I went to bed with a heavy heart last night, virtually unable to tell my remote control to shut down the television and resist enigmatic pull of Anderson Cooper and all the madness exploding in Ferguson, Missouri. I even took a shower, convinced that by the time I exited the hot steam and poured myself my favorite glass of milk, it would all be winding down.

It was not.

Amidst videos of people pouring iced water over their heads, a darker tragedy of a volatile nature has reemerged. As Chris Blow, a political commentator for CNN and reporter for the New York Times mentioned yesterday, the nation has essentially been simmering on this issue of race relations, and as previous tragedies have intimated, the pot is preparing to boil over. Trayvon Martin’s tragic situation and the trial that followed, along with other instances around the country, coupled with the immigration beast issues have created a maelstrom of seething anger and divisiveness in the United States.

How will this country withstand so much happening on the homefront, whilst President Obama deals with assaults from Republicans AND all the Middle East issues looming larger each day? Is our African American president really crippled as many seem to think, when it comes to taking a stand on the treatment of Black people in America? I don’t think so. I believe that there is still time for Obama to make his mark in his last years as president, especially since he cannot be reelected. He still has time to shed the politically correct cloak he’s been wearing and roll up his sleeves.

Nevertheless, my milk didn’t taste as delicious as it usually does as I saw the instigators and rabble-rousers manage to achieve their malicious intent to disrupt peaceful protestors and incite the authorities in Ferguson to use their riot tactics before I heaved a sigh and shut it down for the night.

This is another incident where everybody loses. Michael Brown, clearly a lost youth heading down the unfortunate but all too prevalent path towards a jail cell, was breaking the law with petty foolishness and lost any chance he had to live a productive and satisfying life by being gunned down unnecessarily. My partner says he should have been playing football somewhere, using his strength productively, perhaps on a scholarship somewhere. That’s how Mike Tyson got a chance to get off the streets and use his natural talents proactively. But he had mentors and people who snatched him up and steered him towards a better life.

The police officer who shot Mr. Brown also lost, because he is probably going to face charges for this recklessness on his part and his life will never be the same again. I don’t believe he started his shift that day with the intent to “take a nigger down” as someone told me recently. It seems like this situation escalated on knee-jerk reactions, some of it based on the young man’s size and combined with adrenaline, led to an unfortunate end. Clearly police protocol and sufficient back-up personnel were not in place as this nightmare unfolded so rapidly.

From the perspective of humanity, not race factors, both these men have lost their lives.

But who am I? I’m not the mother who lost a son, or the cop who is probably watching everything he had ever hoped for get flushed down the toilet. I’m not even the relative of either of these men.

I am however, the partner and lover of a Black man, who stares racial discrimination in the face every day. I am the mother of two bi-racial girls, girls who I would give my life for, who I fiercely try to protect from a Southern environment where they are judged instantly by White people. Yesterday, for instance, we went to the library and my daughter in her excitement to get in the door, exclaimed that when she grew up she wanted to own her own library (I laughed) because she wanted to be able to walk up and down the aisles and be able to read any book she wanted. For the three of us the online card catalogue is a shrine and we love searching for books that interest us. Sadly, the computer database was down yesterday and we moped over to the librarian at the counter, who was happily smiling at the lady in front of us in line and helping her with her search. When it was our turn however, the librarian’s smile was nonexistent and her answer to our questions were curt and dismissive. Condescending, as though our brown skin would somehow infiltrate the books entrusted in her care.

At a base level, I wanted to leap over the counter and shake her fat face, kick her in her fat ass and tell her, “Do you know who I am??? I have an IQ triple those of you and your whole entire redneck family. I was born and raised in New York City and can crush you. I have defied stereotypes and paid my way through college, survived abuse and given birth to six beautiful, intelligent children. Don’t you dare speak to us this way!”

But my upbringing and my education squelched my baser instincts and forced me to square my shoulders, check myself and enunciate extra carefully to this small-minded librarian our needs.

As the mother of two beautiful brown-skinned intelligent young ladies, and a woman who loves fiercely this strong, proud Black man, who has served his country, educated himself, and is striving to protect and provide for his family, I am a woman who worries.

Ultimately, I also carry guilt because as an educator who has taught in inner city schools and seen the hopelessness prevalent in these teenagers — as I once devoted my life to doing — I feel I should be back on those front lines. I should be using my degree and teaching license to serve those who really need someone to give a damn about them because I firmly believe that education is the key to rising above tragic situations like Michael Brown’s. Education is the key to bringing communities together, to working towards a better life. When you are educated about men like Ghandi, and study cultures who historically have faced adversity through sticking together, then they can inspire revolutions of hope and maybe, just maybe African Americans can begin the process of breaking the hard-wired chains of slavery that still linger generationally and keep them from realizing their true strength and power as human beings.

