by Christopher Jackson
Until recently I taught at a predominantly black high school in a southeastern state. The mainstream press gives a hint of what conditions are like in black schools, but only a hint. Expressions journalists use like “chaotic” or “poor learning environment” or “lack of discipline” do not capture what really happens. There is nothing like the day-to-day experience of teaching black children and that is what I will try to convey.
One of the most immediately striking things about my students was that they were loud. They had little conception of ordinary decorum. It was not unusual for five students to be screaming at me at once. It did no good to try to quiet them and white women were particularly inept at trying. I sat in on one woman’s class as she begged the children to pipe down. They just yelled louder so their voices would carry over hers. They seemed to have no conception of waiting for an appropriate time to say something. They would get ideas in their heads and simply had to shout them out. I might be leading a discussion on government and suddenly be interrupted: “We gotta get more Democrats! Clinton, she good!” The student may seem content with that outburst but two minutes later, he would suddenly start yelling again: “Clinton good!”
Anyone who is around young blacks will probably get a constant diet of rap music. Blacks often make up their own jingles, and it was not uncommon for 15 boys to swagger into a classroom, bouncing their shoulders and jiving back. They were yelling back and forth, rapping 15 different sets of words in the same harsh, rasping dialect. The words were almost invariably a childish form of boasting: “Who got dem shine rim, who got dem shine shoe, who got dem shine grill (gold and silver dental caps)?” The amateur rapper usually ends with a claim—in the crudest terms imaginable—that all woman-kind is sexually devoted to him. For whatever reason, my students would often groan instead of saying a particular word, as in, “She suck dat aaahhhh (think of a long grinding groan), she f* dat aaaahhhh, she lick dat aaaahhh.” So many black girls dance in the hall, in the classroom, on the chairs, next to the chairs, under the chairs, everywhere. Once I took a call on my cell phone and had to step outside of class. I was away about two minutes but when I got back, the girls had lined up at the front of the classroom and were convulsing to the delight of the boys.
Many black people, especially women, are enormously fat. Some are so fat I had to arrange special seating to accommodate their bulk. I am not saying there are no fat white students—there are—but it is a matter of numbers and attitudes. Many black girls simply do not care that they are fat. There are plenty of white anorexics, but I have never met or heard of a black anorexic. “Black women be big Mr. Jackson,” my students would explain. “Is it okay in the black community to be a little overweight?” I ask. Two obese girls in front of my desk begin to dance, “You know dem boys lak juicy fruit, Mr. Jackson.” “Juicy” is a colorful black expression for the buttocks.
Blacks, on average, are the most directly critical people I have ever met: “Dat shirt stupid. Yo’ kid a bastid. Yo’ lips big.” Unlike whites, who tread gingerly around the subject of race, they can be brutally to the point. Once I needed to send a student to the office to deliver a message. I asked for volunteers, and suddenly you would think my classroom was a bastion of civic engagement. Thirty dark hands shot into the air. My students loved to leave the classroom and slack off, even if just for a few minutes, away from the eye of white authority. I picked a light-skinned boy to deliver the message. One very black student was indignant: “You pick da half-breed.” And immediately other blacks take up the cry, and half a dozen mouths are screaming, “He half-breed.”
For decades, the country has been lamenting the poor academic performance of bIacks and there is much to lament. There is no question, however, that many bIacks come to school with a serious handicap that is not their fault. At home they have learned a dialect that is almost a different language. Blacks not only mispronounce words; their grammar is often wrong. When a black wants to ask, “Where is the bathroom?” he may actually say “Whar da badroom be?” Grammatically, this is the equivalent of “Where the bathroom is?” And this is the way they speak in high school. Students write the way they speak, so this is the language that shows up in written assignments.
It is true that some whites face a similar handicap. They speak with what I would call a “country” accent that is hard to reproduce but results in sentences such as “I’m gonna gemme a Coke.” Some of these country whites had to learn correct pronunciation and usage. The difference is that most whites overcome this handicap and learn to speak correctly; many blacks do not.
