The never ending racism and prejudice…the banality of it all…

“Reading in blackface” of an otherwise neutral article has a whole of people in trouble.

In short the firm that produces audible books used a white voice to narrate a African American’s article.

Sounds ok at first….until you listen to the book…the “voice” the white guy used, was a lot like a minstrel voice from the Jim Crowe area.

And how tone deaf was this…how subtle racist and how pitiful in a lack of common sense?

It happens all the time. It happens to EVERYBODY!

Unfortunately we do it all the time…these slips of kid’s code language- talk that moves at warp speed into the world of racism.

We all do it, without thinking…these indirect aggressions of racist behavior that are hard wired into EVERYBODY. I did it in the last class I took on Racial Healing…and I teach a class in racism and prejudice. In short, micro aggressions are so pervasive they morph very quickly into more deadly macro aggressions; involving more than just words.

Think not, spend some time in African American or Native American communities and just listen. Hell spend some time in adolescent culture and just listen…adults are meant to not understand what adolescents say….

Long ago these cultural differences coalesced into micro aggression, subtle and deadly, through a coded language than only the kids understand.

A governor of Virginia in college wore blackface to party years ago. A statement that appears harmless, like “white men can’t jump..ha ha” is the same thing.

Usually white people don’t get it…Hell I don’t get it and I am teaching a class right now in racism and prejudice.

A film clip I show demonstrates how pervasive racism is (prefer to call it ethnic cultural micro and macro aggressions)…because all cultures in America have these aggressions. It ends with a former slave telling a well meaning liberal white friend, “You still have the disease”. The white guy was first angry, then chastised, because he literally did not realize the racist statements he blurted out.

I saw and heard it when I attempted to communicate in “their neighborhoods” (that is a micro aggression right there). I remember how frustrated is was when like a light switch going off, the language switched when the white Principal was close, to wall me off from understanding what they were talking about. In my last port of call I was Principal/Superintendent and had to translate micro aggressions from Native American children and the white ranchers macro aggression who hated the Native Americans and vice versa.

For a while, until I got to understand it more, that they all were calling be a SOB and I didn’t know it. But that comes with the territory of being an administrator.

Teenagers do that anyway and sometimes teenagers of color do it in self defense. They don’t want the “man” to know what what is being talked about because the suspension rate for them is through the the roof. That’s right, it isn’t always just a screwed up kid who hides behind dialect. Kids just do it because, well, they are kids and don’t want to get into trouble…Very few kids what to get into trouble…the ones who do are the one to look out for!

Getting information out of a possible participant in say cutting class (not exactly a capital offense) is impossible when the dialect comes in…

I mean it is a different language. For example “Blue”.

When I was in a lower socioeconomic culture school, with children of color all over the place, the kids used to talk with little respect for the white adults knowing what they were talking about. “Blue meant a kid who was so black he appeared blue”. I know I know that is impossible, there are no blue people, but the kids knew what they were saying…

Hip hop in many ways does that as well, especially for this older white guy. I don’t have a clue what some white and black and brown teenagers are singing about, and stand no chance with different culture teenagers. This is not a good thing if you are the Vice Principal; which I was for years.

Think, not, try it! Listen to Hip Hop, it is definitely a code that many of us old folks don’t even pretend to “be with it”. I remember in the old days of peace love dove we did the same thing.

However, this implicitness, this cultural wall off, is particularly dangerous when gang like behavior takes over.

This is not just for kids of color, but all kids, who lapse into a lingo that adults cannot understand.

Dialect is deadly however, when gang members talk openly in front of police, who don’t understand a word that is being said. And a misunderstand with a well armed cop is sometimes tragically resolved!

This leads to tragedy often in confrontations with police…the dialect is so racially tinged that misunderstanding happens a lot..not good when one side (?) has command of at least some of the firepower.

We are hit almost everyday with police shootings of people of color that appear unjustified, not knowing the particulars.

Some of those particulars eventually get the officers off, according to laws that were passed specifically to protect the latitude that police have in dealing with violence….or “perceived” violence that comes from an upset and verbally abusive language that is PERCEIVED by the police as assault.

See the impossibility of understanding language in a stressful environment?

I saw it often in my 36 years of school teaching and administration…I saw it in an incident that turned my hometown on its head, when a Mexican American stabbed an Africa American in the cafeteria of my old high school, where I was an Assistant Principal.

