Wednesday, August 16, 2017

First Day of School in the neo-Klan Era

This is about me. 

Today was my daughter’s first day of school. For a variety of difficult reasons connected to the price black people pay to get our children elite education in the south, her school is predominantely white. It is a progressive white school as far as white schools go, but make no mistake, it is a white school. If it’s original charter had been, “A school for progressive whites, Jews and a tolerable number of coloreds” this is that school several years on.

I dropped her off into this environment after having watched, along with the rest of the country, a Klan rally earlier this week. I watched hundreds of white men and women, torches alit, rage dripping from their lips and hearts, marching and chanting verses of hate. I watched one of them on Saturday murderously drive a car into a crowd of people in the name of the Klan. I don’t need to explain the symbolism and significance of the Ku Klux Klan – a uniquely white American terror contribution to the world.

James Baldwin’s description of the Klan's influence on black people’s history in The Fire Next Time, is perhaps the best:

This past, the Negro's past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it; sorrow for his women, for his kinfolk, for his children, who needed his protection, and whom he could not protect; rage, hatred, and murder, hatred for white men so deep that it often turned against him and his own, and made all love, all trust, all joy impossible--this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful.

My job as father is to protect and exalt her human identity and authority – to offer her the moral and cultural tools to help her burnish her own intellect and beauty and to affirm her position in the world as a black woman, and as a whole person. The quality of education in this school helps that larger objective. The cultural experience of this school does not. This past spring, one of these white progressive children cursed my girl to her face and told her that she hates black people. A couple of grades ago, another of these progressive white children told the two black boys in her class that they were niggers and he wanted nothing to do with them.

I experience a brief moment of pain and pause every day that I drop her into this environment. I endure it on the hopes that we're doing the right thing for her education – which is absolutely excellent at this school. I endure it fully aware that in the history of black children and white schools, this is hardly a test. I endure it knowing that many of the kids, her friends and their families, are fantastic people. I am aware that the attributes of a group seldom map to individuals. I am also aware that she is a black island in a cultural sea that is not hers. Yet, I drop her off and endure.

But today was different.

The cost of elite education for our children is extraordinary. I dropped my beautiful black star into a sea of white children and it hurt.