Normal and ideal are not synonymous.
Three events during my grade school years rose to “changed me profoundly” levels. They did not happen in Catholic School when we lived in Albany for my Kindergarten and 1st grade years. No bad nun stories here. Not too bad anyway. All three instances were at Maywood Elementary after we moved into a “good” neighborhood. Negotiable on that last point. Nice house and all, but “Good how?” I would often wonder as a child. So many were mean as snakes on sight.
I grew to expect foul behavior from those that did not look like me. Expected a bit better from my own. Exactly why I was so confused and disappointed when the one older Black child I was aware of at the school singled me out and attempted to pull a prank on me. He tried to convince me that he had made a hand tickler and to try it out I needed to put my hand at the bottom of an empty paper towel tube. For a moment I was slightly honored that an older child broke protocol and actually interacted with a lower grade kid voluntarily at first. All with a group of his friends looking on. But then something immediately told me that I should not trust him. With that, I pulled my hand away and at that moment a broken egg fell from the bottom of the tube onto the ground. Not only was this not an attempt to befriend a younger classmate, but he was seeking the exact opposite and attempting to embarrass me with a cruel (and stupid) prank to impress his classmates.
I went home and told my father. His response was hilarious. He told me flatly, “It is better you learn this now. No race, color, creed, belief system, or gender has a lock hold on @$$holes. You never know what they will look like.” My edit. He was hilarious. While outward-facing he was quite the gentleman in polite company I had the great pleasure of getting the Unrated Director’s cut of my Dad. At times crude, often hilarious, but always thought-provoking. I learned important lessons that day. 1) From there forward I always sought to be kind to lower class persons. I would hate to make someone feel the way he made me feel that day. 2) Just because you may look like me, that does not necessarily mean that you are for me.
Normal. Definitely not ideal.
But that pales to the next moment at the hands of a once-beloved teacher. You should expect better from a teacher.
A favorite grade school teacher of mine, up to that point, was arranging for us to do a Superman radio show for the school. 5th grade I believe. At the beginning, she announced the casting criteria for Superman. Whoever had the deepest voice would be Superman. I did not put much thought to it, but I was a grade-schooler whose voice dropped way early. Odd, but great for doing Darth Vader impressions and belting the odd Lou Rawls lyric now and then. After casting was over the part went to a friend of mine. Nice kid. Definitely not the lowest voice though. He was confused. The whole class was confused. Silent. (Quick demographics overview. I was the only Black child in the class.) I mean… even at this age I knew why I was not chosen. The other kids had the luxury of not understanding. I would have understood more if it were a stage play. I mean some people lost their minds because Idris Elba was cast as the Midgard/Asgard god shuttle operator because of his race. Some lost it because a Black actress was cast as a half fish parts fictional character. Eesh… Those sentences. People. Do better… So my grade school definitely wasn’t ready for a stout African American child in red and blue PJs and a cape. But a radio show? They would not even see us.
Was I mad at my teacher? No. Disappointed. My parents and experiences thus far had already braced 5th grade me for this. No matter how justified anger plays into the narrative of those done wrong being unreasonable and prone to flying off the handle. Which is then used in an attempt to justify prior wrongdoing. Resulting outrage used as justification for the preceding injustice is as American as apple pie. Up to this point I had loved this teacher. She was everything I had thought a teacher should be.
I gave her a chance by directly asking her one on one later why she, who had previously acknowledged that I had the lowest voice in the class, chose my friend over me and for the first time ever talking to me she fumbled nervously and rushed to end the discussion. No answer was given. Et tu, indeed. I ignored the confusion of my cohorts and begrudgingly carried on with the play in another role. Despite her later attempts to make amends she had irretrievably damaged the trust I had put in her.
Normal. Definitely not ideal.
A most unfortunate epiphany.
Earlier in my grade school experience, someone at the school got the bright idea to issue IQ tests to us kids. Third or fourth grade. A lot of fuss was made about it. I do not put much stock in these things but evidently I did well. I know this because there was quite a bit of fuss made about my score. I thought the whole exercise was ridiculous. You are going to judge us across the board with this? My parents were contacted, and they hardly reacted. They were low key comedians that kept it real at all times. Their take? “Of course you did well. We gave you functioning brain cells, teach, and talk to you constantly and have not ever hit you in the head.” No change in course. Do not get a swelled head. Carry on as is was the edict.