Yesterday I read an essay that has gone “viral” by a young man who attends Princeton University.  It is his retaliatory response to a common phrase, “check your privilege,” which has apparently annoyed him so much that he felt compelled to defend his life of elitism.

While I am sure many other commentaries have been written, I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Fortgang myself. Not too proselytize to him or anyone else, but because there are things that dig into my consciousness to such a degree that I have difficulty sleeping and they pop up in my mind throughout the average day filled with mundane tasks.

Perhaps I’ll entitle it: “IT MUST BE HARD TO BE YOU.”

Mr. Fortgang,

It must be hard to be you.  Your days must surely begin with such strife and calamity as you saunter into your closet and try to decide which designer pair of jeans to toss on, and then consider which preppy sweater to tie haphazardly over your tailored, and monogrammed oxford shirt. After al, the classrooms at Princeton are undoubtedly rather chilly.  

It must be hard to be you at the onset of a new semester, trying to figure out which classes to take, which ones will be interesting enough for you to muck through an entire semester. But take heart that at least you won’t have to worry about all the good classes filling up while you wait for your financial aid loans to be entered into the system.  Surely your schedule will be on point!

It must be hard to be you when you go back to New York to your family, maybe for a day trip into Manhattan.  I hear the city is overrun with clean-shaven Jewish boys and it’s getting hard to hail a taxi these days.  You might be tried severely by having to wait for, oh, maybe three seconds.

Yes, it must be hard to be you, to have doors opened for you while you ride on the coattails of your hardworking and long suffering ancestors, everyone expecting great things from you, because THEY survived and lived to tell the tale of horrors at the hands of one monster and his minions.  The crucible must be a difficult one to bear.

But Mr. Fortgang, what you will NEVER, EVER, EVER, have to deal with is the following:

You’ll never be cast aside before having an opportunity to even utter a greeting, simply because of the color of your skin.

You’ll never know what a substandard education feels like simply because of your residence because your whole life has been exclusive day schools, living along 

 

banner-12-years-a-slaveI have made a couple of mistakes in recent months, mistakes which have caused me to lose desperately needed sleep, as it is difficult to settle my thoughts and I have obsessive tendencies anyway.

The first mistake actually happened several months ago when I allowed my eight year old daughter to see the movie, Twelve Years a Slave by director Steve McQueen. In my defense, she is very interested in history, particularly the history of slavery in America.  She poured over almost every biography she could get her hands on, of various African-American figures in history.  We decided it would be risky but we gave in to the pleas to see the film while it was in theaters. I didn’t get to go unfortunately, so she went with her dad and stepsister, who is college-aged.

Even though the African-American woman who saw John leave the theater with both of his arms wrapped around the stunned and tear-stained faces of his daughters, told him they needed to see the movie and they would be okay, I knew this past weekend it was just too much for her to handle at her current age.

I didn’t win any parenting awards for that decision. Needless to say, she had nightmares for a couple of weeks after the film.  But I didn’t recognize the magnitude of my mistake until I was finally able to watch it this past weekend.  

I was haunted.  

I multiplied the horror story of Solomon Northrup and his fellow prisoners in slavery by 100,000, for every slave had their own tale of atrocities to recount if they could articulate it to someone at some point.  My partner told me that history states that approximately 700,000 people were taken from Africa and sold into slavery. From those 700,000 grew generations well into the millions in this country, each with their own horrific tale that was never told.

The second mistake was watching the movie while living in North Carolina, with its subtle wavelength of racism that permeates the air like a dense patch of fog, like the smell of burning leaves in someone’s backyard that lingers over several blocks.

It’s like the White children who so politely open the door for us in the kiss and go car drop off line at my daughter’s elementary school. As they open the door, they peer inside carefully, and I wonder whether they’re expecting to see a deluge of blackness seep out of the vehicle and stain their clothing, like an enormously eager ink blot. They look at us as we say our loving goodbyes, as if surprised that people as brown as we are can actually perform such Leave It to Beaver displays of normalcy.

Maybe if I had not seen the movie Twelve Years a Slave, I wouldn’t have rented Long Walk to Freedom about Nelson Mandela’s lifelong fight to eradicate apartheid.  Yes, I am obsessive… And perhaps this story wouldn’t have kept me up last night, with a mixture of anger and sorrow quickening my veins.

At a lovely UNC doctor’s office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the kind of offices that are scattered just as frequently as McDonald’s in any given city (except Chapel Hill), a White heavyset woman went in to have her blood drawn at the lab.  To her anger, an African-American woman would be the unlucky person who had to draw her blood.

