Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Friday, June 19, 2015

What Country Are You Living In?

I wish I could say that the events in Charleston shocked me.
I wish that this type of blatant racism was so rare, so unheard of, that this single instance was a literal shock to individuals, communities, and the nation at large.

But it's not.

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray.

For many these are hashtags, terms that get liked and shared and RT, but that is the end of the involvement.

As an English teacher. As a former high school teacher of children, many not different from the young men and women in these news stories, there are many things upset me about these situations.
One of the things that upsets me are the rhetorics of race that are present in every single one of these stories.
Black men and women who resist or speak up are "thugs" and white men that gun down people in a church, or show up armed in force, are "mentally ill."
Pictures of the black men in these stories show themas thugs, using visual rhetoric to create a specific narrative. While the white men, perpetrators and criminals, are shown in graduation caps, and band uniforms.
Events like McKinney are called a "ruckus."
Not only are news outlets framing a biased narrative, but the underlying argument running under all of these stories seems to be that they are the result of everything EXCEPT racism.

But reading my Twitter feed and Facebook yesterday  realized that there's a much bigger program going on.
I constantly read posts that said things like:
Where did he get this from?
How could this happen?
One person doesn't represent us all.
This was a single person, it's not a hate crime.

And that's delusional bullshit.

He didn't need to "get" it from anywhere. It's pervasive in the South. And for that, look no further than South Carolina's flag.
It happened because racism across the country, but particularly in the South is normalized. It is accepted. We have gotten to the point that people aren't even giving lip service to protest that they're not racist because they no longer feel that they have it.
When a young man takes a gun into a church and murders people, and everyone rushes to say how he's not "us" you're focusing on the wrong thing. He obviously did nothing to hide his views, his support of apartheid, and the rhetorics of racism. Yet no one stepped in, no one corrected him, no one stopped him. Which makes every one in his life complicit.  Tell me again how he's not representative.
A white man killed black people, of course it's a hate crime. Those of you arguing that this was anything else are ignorant. And you need to think long and hard why you're so invested in this not being racism.

I went to high school, then undergrad in North Carolina. Later when my mom got sick I moved home and taught at the same high school I graduated from. And let me tell you- if you think the news that's been scrolling across your social media feeds are isolated incidents, or if you think we live in a post-racial world, and that racism is a few and far between occurrence, you're out of your goddamn mind.
My neighbors in NC draped a Confederate flag over their porch, and kept it there.

My students regularly argued that the South had won the Civil War, and the world would be a better place if everything was like the South.
The "n" word was regularly used. By students, parents, school administration.
On more than one occasion I had a guidance counselor, and assistant principal tell me that the sole reason a student wasn't doing well was because "they're black."
The towns are segregated, not by law, but by historic economics and continuing conditions that make it incredibly difficult for families to move into better situations.
In my recent memory I can tell you of crosses burned on yards. Not a hundred years ago, not fifty years ago.
Home schooling is popular. And most use a distorted view of Christianity to guide their practices. Using books like this:
And distorted religion bears a large part of this responsibility. I've had to sit through prayer at faculty meetings for a public high school. And was treated badly when I complained about this.
I was once almost fired for teaching The Scarlet Letter.
I was once called into the principal's office at the behest of the superintendent, and accused of being a devil worshipper. Because my students, and parents, never saw me go to church.
I was once slandered on a church email list because I told a student that their community service/service learning assignment needed to be redone as "teaching heathens about Jesus" did not address a social issue, as was the assignment.

The Boston Globe nailed it today, and this is at the heart of this issue that few seem to be willing to recognize. In the South, the argument is that the Confederate flag is "heritage, not hate." But the problem is it's a heritage, and history, OF hate.
It's everywhere.
It's pervasive.
It runs in the background.
It is implied in teaching, and modeling.
The culture, particularly the religious culture, supports this.
And it's against all minorities, not just blacks. A couple of decades ago, NC saw an influx of South American families moving in. And the racist reaction was predictable. And they too had crosses burned on their yards. And their children were called "wetbacks." And they lived in segregated neighborhoods, and when they moved into other neighborhoods were accused of "ruining" the neighborhood.

Is everyone south of the Mason-Dixon a racist? Of course not. But the culture, the heritage, that supports and encourages racism is ubiquitous.
And this is the heart of the issue. When an entire culture is build around a symbol of racism and slavery, when the majority of that population will argue with you about how it's NOT a symbol of hate, that's a problem.
There was a time where the epithets were still said, but people at least lowered their voices to say it. The "n" word was still used, but the younger generation preferred to say "those people" or "those boys."

The problem is, the people in the South are busy defending their "heritage," the people in the North are busy arguing we live in an Ivory Tower of post-racial harmony where these things are isolated incidents.
I worry that despite of the growing list of racial events the past year, people are still denying the prevalence of racism. And I worry that our collective, continued inaction against these racists acts only encourages another generation of racism. If we don't punish it. If we don't call it out. If we don't act against it. If we don't in ONE VOICE stand up and say NO MORE then these shadow racists, who have been whispering and lowering their voices no longer see a reason to even do that. They will feel empowered to step forward, present themselves as heroic, tell their stories of "their" country disappearing.
Because what the last year as shown is that racism is institutional.
And we're doing nothing about it.

So I'd like to be shocked at the events in Charleston. Certainly my heart goes out to the families and the community. Unfortunately, given the specific events of the last year, and my personal experiences the last twenty-five years, I think it is just the norm. We live with this now, and other than creating a hashtag, and RT, or sharing a story, we seem unwilling to take any other action. We seem unwilling to stop it.
Perhaps because so many of us are refusing to even acknowledge that there is an issue.

As a teacher, I hope I'm not alone in having discussions about these rhetorics of race.
In opening the conversation in our classrooms.
In making our classrooms safe spaces, and doing what we can to teach our content, to show that there's a wide world out there.
I hope we're creating lessons and sharing them for others to use.

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