Most of the bIacks I taught simply had no interest in academic subjects. I taught history, and students would often say they didn’t want to do an assignment or they didn’t like history because it was all about white people. Of course, this was “diversity” history, in which every cowboy’s black cook got a special page on how he contributed to winning the West, but black children still found it inadequate. So I would throw up my hands and assign them a project on a real, historical black person. My favorite was Marcus Garvey. They had never heard of him, and I would tell them to research him, but they never did. They didn’t care and they didn’t want to do any work.
Anyone who teaches bIacks soon learns that they have a completely different view of government from whites. Once I decided to fill 25 minutes by having students write about one thing the government should do to improve America. I gave this question to three classes totaling about 100 students, approximately 80 of whom were black. My white students came back with generally “conservative” ideas. “We need to cut off people who don’t work,” was the most common suggestion. Nearly every black gave a variation on the theme of “We need more government services.”
My black students had only the vaguest notion of who pays for government services. For them, it was like a magical piggy bank that never goes empty. One black girl was exhorting the class on the need for more social services and I kept trying to explain that people, real live people, are taxed for the money to pay for those services. “Yeah, it come from whites,” she finally said. “They stingy anyway.” “Many black people make over $50,000 dollars a year and you would also be taking away from your own people,” I said. She had an answer to that: “Dey half breed.” The class agreed. I let the subject drop.
Many black girls are perfectly happy to be welfare queens. On career day, one girl explained to the class that she was going to have lots of children and get fat checks from the government. No one in the class seemed to have any objection to this career choice.
Surprising attitudes can come out in class discussion. We were talking about the crimes committed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I brought up the rape of a young girl in the bathroom of the Superdome. A majority of my students believed this was a horrible crime but a few took it lightly. One black boy spoke up without raising his hand: “Dat no big deal. They thought they is gonna die so they figured they have some fun. Dey jus’ wanna have a fun time; you know what I’m sayin’?” A few black heads nodded in agreement.
My department head once asked all the teachers to get a response from all students to the following question: “Do you think it is okay to break the law if it will benefit you greatly?” By then, I had been teaching for a while and was not surprised by answers that left a young, liberal, white woman colleague aghast. “Yeah” was the favorite answer. As one student explained, “Get dat green.” There is a level of conformity among blacks that whites would find hard to believe. They like one kind of music: rap. They will vote for one political party: Democrat. They dance one way, speak one way, are loud the same way, and fail their exams in the same way. Of course, there are exceptions but they are rare. Whites are different. Some like country music, others heavy metal, some prefer pop, and still others, God forbid, enjoy rap music. They have different associations, groups, almost ideologies. There are jocks, nerds, preppies, and hunters. Blacks are all—well—black, and they are quick to let other blacks know when they deviate from the norm.
One might object that there are important group differences among blacks that a white man simply cannot detect. I have done my best to find them, but so far as I can tell, they dress the same, talk the same, think the same. Certainly, they form rival groups, but the groups are not different in any discernible way. There simply are no groups of blacks that are as distinctly different from each other as white “nerds,” “hunters,” or “Goths,” for example.
How the World looks to Blacks
One point on which all bIacks agree is that everything is “racis’.” This is one message of liberalism they have absorbed completely. Did you do your homework? “Na, homework racis’.” Why did you get an “F” on the test? “Test racis’.” I was trying to teach a unit on British philosophers and the first thing the students noticed about Bentham, Hobbes, and Locke was “Dey all white! Where da black philosophers’?” I tried to explain there were no blacks in eighteenth century Britain. You can probably guess what they said to that: “Dat racis’!” One student accused me of deliberately failing him on a test because I didn’t like black people. “Do you think I really hate black people?” “Yeah.” “Have I done anything to make you feel this way? How do you know?” “You just do.” “Why do you say that?” He just smirked, looked out the window, and sucked air through his teeth. Perhaps this was a regional thing, but the bIacks often sucked air through their teeth as a wordless expression of disdain or hostility.
My students were sometimes unable to see the world except through the lens of their own blackness. I had a class that was host to a German exchange student. One day he put on a Power Point presentation with famous German landmarks as well as his school and family. From time to time during the presentation, bIacks would scream, “Where da black folk?!” The exasperated German tried several times to explain that there were no black people where he lived in Germany. The students did not believe him. I told them Germany is in Europe, where white people are from, and Africa is where black people are from. They insisted that the German student was racist and deliberately refused to associate with blacks.