Here’s what the coarse and monstrous White woman told the lab technician as she prepared her materials: “If you dare to even touch me with your black skin, I will slap your face!”

What would Jesus have done?

What would you have done?

I know what I would have done, but I’m torn.  Should we rise above this deep-rooted racism and maintain composure and dignity?

Or do we give in to our absolute exhaustion of living with the ignorance of the South, STILL, in 2014 and let our baser instincts fly free?

My over-working brain played with wicked joy all the probable scenarios I would have done to that woman, including licking her, cursing her, or cutting her down with an assault of words sharper than any scalpel at UNC.

The lab technician was shaken and in tears after the ordeal, offended and demoralized, which leads me to the question I have asked my mate oftentimes over the years since I have relocated to this dismal region: Why didn’t every Black person in the South leave and go far away from this evil, racist-infested land?

 Why set up roots for generations after freedom had been granted? Why continue to work for the White man?

Was it ignorance and fear? Lack of education? A lifetime of browbeating and soul-crushing that robbed them of their dignity and integral fortitude?

As I observe the community around me I have many questions, and no answers.

While I waited for my daughter to finish her breakfast so we could begin another school day Monday, I sludged through page after page of beautiful men in the latest issue of GQ magazine, confounded that such beautifully airbrushed creatures actually existed on this planet. Whew!  Quite an eyeful.

And then, BAM, it hit me, the editorial by Jim Nelson, editor-in-chief of GQ.  Someone expressed in a wonderfully delicious, acerbic style, what I had been thinking for some time. 

Let me connect the dots.  An “old-school” song came on the radio as I was racing to pick up my child from school recently.  Eminem’s “Slim Shady” song.  Perhaps you’ve heard it, yes? I had a general disdain for the song when it was popular a few years ago, because I love music so much and his type of anger didn’t do it for me.  But on this particular day, I was exhausted by the same ten songs on the radio stations, and I’ve given up on finding the stations that used to play Barbra Streisand songs (sigh), which have faded into endless nasal tunes by Rihanna.  Hah! How often does that happen in one lifetime — a sentence that mentions Barbra and Rihanna.  I’m on a roll…

I digress.

Image

cause I’m only giving you
Things you joke about with your friends inside your living room
The only difference is I got the balls to say it
In front of y’all and I don’t gotta be false or sugarcoated at all

I heard these lines, which I had never heard before.

And these.

And every single person is a Slim Shady lurking
He could be working at Burger King, spitting on your onion rings
[*HACH*] Or in the parking lot, circling
Screaming “I don’t give a fuck!”
With his windows down and his system up
So, will the real Shady please stand up?

Maybe I tuned it out when I heard the line about how every child will know what intercourse is by the time they’re in the fourth grade.  It just may have been too much for me to handle then. And it’s so easy to tuck our heads down and plow along, in denial of what’s right in front of our faces, aren’t we?

My daughter is in third grade now.

I thought to myself, now that I’m 43, I feel like a “Slim Shady” because I finally stood up to the system, finally stopped playing the fake mommy game, finally stopped giving a damn what other people thought of me, expected of me, or saw in me.  See, good Catholic girls who were reminded daily, Jonathan Edwards style, that Hell is just around the bend, learned how to be humble, how to adopt a Francis of Assisi state of mind…or else.  

I watched the movie, “Antwone Fisher” last night and it reminded me of my “Slim Shady” thoughts again, as I considered how Mr Fisher had become so filled with anger that it spewed out of him like a geyser due to the incomprehensible treatment by his foster family.  

Our childhoods are so powerful and etch deep grooves into our future adult personalities.  Today it feels like a cloak, a heavy brocade and lined cloak, pressing on my shoulders, that I long to toss off in a very Hollywood Oscar nominated film kind of style, and proclaim, “This is who I am.  I will not apologize or make excuses or say ‘I’m sorry’ anymore. I am Slim Shady too.” 

The very image of that in my mind gives me butterflies. 

Imagine my utter glee to read such a spot-on editorial by GQ editor Jim Nelson this morning. 

Image

 

In, “So Very Deeply Madly Sorry,” Mr. Nelson humorously delves into what he calls the “dawn of an apology culture — a strange, self-feeding loop of screw-up and regret that has us all riveted” (GQ 72).

It was brilliant.  I laughed out loud when he said, “As a country, we’ve never been sorrier.”  These words were so true. We suck up news pieces of government officials and celebrities who let their real thoughts slip, only to be forced into an apology by pressures from the people.  

Consider this:  if the federal government has task forces that spend millions of dollars chasing down internet pedophiles in this country, can we really expect that some of those pornography addicted men are not in public offices, and celebrities? I’m just saying. 