This same year my teacher stated misinformation as fact. What was said? Don’t remember. Not important. Understanding my standing as a child in this dynamic I cautiously corrected her. They pushed back. I pressed on, confused, countering politely to which they grew noticeably agitated. I was profoundly perplexed. Then it hit me like a pile of bricks.
My teacher was wrong.
Demonstrably so. This should not be. She is tasked with teaching me. But more so she was more concerned with appearing to be right and getting me to say she was right than actually being right.
Normal. Definitely not ideal.
Nice person, but this upended paradigms I had accepted up to that point.
Question everything you are told. Do what needs to be done to pass a given class, but make sure to research everything for yourself.
Glad I learned this early in retrospect, but it was terrifying to my young mind initially. This upset me because I understood that this had ramifications well beyond this classroom. Based on my parents my expectations of adult intelligence were very high. Up to that point in my world, a grade-schooler should not have a better handle on basic truths versus misinformation than a full-grown person, in general, especially a teacher. If this was my new norm it meant life would be much more complex here on out. I could not simply trust the words of those put before me as fact without question. This also led to some interesting grade school classroom conversations. Usually surrounding social studies, or the Disneyfied pablum they passed off as history.
Topic: Discovering and building America.
Me: <raises hand> Any group could be successful provided they have stolen land and forced unpaid labor. (Every tool and tactic used to “found” and build this nation is now a Class A felony in the resulting republic. Don’t believe me? Try and go doing some discovering and building the old-timey way and see how far you get.)
Also me: How do you discovery a place that is already inhabited?
Me again: Upset over what language is spoken? Neither English nor Spanish is native to this continent. Unless you break off a little Algonquin or other Native tongues you should keep it hush.
Topic: Manifest destiny.
Me: <raises hand> So by this logic if I believe I am destined to have my whole block I can just march down my street, kick folks out of their houses, march them off somewhere else, make them live in their shed and call it a reservation, or murder them?
So on and so forth.
From this point forward it was clear to me that we all do not reside in the same reality. Many have a luxury of ignorance I honestly want no parts of. But I do occasionally envy and pity them a bit.
While those caught in the throes of willful ignorance cause great trouble for others it greatly simplifies their lives. How much simpler it must be to just believe something absent any need or desire to ever reevaluate one’s position. All those years of pondering and self-evaluation freed up? What would I do with all that free time? I envy brand loyalists the same way. How much simpler car shopping, phone shopping, camera shopping, or any shopping would be if I predetermined that I will only buy a Canikon, SamApplesung, Forchevyota, or whatever for some reason or another forever and ever? Just march down to the consumer dispensary of my choice, hand over to them my current thing with some additional money or payment plan and walk off with my new dealie of the same make without question. Can’t do it. Won’t do it.
I have seen the machinations many go through to wrestle their prefrontal cortex into submission and it looks painful. Bigoted thinking fueled by self-sourced paranoia looks exhausting. I cannot fathom why anyone would want to reside in such a cognitively limiting space. Then there is attaching your legacy to a belief system that will not be looked back upon kindly by history. You cannot retcon hate by calling it heritage.
Ok, enough. What brought on this random neural firing?
Everything. Absolutely everything that is going on as of right now. (Current timeframe early 2020 in case things improve and this requires context.)
Everywhere you look intelligence and facts are under attack by those peddling ignorance and misinformation. They seem emboldened by the all-conquering power of nonsense well publicized. No one is safe.
Not normal. Definitely not ideal.
Not certain. I do know that nothing will change as long as those who profess to be on the side of good are easily misled or continue to disengage altogether.
- Listen more than speak.
- Read more than write.
- Call out evil.
Do not give up.
Apparent hopelessness due to the seeming futility of it all is the motive. Don’t fall for the okey-doke. Do not surrender hope. Photography taught me that the sky is still blue even when it is too dark to see.
It is not over. Together we can all move this needle in the direction of ideal.