BIacks are keenly interested in their own racial characteristics. I have learned, for example, that some bIacks have “good hair.” Good hair is black parlance for black-white hybrid hair. Apparently, it is less kinky, easier to style, and considered more attractive. BIacks are also proud of light skin. Imagine two black students shouting insults across the room. One is dark but slim; the other light and obese. The dark one begins the exchange: “You fat, Ridario!” Ridario smiles, doesn’t deign to look at his detractor, shakes his head like a wobbling top, and says, “You wish you light skinned.” They could go on like this, repeating the same insults over and over.
My black students had nothing but contempt for Hispanic immigrants. They would vent their feelings so crudely that our department strongly advised us never to talk about immigration in class in case the principal or some outsider might overhear. Whites were “racis’,” of course, but they thought of us at least as Americans. Not the Mexicans. BIacks have a certain, not necessarily hostile understanding of white people. They know how whites act, and it is clear they believe whites are smart and are good at organizing things. At the same time, they probably suspect whites are just putting on an act when they talk about equality, as if it is all a sham that makes it easier for whites to control blacks. BIacks want a bigger piece of the American pie. I’m convinced that if it were up to them they would give whites a considerably smaller piece than whites get now, but they would give us something. They wouldn’t give Mexicans anything.
What about black boys and white girls? No one is supposed to notice this or talk about it but it is glaringly obvious: Black boys are obsessed with white girls. I’ve witnessed the following drama countless times. A black boy saunters up to a white girl. The cocky black dances around her, not really in a menacing way. It’s more a shuffle than a threat. As he bobs and shuffles he asks, “When you gonna go wit’ me?” There are two kinds of reply. The more confident white girl gets annoyed, looks away from the black and shouts, “I don’t wanna go out with you!” The more demure girl will look at her feet and mumble a polite excuse but ultimately say no. There is only one response from the black boy: “You racis’.” Many girls—all too many—actually feel guilty because they do not want to date bIacks. Most white girls at my school stayed away from blacks, but a few, particularly the ones who were addicted to drugs, fell in with them.
There is something else that is striking about blacks. They seem to have no sense of romance, of falling in love. What brings men and women together is sex, pure and simple, and there is a crude openness about this. There are many degenerate whites, of course, but some of my white students were capable of real devotion and tenderness, emotions that seemed absent from blacks—especially the boys.
Black schools are violent and the few whites who are too poor to escape are caught in the storm. The violence is astonishing, not so much that it happens, but the atmosphere in which it happens. BIacks can be smiling, seemingly perfectly content with what they are doing, having a good time, and then, suddenly start fighting. It’s uncanny. Not long ago, I was walking through the halls and a group of black boys were walking in front of me. All of a sudden they started fighting with another group in the hallway.
BIacks are extraordinarily quick to take offense. Once I accidentally scuffed a black boy’s white sneaker with my shoe. He immediately rubbed his body up against mine and threatened to attack me. I stepped outside the class and had a security guard escort the student to the office. It was unusual for students to threaten teachers physically this way, but among themselves, they were quick to fight for similar reasons.
The real victims are the unfortunate whites caught in this. They are always in danger and their educations suffer. White weaklings are particularly susceptible, but mostly to petty violence. They may be slapped or get a couple of kicks when they are trying to open a bottom locker. Typically, bIacks save the hard, serious violence for each other.
There was a lot of promiscuous sex among my students and this led to violence. Black girls were constantly fighting over black boys. It was not uncommon to see two girls literally ripping each other’s hair out with a police officer in the middle trying to break up the fight. The black boy they were fighting over would be standing by with a smile, enjoying the show he had created. For reasons I cannot explain, boys seldom fought over girls.
Pregnancy was common among the bIacks, though many black girls were so fat I could not tell the difference. I don’t know how many girls got abortions, but when they had the baby they usually stayed in school and had their own parents look after the child. The school did not offer daycare.
Aside from the police officers constantly on campus – security guards are everywhere in black schools — we had one on every hall. They also sat in on unruly classes and escorted students to the office. They were unarmed but worked closely with the three city police officers who were constantly on duty.