It’s a great piece.  If anybody in the world reads this blog, perhaps you should look it up yourself.  Apparently this is the March issue of GQ, not February.  I’m sorry. (Dope! — Homer Simpson voice).

Check it out.  

Now, here are two terrible confessions, which I’m NOT sorry about, even thought I did apologize for one of them.

1. Whenever a new GQ issue comes out, I secretly toss the old one to recycling, because…he never really reads them anyway.

2. To my last principal, who is an incompetent ass, when I told you to shut up, it was because you are indeed insufferable, and I couldn’t tolerate another second listening to your programmed administrative drivel.  And I’m not sorry, because, well, quite frankly, you deserved it. 

Jim Nelson feels this new apology driven society has manifested from our “own issues about sincerity.”  Think about it.  Everything around us these days if superficial, from our Instagram feeds, to our Facebook posts, to our Snapchats.  I watched a moronic mother at my daughter’s multi-cultural festival on Friday snapping pictures of herself, while student performances were going on, and it looked like she was getting ready to post to some social media site all about what a great mother she was, standing in the back of the auditorium to see her baby girl that she was so proud of.  Yeah…to proud to put the damn phone down and pay attention to baby girl no doubt.

We’re obsessively driven to capture it all and it looks like we’re missing everything.  When will the real Slim Shady’s please stand up? Please…stand up.  

 

 

When teaching literature to high school students, I often emphasized and tried to prove how literature is a reflection of life at a particular time in history. This is why I always began a course discussing how literature must be analyzed historically, socially, politically, in addition to absorbing it thematically and structurally.

Thus, it makes sense that sensitive issues will arise in the study of writings, especially classics of American literature, as well as periods in British literature. For example, many teachers are uncomfortable with reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Maya Angelou because of its raw glimpse into a society immersed in the evils of slavery, and all the derogatory wording used.

Ironically, it seems only rappers are comfortable with some derogatory language which people used historically to debase and denigrate slaves.

Nevertheless, some issues are critical and must be confronted in an intelligent and compassionate way. Today’s young people live in a society where anything goes. As much as we like to pretend our children are blissfully innocent, they know a WHOLE lot more than we think they know.

Sadly, Black History Month has become a dulled, dutiful event in the schools, which students gloss over and promptly forget  in the time it takes to pull a poster of notable Black folk off a bulletin board.

Kids are naturally curious and have questions. But despite the glaring nudity, profanity, and violence prevalent on every television station cable has to offer, we feel safer sticking our heads in the sand and pretending our children don’t have some inkling that life isn’t a “Little House on the Prairie” episode any longer.

The news link below features a situation in a nearby county, which is geographically where Raleigh sits, where a study of the civil war prompted a lesson for 8th grade students where they had to role play as though they were various figures who lived during that time period.

http://mediacdn.wral.com:1935/vods3/_definst_/mp4:amazons3/cbcnewmedia_wowza/57415-julia530-576×324-15-768.mp4/playlist.m3u8?wowzacaptionfile=amazons3/cbcnewmedia_wowza/57415-julia530.srt

According to the news segment, one student’s assignment was apparently to take on the role of a slave during that time. “I am a Slave” was the title of her graphic organizer, and eventual essay. Her mother was uncomfortable with the assignment and called the principal, who called central office, and it made the local news, resulting in it being removed as an assignment from the curriculum.

If I were the mother of an 8th grader, I would closely watch how the assignment unfolded and offer some enrichment at home for research purposes to help my child grasp the magnitude of slavery as an institution.

For instance, my local PBS station has recently featured documentaries about different perspectives on slavery and its eventual end in this country. We’ve been showing segments of it to our eight year old, who has been curious about slavery for the last two years. Her father took her and her older sister to see “Twelve Years a Slave,” which was so powerful my daughter was at a loss for words for a while (a rarity!). We discussed it at dinner for days afterward, and she had tons of questions.

It is interesting how many questions kids have, even 11th and 12th graders. I have been asked so many questions about life, real life, that the students didn’t feel comfortable asking their own parents.

Let’s stop pretending our children are naive and open the channels of communication with our children. Let’s have some dialogue and feed them some truths before they hear half-truths and ignorant garbage from others.

Maybe I’m wrong, but when kids are singing number one hits that have to do with anal sex, three-way scenarios, and a plethora of drug usage, do we really think they can’t handle some careful instruction about something we all need to learn from?

I can recall a wonderful student I taught recently in a British Literature class, and when we studied The Canterbury Tales, he came up to me privately and asked to not read or do his project on The Wife of Bath, who was known for her “worldly ways” with multiple men. He was a Jehovah’s Witness. Naturally, I modified his requirements for reading and writing.

Educators in general have been handcuffed from honest teaching and if parents were to work with them and ask questions, our children might be far more conscious and knowledgeable of the world around them.