The African American was a big football player, who claimed he had been a gang member, from Oakland (I mean 300 lbs), who taunted a Mexican American who was new to the school…it was “ghetto” talk that the kids at Shasta High, me included, did not understand. As it turned out the big kid, and he was just that a big nice kid, made up the gang story to gain status in his new school.

But the adults did understand body language and that a fight was going to happen in the cafeteria.

We ran to the altercation after hearing about it in the office…by the time we got to the cafeteria the large African American child (and he was actually just a nice kid who was telling a lie about the gang to gain status) lie on the floor, bleeding from a knife wound in his stomach…

The perpetrator we were told by the shocked white bystanders “went that a way…”

Meanwhile another crowd had gathered, mostly white kids (Shasta was mostly white kids) who were intent on getting even, with the perpetrator. In short a mob had developed.

We called the police to stop the mob, and with the security cop, the two of us went looking for the “new kid” from Santa Barbara who had attempted to kill the African American kid…with a mob of about 50 students following us.

The police were now coming, fast, and I had flashes of a gun battle on campus, with the perp (uh oh here comes a hidden perception).

But rather than wait, we were sprinted headlong after the bad guy. We found him hiding behind a portable whose teacher was in her classroom. She was African American, didn’t mean anything other than she had picked up on some of the lies the hidden kid had told her, and understand from the dialect that this was a big deal…she wisely had not confronted him, but watched where he hid….and called for help.

We went there, and sure enough found him hiding with no weapon but did have a fanny pack…I asked for the fanny pack that DID haves a bloody knife it it….we called for police backup, and then I went up the the kid (he was 16) and demanded him to “show me your hands”…the only weapon I had was my notepad.

Remarkably, rather than him running he put up his hands and surrendered…We then rushed him into the classroom and locked the door, just as the mob approached.

I can still remember it was a butcher knife..over 6 inches long…I immediately called the office and told them the assailant had plunged the knife into the kid’s stomach to the hilt! Luckily they already had called the ambulance.

Using the phone in the classroom we told the police where the assailant was, who by the way had “miraculously” stopped talking entirely.

I could tell that he had been in bad trouble when his started with “I want a lawyer”…and did not say another word..

This kid had more legal savvy than I did.

We waited and waited for the police to get there…finally, after about five minutes (felt like an hour) the police got there, ran off the mob and handcuffed the bad guy.

As it turned out the bad guy had a record of violence, was from a continuation high school, was on probation from Santa Barbara, and our school had not even received his cum file (student educational history) yet. In short he did not belong in our regular school, but had lied to avoid continuation school.

In fact, we had a straight up inner city gang leader, not just member, on our hands and didn’t know it.

The repercussions were almost immediate. Our Principal was reassigned that summer because the Board of Trustees blamed him for the lack of a cum file and for the stabbing (the first at the high school ever)…We, the security guard and myself, did get praises for apprehending the suspect but that didn’t last long, then the criticism began…why weren’t we in the cafeteria when the stabbing happened; etc.

The victim survived barely, having a butcher knife buried into his stomach.

Our principal did not; he was transferred to another school and left the district that summer…I was ultimately reassigned to the District Office to become Personnel Director but my choice, it had nothing to do with the “incident”. We did receive thanks from the Board for our apprehension without mob interference.

Shasta High had noting to do with the late cum file, that happens all the time in public education, student records sometime take months to receive.

As it turned out of course, Santa Barbara schools sure has hell knew about the bad buy…but were too busy to alarm us. As they said, a quarter of their students had gang affiliations!

This is a good example of what schools face all the time…what language can do, what micro-aggressions can cause….and it often results in violence and sometimes death.

Dialect does matter, coded language does matter…Black and Brown lives do matter no matter what culture is dominant…

Shasta High learned the hard way that horrible day. We learned the secret code of the streets of Santa Barbara and Oakland (where both kids came from) and violence was laced in the language they used, a code of micro-aggressions that we had no idea about!

This is one more example of racism and prejudice and how difficult it is to deal with. It is one more example of the banality of evil…how one word can get you hurt or killed.

Stanford grad, BA Political Science, MA from Sac State in Government. 36 years in public education as teacher, coach, athletic director, and administrator.