There was a lot of drug-dealing at my school. This was a way to make a fair amount of money but it also gave boys power over girls who wanted drugs. An addicted girl—black or white—became the plaything of anyone who could get her drugs. One of my students was a notorious drug dealer. Everyone knew it. He was 19 years old and in eleventh grade. Once he got a score of three out of 100 on a test. He had been locked up four times since he was 13. One day, I asked him, “Why do you come to school?” He wouldn’t answer. He just looked out the window, smiled, and sucked air through his teeth. His friend Yidarius ventured an explanation: “He get dat green and get dem females.” “What is the green?” I asked. “Money or dope?” “Both,” said Yidarius with a smile. A very fat student interrupted from across the room: “We get dat lunch,” Mr. Jackson. “We gotta get dat lunch and brickfuss.” He means the free breakfast and lunch poor students get every day. “Nlqqa, we know’d you be lovin’ brickfuss!” shouts another student. Some readers may believe that I have drawn a cruel caricature of black students. After all, according to official figures some 85 percent of them graduate. It would be instructive to know how many of those scraped by with barely a C- record. They go from grade to grade and they finally get their diplomas because there is so much pressure on teachers to push them through. It saves money to move them along, the school looks good and the teachers look good. Many of these children should have been failed but the system would crack under their weight if they were all held back.
How did my experiences make me feel about bIacks? Ultimately, I lost sympathy for them. In so many ways they seem to make their own beds. There they were in an integrationist’s fantasy—in the same classroom with white students, eating the same lunch, using the same bathrooms, listening to the same teachers—and yet the blacks fail while the whites pass.
One tragic outcome among whites who have been teaching for too long is that it can engender something close to hatred. One teacher I knew gave up fast food—not for health reasons but because where he lived most fast-food workers were black. He had enough of bIacks on the job. This was an extreme example but years of frustration can take their toll. Many of my white colleagues with any experience were well on their way to that state of mind.
There is an unutterable secret among teachers: Almost all realize that bIacks do not respond to traditional white instruction. Does that put the lie to environmentalism? Not at all. It is what brings about endless, pointless innovation that is supposed to bring bIacks up to the white level. The solution is more diversity—or put more generally, the solution is change. Change is an almost holy word in education, and you can fail a million times as long as you keep changing. That is why liberals keep revamping the curriculum and the way it is taught. For example, teachers are told that blacks need hands-on instruction and more group work. Teachers are told that bIacks are more vocal and do not learn through reading and lectures. The implication is that they have certain traits that lend themselves to a different kind of teaching.
Whites have learned a certain way for centuries but it just doesn’t work with bIacks. Of course, this implies racial differences but if pressed, most liberal teachers would say different racial learning styles come from some indefinable cultural characteristic unique to bIacks. Therefore, schools must change, America must change. But into what? How do you turn quantum physics into hands-on instruction or group work? No one knows, but we must keep changing until we find something that works.
Public school has certainly changed since anyone reading this was a student. I have a friend who teaches elementary school and she tells me that every week the students get a new diversity lesson, shipped in fresh from some bureaucrat’s office in Washington or the state capital. She showed me the materials for one week: a large poster, about the size of a forty-two inch flat-screen television. It shows an utterly diverse group—I mean diverse: handicapped, Muslim, Jewish, effeminate, poor, rich, brown, slightly brown, yellow, etc.—sitting at a table, smiling gaily, accomplishing some undefined task. The poster comes with a sheet of questions the teacher is supposed to ask. One might be: “These kids sure look different, but they look happy. Can you tell me which one in the picture is an American?” Some eight-year-old, mired in ignorance, will point to a white child like himself. “That one.” The teacher reads from the answer, conveniently printed along with the question. “No, Billy, all these children are Americans. They are just as American as you.”
This is what happens at predominately white, middle-class, elementary schools everywhere. Elementary school teachers love All of the Colors of the Race, by award-winning children’s poet Arnold Adoff. These are some of the lines they read to the children: “Mama is chocolate … Daddy is vanilla … Me (sic) is better … It is a new color. It is a new flavor. For love. Sometimes blackness seems too black for me, and whiteness is too sickly pale; and I wish every one were golden. Remember: long ago before people moved and migrated, and mixed and matched … there was one people: one color, one race. The colors are flowing from what was before me to what will be after. All the colors.”