Martin Luther wasn't afraid to tell some hard truths; people simply weren't ready to hear them.

Martin Luther wasn’t afraid to tell some hard truths; people simply weren’t ready to hear them.

In Durham Public Schools, the White kids are missing.  Even though they make up over 50% of Durham’s population, only 19% of White kids attend the public schools.

Not to mention, the racial makeup of traditional public schools are reflecting Durham County’s racial makeup less and less. Durham County is 53 percent white, 38 percent black, and 13 percent Latino, yet 51 percent of the children in the Durham Public Schools system are black, 24 percent Latino and only 19 percent white.  http://www.thedurhamnews.com/2013/12/31/3494508/durham-public-schools-looks-to.html

According to Mr. Alexander, the author of this news article, Caucasians are populating the growing number of charter schools approved by the state’s school board.  These students are the children of Duke professors, UNC professors, etc.  Either the giant purple blob of the ’50s is living in the public schools of Durham, or they’re running away from something else.  Shall we take a guess at what they’re running away from?

Yes, the White people of Durham know what’s going on behind the closed doors of their neighborhood public schools. They know they don’t want their children in an academic environment that is far from anything that can even faintly resemble a learning institution. These Durham schools are filled with kids from families who don’t seem to give a damn, who are more concerned with their drink, their cars, their weaves, or the latest reality shows on tv.  They don’t read to their children, their children stay up far too late on school nights, and they are the two out of three who are not proficient in reading yet…in the third grade. In fact, the local papers in the area frequently feature school personnel gingerly stepping into the projects to deliver books to needy children, or deliver school supplies to them.

I’m not afraid to say what this article comes short of writing. The days of dancing around the truth are over for me. The White people are on the run and I certainly don’t blame them.

When we were on the run from exclusive Chapel Hill, hoping for more diversity and less Stepford-ville living, we listened to the advice of others who were more familiar with Durham.  The one that struck me the most came from the principal of the school where we sent our daughter.  I looked her square in the face, and asked her to tell me, not as a principal, but as a mother, whether she would place her child in the school she runs. She replied confidently, a resounding yes, absolutely, positively, this school is very diverse and an 8 out of 10, 10 being amazing.

With a deep breath we rejected the charter school spot reserved for her, and plunged ahead into the neighborhood school she was zoned.  Our family’s experience in summary, follows.

  • Day one: the front office staff barricades themselves from the parents.
  • A good measure of the quality of any school is the car rider line. During the first week I witnessed cars driving over the curb at high speeds to cut in front of other parents in the line. Others were virtually running over the other walking parents who were taking their kids to the door.  Parents in front of me were yelling at the staff to come around to the other side to get their child out of the car, instead of the parent putting their child on the correct side for quicker exiting. Staff members opened the door to our car, mumbling how many more years they have until retirement.  Yes, very encouraging.
  • A classmate (3rd grade) passed a note to my child offering to give her oral sex.
  • 5th grade girls on the cement block where the kids were allowed to “play” (the brand new playground was off-limits to the students) walking up to my child, wanting to jump her for no discernible reason.
  • Third grade teachers were brawling in front of the students during recess. Don’t get me started about the staff.  Every single form that came home to us had typos, grammatically incorrect sentences, misspelled words, incorrect dates on them.  Staggering ineptitude.
  • We witnessed staff members at the awards ceremony for good grades laughing at the students names as they pronounced them incorrectly. These were the staff members who were at the podium, in front of everybody.

There’s more, but what’s the point?  Can anyone offer a better explanation as to why the White families have taken their children elsewhere?

The limits of our endurance came when our child’s teacher was abruptly moved out of her classroom, to go teach a 4th grade class permanently, with no notice to the parents, nothing.  Then the student teacher who was in the classroom suddenly became as the permanent teacher.  The STUDENT teacher.  Yes, that’s right.

According to a comment by the school board chairwoman, Heidi Carter, “We need to be sure that we have the confidence of the parents in this community that our school system can provide excellent educational opportunities for their children,” Carter said. “The strengths of Durham Public Schools lies in our people that are in the classrooms or in the school buildings leading and teaching every day.”

Would this inspire confidence for any parents?  Maybe because I am a former educator I simply expect too much?  No, I don’t think so.  With my first four children I met hundreds of teachers at several schools.  This situation, for my child’s critical 3rd grade year, was unacceptable.

She no longer attends that school.  After battling with the principal, and being denied a transfer, I had to reach out to the school board and superintendent’s office.  The first question from one member of the superintendent’s team when I explained our concernsm, was, “So what exactly do you want?”

