Save the Teens


So y’all have probably noticed I didn’t post anything last week.  That’s because I’m tired.  The thing pressing on society from all sides the past couple of weeks is the murder of Treyvon Martin.  I’d already posted a couple of times about race and I didn’t want to do it anymore.  I’m tired of speaking for “all black people.” Tired of keeping up race relations.  Just plain tired.  But it seems that the world is tired of thinking about people as individuals and I’m compelled to come out of my hideyhole and speak.  Speak for Treyvon and for the children in my own neighborhood.

I propose to you the murder of Treyvon Martian was more than just a racial thing.  He was wearing a hoodie. The hoodie along with baggy pants, an oversized T-shirt and sneakers signals more to the observer than the color of the person wearing the clothes.  It says urban culture.  Now urban culture is often used as a code word for black people.  For black people who wear those things, listen to rap music, are loud, violent, uneducated, and disrespectful.  You might say, “Hey there Billie Jean.  Hold on now, wait a minute.  That’s not right.”  It isn’t right.  But it’s the truth.

This is how George Zimmerman, a latino, can have close loyal black friends and still call a stranger a “fucking coon.”  I have had friends look at me in the face and say that they don’t think of me as black.  Don’t think of me as black?  Now I’m not a dark chocolate but I’m definitely no creamed coffee beige either.  I am black.  That’s my racial identity.  For grown people to look at me and say I’m not black means that to them, being black does not mean the color of my skin but how I act, talk, and dress.  It’s true I’m not the least bit “urban.”  I was raised in the suburbs and ever since then have lived over 90% of my non-family life as the only black person in the room.  Sadly, I had to borrow the hoodie I wore for my twitter photo from my mother.  But I am black.  I’ve been called an Oreo, black on the outside white on the inside.  But I’m just black and for people not to see me this way because of the way I present myself is a problem.

Yesterday, I went to talk to sixth graders at my former junior high about screenwriting.  Stepping through those doors was like walking into an alien world from the one I remembered.  The kids looked older and taller than I expected but what really got me was all the color everywhere.  Black kids, brown kids,  Asian kids, white kids.  A mural sprawled across the wall stating the word Diversity in large letters.  Odder than that, the faces passing by it reflected the message.  It kinda freaked me out.  When I went there we had no more than four black kids in the school for the entire three years I went there.  There were also a few Hmong and about ten to twenty adopted Korean kids back then.  The halls were loud and as a 34 year old woman I felt incredibly out of place.  I gave myself a pep talk.  I was prepared, I could do this.

The classroom was smaller and the children were wilder than I remembered.  As the kids entered they immediately started climbing the walls, literally.  The tiny ledge used for dry erase markers became a balance beam. Tables and chairs became launch pads or elevated runways.  The teacher said nothing but the class had not begun yet.  I was shocked, but if they wanted to excise their inner Olympic acrobat before the bell rang who was I to judge.  Then the bell rang.

Most of the kids sat down, some on top of the table which I didn’t approve of but it wasn’t my class.  The others continued to roam around the room and in and out of the door.  I waited for the teacher to say something to these kids but she didn’t.  She just told me to start.  I did, thinking that once they knew something was going on they’d pay attention.  In less than a minute, the roamers recruited half the sitters into their pursuits of mayhem.  Still nothing was said.  And that’s when I noticed.  The only ones sitting down were white and Asian kids.  I kept talking even though my heart started to sink.  What I can only assume to be the disciplinarian of the school came in and took some kids for a talk about things that happened earlier that day.  I know this because he was not quiet about it.  The way he opened the door without knocking, did not excuse himself for the interruption, or adjust his volume to accommodate my presentation was startling.  After the kids he borrowed returned to resume their antics, I broke when one of  the girls stood in the open door and proceeded to shout down the hallway.  “HEY! YO!”  She turns around, “Did you just say ‘Hey yo?'” “Yes, I did.” She sat down taking a handout.  Before my next sentence was completed her friends start talking to her and she’s up and running again.  It killed me.  The discipline guy comes back and takes five of the girls out.  Then one kid opens the window and climbs out of it to run around the parking lot.  Still the only response from the teacher was to close the window.

The black Mama in me was ready to fight.  To get in all their faces and physically sit their black asses down.  But I’m not their Mama, or their teacher.  So instead I told my story.  The one that I was not able to share until recently, especially with white people in the room.  How isolated I felt and how much pressure I shouldered to be the perfect example of a black person for the white race when I was in school.  I told them I didn’t want them to feel like they didn’t have to be anyone else for anybody else but that respect of all people was crucial.  The room was quiet as I spoke.  The quietest it had been the whole time.  Then one of the white girls raised her hand.  “I don’t like that you said that because I am a person of color too.  Just a different color.”  I wanted to tell her that my story was not for her and her neediness to be included in everything, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings so instead I told her that yes, she did have color.  A kind of pink.  She smiled as did the rest of the white kids and with that I lost the black kids again and the noise and the climbing started again.  The last few minutes of class was free time.  One of the white girls started walking on the table and she was told to get down (which she did after being told a third time.)  By the end of class I was angry and wounded.  I asked the teacher what had happened in there.  She basically told me that the trouble makers were going to be moved to a single classroom environment at a different facility next year.  I wanted to scream.  All these black kids were going to be segregated because people had given up on them.  Had decided they were not worth the trouble of teaching or even telling to sit down and shut up.  Is that what we do now, give up on people who seem to be troublemakers?  Are they just bugs to be shooed out of the house or exterminated because they might infect the people who wear jeans and T-shirts that fit?

I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet.  But I’m going back to that school.  Children should be fought for at all times in all circumstances.   They deserve us to have hope for them even when they don’t have hope for themselves.  Pray for me.  I’m gonna need it.

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: More Stories than the Empire State Building « Billie Jean Van Knight

  2. Pingback: They Don’t Do It for the Recognition | Black Write & Read

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