Teaching as a career
It may come as a surprise after what I have written, but my experiences have given me a deep appreciation for teaching as a career. It offers a stable, middle-class life but comes with the capacity to make real differences in the lives of children. In our modern, atomized world children often have very little communication with adults—especially, or even, with their parents—so there is potential for a real transaction between pupil and teacher, disciple and master.
A rewarding relationship can grow up between an exceptional, interested student and his teacher. I have stayed in my classroom with a group of students discussing ideas and playing chess until the janitor kicked us out. I was the old gentleman, imparting my history, culture, personal loves and triumphs, defeats and failures to young kinsman. Sometimes I fancied myself Tyrtaeus, the Spartan poet, who counseled the youth to honor and loyalty. I never had this kind intimacy with a black student, and I know of no other white teacher who did. Teaching can be fun. For a certain kind of person it is exhilarating to map out battles on chalkboards, and teach heroism. It is rewarding to challenge liberal prejudices, to leave my mark on these children, but what I aimed for with my white students I could never achieve with the bIacks.
There is a kind of child whose look can melt your heart: some working-class castaway, in and out of foster homes, often abused, who is nevertheless almost an angel. Your heart melts for these children, this refuse of the modern world. Many white students possess a certain innocence; their cheeks still blush. Try as I might, I could not get the blacks to care one bit about Beethoven or Sherman’s march to the sea, or Tyrtaeus, or Oswald Spengler, or even liberals like John Rawls, or their own history. They cared about nothing I tried to teach them. When this goes on year after year it chokes the soul out of a teacher, destroys his pathos, and sends him guiltily searching for The Bell Curve on the Internet. BIacks break down the intimacy that can be achieved in the classroom, and leave you convinced that that intimacy is really a form of kinship. Without intending to, they destroy what is most beautiful—whether it be your belief in human equality, your daughter’s innocence, or even the state of the hallway.
Just last year I read on the bathroom stall the words “F Whitey.” Not two feet away, on the same stall, was a small swastika. The National Council for the Social Studies, the leading authority on social science education in the United States, urges teachers to inculcate such values as equality of opportunity, individual property rights, and a democratic form of government. Even if teachers could inculcate this milquetoast ideology into whites, liberalism is doomed because so many non-whites are not receptive to education of any kind beyond the merest basics.
It is impossible to get them to care about such abstractions as property rights or democratic citizenship. They do not see much further than the fact that you live in a big house and “we in da pro-jek.” Of course, there are a few loutish whites who will never think past their next meal and a few sensitive bIacks for whom anything is possible, but no society takes on the characteristics of its exceptions.
Once I asked my students, “What do you think of the Constitution?” “It white,” one slouching black rang out. The class began to laugh. And I caught myself laughing along with them, laughing while Pompeii’s volcano simmers, while the barbarians swell around the Palatine, while the country I love, and the job I love, and the community I love become dimmer by the day.
I read a book by an expatriate Rhodesian who visited Zimbabwe not too many years ago. Traveling with a companion, she stopped at a store along the highway. A black man materialized next to her car window. “Job, boss, (I) work good, boss,” he pleaded. “You give job.” “What happened to your old job?” the expatriate white asked. The man replied in the straightforward manner of his race: “We drove out the whites. No more jobs. You give job.”
At some level, my students understand the same thing. One day I asked the bored, black faces staring back at me, “What would happen if all the white people in America disappeared tomorrow?” “We screwed,” a young, pitch-black boy screamed back. The rest of the bIacks laughed.
I have had children tell me to my face as they struggled with an assignment. “I cain’t do dis,” Mr. Jackson. “I black.” The point is that human beings are not always rational. It is in the black man’s interest to have whites in Zimbabwe but he drives them out and starves. Most whites do not think black Americans could ever do anything so irrational. They see bIacks on television smiling, fighting evil whites, embodying white values. But the real black is not on television, and you pull your purse closer when you see him, and you lock the car doors when he swaggers by with his pants hanging down almost to his knees.
I have been in parent-teacher conferences that broke my heart: the child pleading with his parents to take him out of school; the parents convinced their child’s fears are groundless. If you love your child, show her you care—not by giving her fancy vacations or a car, but making her innocent years safe and happy. Give her the gift of a not-heavily black school.
Mr. Jackson now teaches at a majority-white school