What did I want?  I wanted what I thought all parents wanted: for my child to receive the basic instruction to help her grow into an educated young lady, a productive member of society. We would do the rest.  I wanted staff members who were professional, who didn’t treat us like we were felons when we arrived to pick up our cookie dough fundraiser garbage to help support the school.  I wanted the community I remembered when I grew up.  But those times have changed.

So, as in any major inner city school system, the White people are on the run away from the rest of the residents, who are mostly minorities.  Mr. Alexander’s article goes on to discuss the needs of the minorities while the comments from the district office is the polite and safe but meaningless jargon about poverty and their efforts.  Here’s the reality:

The African-Americans and Latinos are two cultures that are neglecting their responsibilities to their children. I don’t believe it’s all about poverty.  I watched (remember the car rider line) these “poverty-stricken” families rolling up in cars with the fancy spinning rims, while their kids stepped out the vehicles in cold weather with no coats on, shirts that were riding over their protruding bellies, hair that hadn’t seen a comb in days, and flip-flops on their feet, and in warm weather like they’re going to the club. Their priorities are all screwed up.  The dads are missing.  The grandmothers are trying to raise their grand kids when they should be enjoying their golden years.  Let’s just be honest here:  The African-Americans have lost sight of all it took to get them the freedom they deserve and unfortunately not all the Latinos are quite the success story of Emilio Vicente.

See: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/08/3603256/for-uncs-emilio-vicente-an-extraordinary.html.

More money isn’t going to fix this cultural breakdown.  This is the plight of all inner city schools across the nation.  Seeing Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008 may have sparked a few temporary tears for many minorities in this country, but it didn’t create the wave of sudden optimism to break the chains of stereotypes.  There’s been no radical swing in upward mobility by enough minorities to show America a different face.

I didn’t come from people with money.  I came from hard-working Hispanics.  But every day when my parents stepped out of their apartment to go to work, their clothes were clean, freshly pressed, and they were neat.  My mother always told me that just because a person is poor doesn’t mean they have to look like they’re poor.  I have plenty of relatives living in projects, but once you get up to the 96th floor and into their residence, you could eat off the floor it was so clean. Poverty in this day, with all the services being offered, is no longer an excuse for ignorance.

In 2014 ignorance is a choice.

So, what do the Whites do?  Keep running.  Keep making more money working for large pharmaceutical companies or food manufacturing companies that are poisoning Americans with too many drugs, addictive junk foods, all while keeping the ignorant down, so they can afford the private schools and segregate the South once again.

The perils of living in a state like North Carolina are infinite.

In the last year, among other equally moronic actions, our fine governor, Pat McCrory, along with his legislature, decided to reject the Federal government’s assistance with extended unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed. Apparently, these leeches have been suckling the system, and are unwilling to take the abundance of jobs available in the state.

According to thinkprogress.com, the brilliant governor said:

 We had the ninth most generous unemployment compensation in the country and we were having a lot of people move here, frankly, especially in urban areas to get unemployment and then work other sectors and survive. So, people were moving here because of our very generous benefits, and then of course, we had more debt. So I think, personally, more people got off unemployment and either got jobs or moved back to where they were going or came from and quit the migration as much because of unemployment. We’ve seen this in other states where the benefits are very high, it could draw people from outside the state.

Seem a bit exclusive?

I recently watched the news report about the decline in the unemployment numbers, even though they do not tell an accurate story, and McCrory proudly reported the figures to the press, while explaining that it is partly due to people accepting jobs that they would have rejected otherwise while living a cushy life with unemployment benefits.  As one of those people who enjoyed the luxurious accommodations of the unemployment benefits of North Carolina, I stepped my feet out of the pedicure tub, and took a seasonal job at a retail store to help support my family in any way I could, after the savings ran out.

 The lessons I have learned have been eye-opening and depressing on many levels as it relates to society and humanity.  

Lesson #1  

The American Consumer Madness is a monster. The lines of people I have witnessed as I ran a register who buy so much garbage made in China, only to make sure they “look” happy and their children are happy (for a few minutes at least) with toys they don’t need, gadgets that make them dumber, and more clutter to fill a garage within six months, is staggering.  I have since begun to truly question every single purchase I make and asking myself, “Do I truly NEED that?” Will this must-have clearance item improve my life exponentially?

 Lesson #2  

Parents have confirmed what I have known for years but could never verbalize openly: they DO do their kids homework. I have helped hundreds of parents, educated, intelligent, and everything in between, find items THEY needed for a school project, while their child stood idly by, on their cellphones, or running around the store like heathens.  When I taught English, and a student wrote something in class that was at the level expected for a high school student, and then submitted papers that many New York Times columnists could not equal, it was very clear to me that someone else did the work.  

