Above: Danielle Milton, Jillian Thompson, Ariel C’nae Johnson, and Carson kicking it during homecoming week.
Race and independent schools have been the focus of much of the work I have done and would like to continue over the next five years; it is a topic of passion as it not only relates to the development of my non-minority students, but has been shaped by my own past: a black kid in an all white private school. God has blessed me with the ability to transcend race; I do not want people to fail to see my race or understand why my race and past have shaped my current prediction. I do want people to say “wow he is a great guy and a dynamic teacher and scholar.” Because of this, seeing my race is clear and there — but allowing it to take hold is not. I have a great relationship with many of my minority students on campus; however, it is clear that I miss a number of them in my advanced courses — a fact that I am constantly working to change. As seen in the pic above, one cannot help but notice the number of great minority students on campus. At 21%, we are pleased but not satisfied.
While attending a private upper day school in Montgomery, Alabama, I found myself trapped in one of Ralph Ellison’s descriptive allegories of being invisible while clearly being visible. This construct was greatly exacerbated due to my race and the expectations of one’s color. As a black kid growing up in a low socioeconomic community, the idea of being hard and tough greatly outweighed that of being smart and academic. Because I attended a private school on scholarship, I was surrounded by peers who were not like me; I often felt invisible.
Ralph Ellison’s classic novel, Invisible Man, highlights the challenges many blacks felt in white America:
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.
Ellison is addressing this distorted perception — the failure to see the humanity and individuality of black people — has its roots in the historic veil of slavery and Jim Crowism that separates the black world from the white world. This is the veil that W.E.B Du Bois addressed is his epic Souls of Black Folks.
Many of my affluent private school classmates made it okay to relax and be myself, which often included jamming to the likes of Garth Brookes while reading a classic or two. This seems to be the case for our minority students on campus — though there have been minor issues at times, as was the case for me as a student. However, while out with people from my neighborhood, I found myself jamming (who uses this term) to my favorite gangster rappers. It is very difficult for me to listen to most of today’s “want to be a gangster” rapper. True, many of the eighties and early nineties gangster rappers used harsh language and graphic illustrations to represent black urban life, but many of them were simply being poetic and artistic in addressing their everyday life.
Tell me, do you believe that gangster rap and country music reflect both urban/rural and political problems? Why do country music stars address their problems without the degree or language, violence, and sex that rap artists continue to use? Does this promulgate racism and classism? How does this reflect the dichotomy of being black in a white world? Independent schools tend to show case this dichotomy very well. I am excited that HCHS has worked hard to diversify its faculty and student population. But, we still have much work to do as we consider the topic of class.