Picture a 30 something teacher, his school years behind him, confidently assessing his students. He has Black students and finds himself wondering why they frequently wind up in detention, why their parents don’t show up on parent night, why they seem disengaged, and they seem to be intent on interacting with their peer group. There are exceptions and he wonders why the rest can’t be like the exceptions. Sometimes his mind wanders to their names, so bizarre, stereotypical…… and yet, many have Mary and John type names; what happened to the rest of the Tyrones and Shaniquas? Why this apparent desire to separate themselves?
Oh, segregation, yeah, but that was a long time ago, and it was covered in his American Minorities class and OMG, the television is full of memorials and mentions of the suffering of Blacks, but what does that long-ago stuff have to do with kids whose minds don’t seem on success? He hears people on TV talk about the inner-city culture, a culture of dependency, of no ambition, even of criminal tendencies. In fact, a number of his Black students have parole officers or social workers. The Black kids are a minority in the school, but they seem accepted OK and he cannot account for the behavior that sets them apart, unless they just want to be apart.
This composite picture of a teacher is based on a large amount of input over the years. It is not exaggerated and it is documented; my personal documentation derives from many conversations, eavesdropping, blog reading, listening to radio and TV, on and on. Anecdotal, yes, but documented by social scientists. Mr. Teacher, be he White or Black or Other, is too young to have experienced segregation first-hand the way us older folks did, having to sit in a high school classroom and be lectured by a Latin teacher who wanted to make sure this Northern boy knew about the Black people —- although “Black people” was never the word used. Sadly, Mr. Teacher would be more shocked by the use of the N-word than by the content, the vicious hatred, the violence invoked against Blacks who dared violate the code, the Southern Way of Life. All he has is grainy black-and-white images of marchers long ago set upon by funny-looking figures screaming and yelling, nothing he has ever seen or even heard of except in the videos in his social studies classes in high school.
So the long-term effects of segregation pass him by just like the long-term effects of slavery do; someone explaining that while his grandparents were building equity in their home so they could send his parent to college, the parents of his Black students only recently were able to secure mortgages and join the American dream. His eyes glaze over when economic and financial injustice are invoked. Discrimination? Sure, but in the past. What is holding these people back now?
To give my reader perspective on this, in 1966 my supervisor at the welfare office told me that Blacks were clearly inferior based on the simple fact that they had been in this country for over 200 years, yet immigrants of only a couple of generations presence had far surpassed them. Nothing about segregation, despite being from Virgina, the state that had closed down its school system 10 years earlier to avoid desegregation. Years later, I recalled he had run private school in Virginia, and it dawned on me that he had run one of the White academies. And he was the liberal among the social workers in the welfare department!
We are only 18 years out from the publication of The Bell Curve, Murray’s sly attempt to tell us the only reason Blacks are behind economically is their IQ points. Since then, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is America’s premier astronomer and corporate CEOs are Black and top lawyers and politicians are Black, and military leaders are Black….. just how many of those “exceptions” Murray jovially cautioned us about can there be? It is looking more and more like the more opportunity Blacks are afforded, the more they succeed. And that is the ONLY thing that will end the subtle racism of our teacher, who cannot see that many of his White students behave the same way as his Black students and that many Black students come out of a history that makes their integration into the society difficult….. because their grandparents grew up in segregation.