 As many have said before me, the damage that parents have done to this generation in enabling their children has crippled them for the future (and we wonder why there are so many school shootings lately) and created disconnected and morally corrupt adults, which will hurt our society on a scale that we are only beginning to grasp.

SO STOP DOING YOUR KIDS HOMEWORK AND PROJECTS. They won’t die if they actually have to do some work.  As I paid my way through college, I worked nighttime security with a wise man, who had nine kids (yes, he was Irish Catholic). He told me a story which has remained with me through the twenty plus years raising my own six children (yes, Puerto Rican Catholic). Whenever his children got into trouble of some sort, he immediately set them to work raking the broad expanse of their yard. There are few things in life which hard work does not cure, he would say. I employed the same strategies as a divorced mother of six. My kids know how to work a rake!

Lesson #3  

People are rude. And selfish. And self-absorbed. They walk through my store, picking things up, too lazy return them to their original location, and I actually heard one customer tell their companion, as he callously tossed aside items he no longer wanted, “I’m just giving THESE people something to do.” Ahh, yes. Should I have pumped his hand in gratitude, thankful that because he and his fellow shoppers trash the store every single day, it enables my manager to keep me on the payroll for my average earnings of $100 per week?

 Granted, there are the gracious, well-mannered shoppers who appreciate customer service, look me in the eye, and value my very knowledgeable assistance. These are the humanists who don’t just throw the money on the counter, who don’t say “keep the change” as if it were mine to keep, and don’t talk on their cellphones while I am scanning their purchases. I tuck these kind souls in my pocket and try to ask myself, “What would Mother Teresa do?”  

There are so many lessons that humanity teaches us as we interact with the world on a daily basis. Mostly, I have absorbed the good, the bad, and the ugly, and use it as a guide, as a reminder for myself, on how I am raising my last two children, and how I treat others in my daily travels.  

So, thanks Governor McCrory. Thanks for nothing, and thanks for everything. This too shall pass. And when the day comes that I can wave goodbye to this pseudo-progressive, exclusive, good-ol’-boy state, I will debate on whether to wave with dignity or resort to another less dignified yet digit-al form of nonverbal communication.

When did we stop teaching children humility?

I distinctly recall having it drilled into my head as a child that “children were to be seen and not heard” during events where adults were gathered. I recall the sting of shame if I dared to become too familiar with an adult and refer to them by their first name without the proper title before it.

So many things. These things created a social ecosystem which we understood as children, as it primarily established the boundaries of respect between us snot-nosed kids and adults.

But it has changed.

I recently had the chance to work with a small group of kids aged seven through twelve on some techniques for the hottest toy/fashion accessory for kids called the Rainbow Loom. Our family had discovered it months before the craze hit the world and I advocated for it strongly for it’s excellent non-digital occupation of time, fine motor skill learning, mathematical reinforcement, etc. Youtube (an amazing learning website!) offered a plethora of bands to make, from beginner to advanced. Fantastic!

What I thought was going to be a fun, relaxed environment of like-minded aficionados of the Rainbow Loom turned into an uncomfortable scenario as I was confronted with elitist show-offs who had apparently never been taught respect in their young lives.

The children — not one in particular — called out questions randomly. They expected to be waited on and catered to, even if it meant neglecting the other child being helped. They didn’t listen to the proper instructions, choosing to do it “their” way, causing the technique to fall apart. They mimicked and blatantly laughed at my hand gestures and comments.

I felt like an aging grandmother (which I’m not yet) at a Skrillex concert in the park. Suddenly Rainbow Loom and it’s ingenuity felt stale and lifeless.

How sad to see bright young children with such poor social skills. Even more disturbing is the thought that if you multiply them by 100 or even 1,000, these are the faces in classrooms across the country. The faces of kids who don’t have a clue what the causes of World War II were but are certain that they know more than my careful instruction could provide because they glanced at a video for a few minutes and after all, aren’t they the generation of uber-technology and at-your-fingertips information?

As I reflected on my distaste for the situation and made another glance upward in gratitude that I no longer teach, I wonder if we even know the damage we are inflicting to our country’s future. I also remembered a great read called There are No Shortcuts by a Mr. Esquith (I think), a teacher in California (I think) who made tremendous strides with his elementary school kids in education. These fourth and fifth graders were studying Othello and other Shakespearean plays, concepts and literature far beyond their years, and the author/teacher’s basic foundational premise was that there were no shortcuts in life, as the title offers. I wonder whether our youth today will one day realize the same.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for the old school methods after all.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

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It has been a while since shared my thoughts about teaching in general, education in particular.  I haven’t been too busy, there have been no luxurious vacations with my family.

