Pass Me a Kleenex
I didn't even make it to the actual show. The Pre-Show got me, riled up, that is.
Soledad O'Brien spoke to D.L. Hughley to recap what his quintessential moment of Blackness is. D.L. began speaking about how his mother always told him not to ask questions, it was rude. One day, a girl in his class said something that he didn't quite get or it didn't set right with him. He started to ask the question and then remembered what his mother had told him and quieted himself. It was his teacher who told him to always ask questions that got him thinking differently. His teacher told him he would be somebody and, sadly, it had never crossed his mind that being someone was entirely possible before then. And then they brought out the teacher...
He was a white man. Of course.
Two things pissed me off in that moment. The 1st being, that yet again there is a White face attached to convincing Black children that they can be "bigger and deffer." The 2nd being that it was an experience with a white person responsible for tallying this then Black man-child's worth. Don't get it twisted, I have been impacted by white teachers myself. My 3rd, 6th, 8th, and 10th grade years were either in the hands of 1 influential White teacher or included an influential White teacher. Additionally, I happen to know a few good White teachers. My issue comes in where white is the face of education in this country. With the exception of Lean On Me, and the movie with Samuel Jackson, how many times have we seen Black educators heralded as the ladder for Black children to make it to the top? From the looks of movies and shelves in the Education section at bookstores, I'd almost be forced to assume there are NO Black teachers. But that can't be. See, I am one and know many.
D.L. mentioned, through his wet tribute to his teacher, that NO ONE had ever made him feel like he was anything. His mama even told him he was rotten. I'm saddened and strangely encouraged. It makes me sad to bear witness to the madness I'm seeing all around me now having been born from the madness going on in previous generations. I know plenty of families who love, value, and treasure their children. I know plenty of families who've made MANY ultimate sacrifices to ensure their families have access to the world, raising terrifically well rounded children. What I see around me most often are the families that talk to their children any kind of way and treat them even worse.
There are new forms of child abuse these days. Children being dragged around by parents engrossed in cell phone conversations. Children who are being fed pre-packaged diets with high sugar and salt content. Children who are given electronic babysitters to mind them and keep them out from underfoot. There are DVD players on the backs of front seat headrests in our vehicles, creating further disconnect from our children when used to watch movies on the way to school instead of going over math facts. Four year olds have ipod nanos, with their own specialty playlists, destroying their hearing earlier with ear buds that go straight to the eardrums. Parents are showing up at school threatening children not to mess up their expensive sneakers on the playground, but they don't even bother to give an excuse for missing Parent/Teacher conferences. Children aren't visiting grandparents for the summers because grandparents have to work like everyone else, or somebody's at the club when they should be passing on family stories. Some of these children are even busy raising their parents (I've seen it) and their younger sibs. There's a lot of praise for how nice these children look and little focus on what s/he can do with the power of his/her mind. Who is left to tap into all that unlocked potential?
Wait, I forgot. White teachers.
Even more sad than this happening to D.L. is the fact that it is happening in my own family. A younger cousin of mine stated an interest in doing what I do. He'd followed me in MySpace and caught a glimpse of what I'm doing now. He said he wants to look into journalism. I asked him if he'd studied any. His response was that he was waiting til college. We have access to everything there ever was on the planet via the World Wide Web and, like I told him, there's no need to wait on such things anymore. Educate yourself if you want it, get started small and begin to hone your craft so that by the time you make it to college "nobody can't do you nuttin'." My DU folks will understand that one. Young Cuz informed me that he was lazy, unlike many of the rest of the cousins. These fast-food kids and their instant gratification... When I told him he had to work for anything he wanted, the excuses rolled off his tongue with rapid fire. Suddenly journalism wasn't tops, it would come behind his music career if that didn't pop off. Do it all, I told him. The excitement jumped out at me as Young Cuz processed this. It was the 1st time anyone told him he could be ANYTHING and EVERYTHING he wants. His father is my father's brother. And it makes me sad that, my father who has always told me to go for whatever I want, has a brother who perhaps hasn't thought to deliver the same message to his own son [in a way that he could hear it and distinguish it as truth.]
So, why am I strangely encouraged?
Well, the fact that Black teachers remain faceless is enough to make me weep. But I won't because I know we DO make a difference. See, it was Black teachers who affirmed my value, instilled in me by my parents, that set the stage for me to be able to receive the rest of what those White teachers had to offer. I know, and have witnessed, the difference that I have made in the lives of children. I have to continue on this path because it's a part of who I am that must be fed. But I'm also encouraged because, no matter who makes the difference in a child's life, it is possible to continue to do so through all the layers of negativity today's children are clothed in. If D.L. could come from not even understanding success and future as real, tangible concepts in his world, today's children can too. They may be responding to "Get yo ass over here, Lil Nigga" right now, but in the future, they can respond to Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So, including President now, in charge of whatever their hearts and diligence desire.
Continuing to teach in Non-traditional classrooms, USA...
Watch me move.