbia provided a social setting where Nettie and I felt comfortable. We got grudging acceptance at their parties and social events, in part because Nettie was so beautiful and charismatic, in part because I bonded with some of the Black men at Columbia through sports

Then in 68 everything changed. As black nationalist sentiment spread, and took concrete form in separate occupations during the strike, Nettie came under tremendous pressure to break up with me from Black male students at Columbia. Even though our relationship lasted another 3 years, it was never the same, and I felt hurt and betrayed as what was once as safe and nurturing space for me and Ruthie turned into its opposite.

I got more involved in SDS, both locally and nationally, but as the movement broke into Black and White sections, that was not an experience Nettie could share with me

All of a sudden, the world I had created for myself at Columbia as a scholar activist, whose deepest values were expressed through my relationship with Nettie as well as my historical research and organizing, began to shatter. I no longer felt at home there. In fact, the only place I really felt at home was with Ruthie’s working class black family in the Bronx, where the love and acceptance for me and Nettie as a couple never wavered

By the time I got my job at Fordham in 1970, the Bronx was the only place I really felt at home. It was only place where Nettie and I could walk hand in hand without getting hate looks

Even after Nettie and I broke up in 1972 and Liz and I came together two years later, the sense of discomfort and betrayal I felt anytime I was around Columbia remained profound. Some of it was my feelings about the institution itself, which has projected its power towards people in adjacent working class neighborhoods with enormous arrogance – and is still doing so – but more of it was my feelings about the movement that I had been part of, had looked to for support, and which had turned its back on the relationship that had most defined me as a person.

Forty years later I am still angry. Forty years later I am still hurt. But it is precisely that anger and hurt that bind me to the people of the Bronx, who never turned their back on me and Nettie even during the height of the Black Power movement, and who know what it is like to be abandoned and betrayed.

People in the Bronx trust me to record their voices because they can sense, in the mixture of anger and hurt and betrayal and love that coexist within me, coupled with a determination to be heard, some kind of kindred spirit.

In betraying them, I would betray myself.

These are the feelings I will be bringing to the events commemorating Columbia 1968. I come representing the Bronx in more ways than one


Mark Naison
Fordham University
Bronx African American History Project


A Gentrification Rap by Notorious Phd [aka Mark Naison]

They pushed us out of Harlem
And Washington Heights
They’ll take the Bronx too
If we don’t stand and fight


Without immigrants and workers
It’s a rich man’s town
The Bronx is our home
Let’s keep the rents down
A long time ago
New York was a place
Where families could find
Affordable space
We had Patterson and Forest
And Melrose too
And 1520 Sedgwick
Where Hip Hop grew
But the bankers took over
The Lower East Side,
Raising our rents
And Killing our pride
Park Slope came next
Then Harlem, no doubt
If you didn’t have money
You had to move out
Now the Bronx is the place
Where we’re making our stand
Wherever we came from
This is our land
We’re from Ghana, the DR
Mexico , Virginia
Boricua, Antigua,
Our spirit is in you
We drive your buses
We bring your food
We cure you illness
In times bad or good
We need places to live
Where our children can grow
If you keep raising rents
Where will we go?


Without immigrant and workers
It’s a rich man’s town
The Bronx is our home
Let’s keep the rents down

- by Mark Naison
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