This is a picture of my neighbor’s front yard. I’ve watched his yard decorations go from an empty flagpole, to a Confederate and U. S. flag accompanied by a lawn jockey, to the addition of Trump political signs, and then the addition of a Trump mailbox cover, to what you’re seeing now: which is all of the previously listed items, plus a replica of a wall made out of cinder blocks accompanied by a hand painted sign which reads “Just Another Brick in the Trump Wall.”
Problematic associations with Pink Floyd aside, it is obvious that my neighbor doesn’t just support Donald Trump the Republican nominee, but an overtly racist and xenophobic doctrine which Trump has courted by accepting the support of the likes of David Duke, as well as calling Mexican immigrants rapist and murderers, and calling for a ban on all Muslim immigrants.
I no longer allow my son and daughter to walk to the corner store, as there is no way for them to do it without their bodies passing by his house. I shudder to think of my son, 15, big, and brown, having to engage our neighbor. For me it has been a cruel irony to realize there is effectively nothing I can do to stop the psychic and emotional assault that occurs every time my black family passes by our neighbor’s yard. He is expressing his freedom of speech, but he has impinged on some of our freedom. I moved to this suburban neighborhood in Fairview Heights, Illinois in order to attend the O’Fallon, Illinois schools, which are some of the best public schools in the St. Louis metropolitan area. I teach at a local community college and I am parenting my fourth grade daughter and my son who is a junior in high school alone.
Next year I’ll begin my 20th year in education, and as a veteran educator, I often focus on ways education can be used to address toxic white supremacy. I think about the fact that our neighbor used to be a child (not unlike my daughter) in someone’s fourth grade classroom.
A while back, I posted this on Facebook:
I attended Jackson State University, which boasts the most African American male teachers in the country. Our education department (and the university for that matter) was mission oriented. We were explicitly trained to serve black children.
Not save them. Serve them.
As I began my career teaching in the (predominantly black) Memphis City schools, I periodically ran into white colleagues who were on “missions” as well. Some of them left in the middle of the school year. Some left in the middle of the school day.
Now, there is Teach For America, which places many young white novice teachers in underperforming (predominantly black and brown) schools that need (and deserve) expert teachers vested in the students there.
Judging by the recent spate of articles detailing the frightening rhetoric espoused by Trump supporters, (and by my neighbor’s yard) there seems to be real work to be done in white communities.
Maybe the “calling” many white educators feel to go into native schools, immigrant schools, and black and brown schools should be diverted to white schools.
So often I’ve sat in community with white people who’ve “shaken the dust from their sandals” with regard to conservative white communities, but I think the time for that kind of easy dismissal is over. It’s time for white accomplices to do the hard and brave work of staying put. Of being the disliked one. Of being the one who gets talked about.
Where are the white teachers called to serve in their community who feel responsible for showing white children that justice is what love looks like in public? Where, in predominantly white schools, are the adults who offer an opposing view? Where are the brave white teachers who, though they might be in the minority, dare to speak out against the totalizing and reductive history books, the conspicuously monoracial school or the casual racism, patriarchy, and homophobia that exists in our every day discourse?
I’ve seen brave accomplices face down policemen at direct actions and volunteer to put their bodies on the line in situations where they could be killed, but getting a progressive white person to remain in communities where they will most likely be the social outcast seems to be the real pale they can’t get beyond. Call it the Peace Corps in your mind. Devote 36 months to it. Find ways to have progressive community outside of the workplace. I don’t know how you’ll manage it exactly; I just know it is a spoke in the wheel that needs to be strengthened.
Because dear white colleague, white men like my neighbor were once children. Every one of them were once kids in elementary who walked to corner stores in neighborhoods where there was no equivalent to a lawn jockey or a confederate flag to discourage them from doing so. They were white boys with no names ringing in their head like Trayvon, or Tamir, or Ayaina, and no reason to worry that an adult in their sphere might shoot them. So, why I wonder, is one of them choosing to create this type of atmosphere for my children?
Dear colleague, maybe fewer of them would choose to do that to my children, to our children if you were there for them.
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