You simply reach a zenith, or fork perhaps, where you have to decide whether you will continue operating from a “victim” mindset, which is the easier of the paths, yes? It is here that I could blame my empty bank account on the moronic Republican majority in North Carolina which has crippled the lives of thousands who relied on unemployment pennies to keep the internet on or phone service for job hunting…or maybe for eating. Hmmm. it would be quite simple to blame the power-driven school board members with their 80s hairdo perfected, who decided to end my career and took a notch out of my self-worth.

But I chose a different avenue.  I chose to stop complaining about a system I have no power to change and instead turn my field of vision inward, and heal and empower myself.

I will call it the Detox of the Weary Soul Wanderer.  That sounds profound.

So I stretched my body and moved. And healed, slowly.  I stopped following blogs that were counterproductive to my health. I stopped talking about insignificant people who I gave far too much significance to in my life.  I stopped worrying what I would do if I was fortunate enough to see the superintendent at the local grocery store.

And I moved. Away from this dysfunctional, Stepford-like town called Chapel Hill.  I feel certain that I heard trumpets blaring a fast merengue dance as I escaped the stifling, boring, suffocating arena.  Everyone I met who asked where we moved from lowered their eyes in condolence when they heard that I actually CHOSE to live in such a “different” place.  They promised not to hold it against me.  Strangers in Starbucks congratulated me on a fine decision to get out of Chapel Hill.  When my partner in crime told colleagues at Duke that we had moved, they finally released months of pressure from their lungs and blurted out their joy that we had finally left the sanitarium.

But I digress.

I awoke one morning with two words floating behind my eye fuzz.  Teacher type. A type of teacher? I wasn’t sure. But it has not left me since then, which is over two months now.

When the time came to decide to return to teaching or abandon it altogether, I focused on the two words and thought:

I would no longer sell myself for a lousy $40k paycheck.

I was no longer going to teach for a test instead of guiding thought and self-discovery.

I was no longer interested in dog and pony shows for central office staff, EQs posted on my wall (the only marker of my teaching ability), kissing up to administrators who thrive on their power trips, seven-day a week working, and missing my own children’s special events for strangers kids who don’t care anyway.

The spirit had fled which would enable me to maintain my silence in the face of falsifying grades for students, taking verbal abuse from parents who are really deflecting the consequences of their over-indulgences on their kids, or students who cheat and lie regularly, and not be able to call them on it.

I realized that I didn’t want to teach in the classroom anymore because I’m just not that type of teacher.  So, I may be stocking cans of soup or mixing cans of paint for a bit while I find my new niche, but rest assured, it won’t be in Chapel Hill.  :-)

I may be broke, but I’m not broken!

I like to observe people at bus stops, as I drive by.  I catch quick glimpses of their faces, moments frozen in my mind. The speed limit in Chapel Hill is a silent form of torture for a New York transplant like me, so it is really quite easy to do.

Chapel Hill, being a college town, offers a free bus system, which many people take advantage of, to maneuver back and forth with ease, all the while reducing their contribution to pollution and ozone depletion.

This week was filled with lots of rain, but when I did get out, I happened to glance over at the bus stop close to my turn on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. There was a Black lady sitting on the bench, protected from the cold, biting rain. The really interesting part in this visual mouthful was that two young White guys chose to stand outside the dry shelter and get wet, rather than stand under the alcove, or even sit next to the lady.  Fascinating.

This speaks for itself boldly, especially the irony that it took place on MLK Boulevard.

Silence is golden in Chapel Hill

Silence is golden in Chapel Hill

I have been pouring over pictures of this venerable icon in this country, and I am struck every time by the distant and introspective look in his eyes, captured so easily in photo after photo. He looks haunted, as though he knew how his efforts would turn out. Perhaps he saw this coming, and he knew:

…that it wouldn’t be easy to erase hundreds of years of deeply rooted racist sentiment towards people of color.

…that he was destined to die young, because the maelstrom he helped to ignite in the heart of a discontented country was too huge to be tamed easily.

…that humans are resistant to change and are only willing to do so if drastic measures occur which affect large masses, and devastation sweeps in under everyone’s feet.

I have learned a great many lessons since arriving in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and they have been unpleasant, but have provided me with tremendous opportunities to learn and grow, and discover who I am, what I want in my life, and for my children.

But one thing I am never going to accept, adhere to, remain silent about, and brush away blithely, is the silent yet pervasive odor of racial disparity that clings to this town like the stench that wafts from a county landfill.  I don’t ever want to be so educated and hipster, wealthy or comfortable that I embrace a falsehood of existence that looks down upon other people.  This is a huge struggle for me, to try to grow as a person, and not feel stirrings of resentment towards these condescending, supercilious, people who I was so terribly wrong about when I thought them progressive.

Equality, true equality and brotherhood does not exist here.