Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. week, and may you honestly and courageously address your local racial troubles

20 Jan

Since being humbled last week by that high school student, I’ve tried not to “go on” so much, as in try to bend the discussion toward my pet subjects and let on about my personal philosophy under the heading “some people believe” or “What do you think of the view that…” Today I felt more professional in my demeanor, just trying to make sure these sixth graders understood the concepts–what the different types of industrial power generating facilities were, how they worked, and the pros and cons. Yeah, they noticed that the online video selected to explain natural gas plants did not mention any cons, so I helped them figure those out. That’s objective enough. But I didn’t voice the question, Do you ever wonder who makes these videos, especially if they seem so one-sided, or why the cons are left out?  And when I showed the Disney video on energy, I only said to one out of three classes (there was noise, so probably it was missed by most), Try not to view this as a promotion for Disneyland. I made a mental note to try to be more pure when I get my own students, and teach about mechanical and potential energy without all the shots of fave rides in the park and how cool and popular they were. I couldn’t help but put in a search later on the natural gas plant video, and all I came up with is energynownews, the YouTube channel. Seems neutral enough, except for the failure to see or mention that even “clean” power has problems, and they don’t just come out of the stacks.

This week I also had the chance to check in with a teacher I subbed for last week, meeting her for the first time. Was gratified to hear that she’d received positive reports on my day with her students. I asked her about one, whom I remembered with concern. Yes, he’d taken a definite turn since Thanksgiving, she said, as if something had happened at home; no one knew what. He’d gone from challenging himself to read to the max and get all his work done, to sullen, silent (except when pressed about refusal to do any work, when he’d push back, especially with subs), and sad. Which is what I’d noticed. She thought he probably wanted to get suspended, but that fortunately he wasn’t taking the proper routes to that yet. She was hoping he’d at least absorb something and eventually come around. I thought later, why would he come around? Time alone doesn’t heal some things, and there must have been some wounds. I daydreamed about being the one, baggage free with this boy, and not quite bought-in to schooling either, to start a conversation… Everyone else is so busy, and I suppose have tried what they could. Maybe all I would think of to say would be that we’d support him as he let himself be fallow for a while, that we would all be patient and there for him meanwhile, not rush him or get in his face or anything or demand he use words if he didn’t want to. The idea of the fallow state applied to human beings from Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, and somewhat from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Very applicable here, it seems to me.

The day of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly last week at the high school was interesting. I got to show “A Raisin in the Sun” three times, becoming more and more impressed not only by the story, but by the acting of Claudia McNeil and Sidney Poitier in their roles of mother and son. This experience in parallel with listening to Roots on audio as I drive around town on errands made for interesting meditations. What a work Alex Haley made, such obvious research, the story tells so authentically, and the characters win such sympathy from the reader. Should be required reading for any young people preparing for short-term so-called mission trips to West Africa, among others.

The teacher lunch room was alive with talk spurred by the MLK assembly, which the Korean American teacher beside me felt was boring, the usual stuff centering all on Black-White conflicts, and another felt was too focused on rioting by hoodlums, which didn’t strike the right tone for the day. Several shared anecdotes–the Korean man on an encounter with police when he was stopped on an army mission–carrying machine guns–for speeding, and after being asked to step out of the vehicle, got into a tense interaction in which he reminded the officer that his authority superseded that of the officer, and unhooked his holstered weapon to make it ready. I felt the tops of my ears heating up as they do when I feel the urge to speak up combined with the awareness that I’m the outsider. I asked why he’d unhooked the gun, because, though I didn’t say this, it seemed like just a dangerous sort of macho pissing war. Then I learned, from him and others in the room, of the frequency of incidents where police intimidate motorists and even steal from them. Later I found out that at least in Canada it’s been legal for decades to confiscate motorists’ belongings on the claim that they are goods gained by the profits from drug deals or human trafficking. To avoid charges the driver signs a waiver that releases interest in the goods. That law is being scrapped soon, though it seems to be at least intact informally on lonely highways in the American southwest. Where are those Dukes of Hazard when you need them?

I wanted to ask what anyone’s take on Latino-Caucasion relations was in the area, and how the local Indian nation was viewed by local whites, and vice versa. Not many African Americans in our county, so it really does make sense that these other race relations be looked at and talked about, as Dr. King would surely have thought made more sense in context. Which ties into what I observed in the so called Holy Land, racist barriers being reinforced every day there, and walls built higher and higher even while some hard-working Jewish and Palestinian radicals march together, write to change things, bring people together and endure hate, intimidation and danger. What do you think of that use of the term “Palestinian radical?”

Anyway, I feel tender toward those for whom the system is a trap or a torture or a painful reminder of how much of success in life is predetermined. Can’t forget a Lummi Nation boy and the bitterness he brought into the classroom, and how he reveled in the portrayal in the film of that day about the accomplishments of various tribes to American culture. And I feel tender toward the kids for whom school is just a mind-numbing break from hell at home. Yes, even in this nice little neighborhood in this nice little town, where the hottest controversies are about getting the coal trains to stop waking us up at night with their horns, and who has the connections in City Hall to get that Quiet Zone set up? As well s the possibility of having to pay for more house cleaner hours to dust the coal soot of the stainless steel barbecue.

Maybe because I have more time on my hands, and fewer responsibilities than full time teachers, I have these thoughts. There were thirty-four students on the rosters of the three classes I taught today, and they all handed in assignments I didn’t have to look over. They have a reasonable expectation of a good lesson plan and meaningful work on the morrow. After the morning staff meeting and with the flu going around, and before the standardized testing season comes.





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One response to “Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. week, and may you honestly and courageously address your local racial troubles

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    January 21, 2015 at 6:05 am

    You once again provide lots of stuff to think about—thank you for this waking up.


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