Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Freedom Writing, Am I?

I just finished watching the movie Freedom Writers. And by just finished, I mean it went off two minutes ago. I'm embarrassed to confess I actually had the book for about a month but never read it. And I'll tell you why. One reason is that given my situation, I try not to add anymore sadness to my environment. That's why I didn't read the book.

But as for why I'm just now watching the movie? I had already seen Dangerous Minds. I have seen some Meyrl Streep movie where she plays a violin teacher, is it? I've seen the Ron somebody movie.

So. Another movie where some pasty, suburban white teacher comes into a rowdy, poor, urban classroom and manages to teach these kids of color where everyone else had failed? My feelings were, simply, "Seen it."

And, I'm going to stick with that thought for a moment. My mom was a teacher. My aunt is a teacher. My great-grandfather help build a school for black children during neo-slavery, or rather, Jim Crow. I'm afraid teaching may be my truth. But that's for later.

My point is this. With the exception of Lean on Me, I haven't seen or heard of a movie where a black teacher, or any other teacher of color for that matter, comes in and changes the lives of his/her students. Even though as I've laid out, I know it happens everyday. And what about the movie of the black teacher, or any other teacher of color for that matter, who comes into a suburban, white class, honor students, disciplined, well behaved, and changes their lives? Has that not happened? Ever? When's that movie coming out?

Come to think about it. I've even seen the movie of the first little black girl who integrated some Southern school, and because none of the white parents wanted their child(ren) in class with her, she ended up in class alone. Being taught by a white teacher. For a year. One on one.

And even in that movie, the white teacher was the "star."

What is it with white people and their, or maybe your, need to be the "star" in every show. Amistad. A Time to Kill. Ghosts of Mississippi.

Mississippi Burning. I mean, damn. You people will rewrite history to make yourselves the hero(ine)(s), and then bitch and moan because the first black attorney general over 200 years after the "birth" of a nation that has always had black people in it called everyone a "nation of cowards." And you wonder why anyone would call you a coward? It's because you're too much of a punk to look yourself in the mirror and say . . .
"I'm prejudiced . . .

"The country I live in and cheer for was founded on the subjugation of another group of people . . .

"The country I live in and cheer for grew territorially by genocide and theft of another group of people . . .

"Today, I still benefit from discriminatory practices against my fellow citizens because I am white and they are not . . .
Until you can say that to yourself, or something like it, you are less than a coward. I mean, damn. Even a coward has the courage to admit he's afraid. (Oo! There goes my flair for writing! Love that line.)

So anyway, I just saw the movie Freedom Writers. And it struck me personally for a number of reasons. Not the least of which that this woman unexpectedly found her calling. Plus, what she and her class did encompass all of my best and worst qualities. Never settling for "not going to happen." Challenging and questioning the system. Writing.

And the funny thing about me and writing is that I haven't read a fiction novel since the first semester of my first year in college. So, literally not since 2000. But writing is what I do. It's one of the innumerable things I am. I wake up in the morning, put myself to sleep, usually keep myself up - writing.

Teaching and inspiring is something else I do. When you get me in front of a group of people to talk, it's magic. And the funny thing is, I can convince people of things I don't necessarily believe myself. Things I'm saying just to convince myself!

But, when it comes to issues I'm passionate about - history, education, social empowerment, justice, spiritual salvation - I can move people by the sheer force of my own passion. My own desire for what's right.

I mean. It's not like I close my eyes and really see myself with the courage of a Miep Gies or Ida B Wells or Ella Baker. I just know from my own experience, when push comes to shove, I. do. not. break. Oh, I'll let you win the battles I don't care about. And I do shy away from unnecessary confrontation. I mean. I'm not going to get into a big thing with my pastor about Original Sin when I know upfront I'm going to believe whatever I want to believe anyway regardless of what he says. And now that I think about it, perhaps my biggest problem with Original Sin is that I know in my spirit, there's just something about the need for "doctrine" that ain't quite up to snuff.

But I digress.

I am a woman who, as a child, did not shy away from challenging my parents when I thought they were wrong and I right. One who refused to cry even when being "spanked" with a belt (because my mother takes exception to my describing what occurred as "whooping"). One who would go to the well again, knowing what I could expect. So deep down, yeah. I'd be just the teacher on the forefront of challenging my department head, my principal, my school board. Everybody. Even in college, I told my history professor I thought one of the historians we were reading had mis-analyzed, if that's a word, a situation and gotten it wrong. She looked at me funny, the professor that is, looked at me funny and made one of those parental threats to call the historian. "I know her. I can call her." My response? "Good. Call'er."

But what really agitated me was that department head lady who refused to give Erin and the kids credit for anything. And that male teacher who said integration was a farce. Though, I disagree with the girl about speaking for the entire black community. Personally, I loved to speak from my experience and tell the truth, especially if it provoked some guilt. I'd be thrilled to be called on to give the "black perspective" if for no other reason than just to make sure my white classmates knew their lived experiences weren't shared Or even true. But I can be contrary like that. I don't know whether or not I would've chosen to go to a the Freedom Writer's class. If I knew upfront I was going to piss someone off, maybe.

But trust me. Just like our enslaved forebearers, we all still challenge the system in our own ways. Victoria's strategy no better or worse than my own.

Anyway. What I saw in that department head lady and that male teacher is the same thing I see and read and hear from so many white people today: the desperate fight to maintain the status quo.

Don't get it twitted (my creative lisensed "twisted," nothing to do with "twitter"). The majority of white Americans voted for John McCain. And as for the rest, those white Americans and other non-blacks who voted for Barack Obama, did they really have any other viable choice? So, from where I'm sitting . . . but I digress.

It's not just white people who fight to maintain the status quo. It's men. It's bankers. It's the wealthy. It's anyone who benefits from the status quo and if you are one of those people who benefit or are content with the status quo I ask you I implore you to ask yourself do you really benefit? Are you really content?

Don't be a coward.

Scott. He wasn't really content, but he wasn't willing to fight for what he wanted.

Me? It hasn't been a question of whether or not I'd fight. My struggle has been deciding just how to fight. I'm loathed to become a teacher for several reasons that don't need discussion here.

But I am a fighter.

I guess my question is, for you my reader, and even for me on those days when I become so tired, my question is - are you?

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But Don't Jack My Genuis