Teach Houston

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 15 2013

Trayvon.

Today, I had to have the wrenching conversation with my students – why did this happen? Why do we live in a world where things like this can happen? Why is there no justice, no peace, no mercy?

I swear, this world of racism and institutionalized acceptance of a horribly uneven power structure is pure hell.

This miserable way is taken by the sorry souls who lived without disgrace and without praise. They now commingle with the coward angels, the company of those who were not rebels nor faithful to their God, but stood apart. – Dante Alighieri, Inferno

 

I’d been stewing over the issue since the night the verdict was handed down. At the time, it didn’t truly resonate with me; in any awful situation it has always taken a day or two for it to sink in (September 11th and the Boston marathon bombings were the same way). Last night I saw a few posters hung up around Rice – presumably by TFA corps members – with Trayvon’s face on them, mourning him and the not-guilty verdict. Last night it finally sunk in and I was absolutely enraged.

NOTE: The following is just my opinion; I’m not really interested in getting into a whole discussion about it because this post isn’t really about me. It’s about my students.

It makes me sick to my stomach to know that in this country, a white man can shoot a black child and get away with it. Trayvon was shot because he was black, and looked “ghetto” or “unsafe” or whatever word you want to use if you’re racist but are uncomfortable with that term. Some say Trayvon was shot because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. What the hell does that even mean? He was in the right place, he was just living his life, and there is never a wrong time for justice or even the basic decency of not murdering people. For God’s sake, do people who look like my students – who are my students – need to hope & pray they will be in the right place at the right time to avoid being murdered? What kind of world is this?

When we got to school today, the issue was brought up first thing in the morning at our daily campus meeting, a time when CMs and TFA staff members usually talk about the week’s logistics. TFA knows there are deep and intense feelings about the issue. Our students have feelings, we have feelings, and to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist helps no one. Trayvon was killed because we live in a world that purports to be color-blind. A world that claims it is “post-racial” and yet imprisons black and Hispanic children in schools like the one I teach at right now – with no air conditioning and an incredibly punitive environment – until these children are sucked into the criminal justice system and put in prison for real. I talked to a parent today who was infuriated that her child isn’t receiving special education accommodations over the summer. She’s right to be infuriated. It’s disgusting that we treat students of color this way. I’m so angry about it, and I’m sick of glossing over the issue and saying our only barrier is low expectations. There are real, structural, deeply-rooted problems and to ignore them means we are blind to the injustices we ourselves have created. The only answer is to see race for what it is, to see racists for who they are. We’re all a little bit racist if only because of our biases and prejudices; we all have them, to pretend we don’t only robs us of the chance to learn from our awful racial past. Just writing this makes me feel sick and angry and disillusioned. In the days since the verdict there’s been a lot of Facebook chatter about the case itself. I see lots of white privilege on my news feed. I’m still not at a place where I feel comfortable speaking up (on the Internet, that is, I’m fine with doing it in person) and yet I know that by not speaking up I’m contributing to the problem too.

Right before testing started, I could tell my kids were restless. Part of it was Monday (they told me unashamedly, “We don’t want to be here! It’s Monday!”). But I could see that there was something else going on too. I asked them if they’d heard about Trayvon Martin and the reaction was immediate. They were angry, and hurt, and scared, and confused, and in that moment I knew we had to table the discussion because school-wide summer testing was due in 30 minutes. I didn’t want them to get riled up before the test so my co-teachers and I agreed to have a whole-class discussion after the test.

Lunchtime is when it all came out, as does most of the hard stuff my kids deal with. My kids were so angry and scared and confused. It hurt to look in their eyes. They knew lots of facts about the case – the shooting, the confrontation, the jury. They had lots of opinions about race. “If Zimmerman had been black and Trayvon had been white, that woulda not even been an ISSUE!” Truth. “Why do we gotta go to this damn ghetto-ass school?” I don’t know. It breaks my heart. “How would you feel if you went to this school?” Pretty awful. At that age, I cried whenever someone yelled at me; my students have become hardened to all the anger that seems to be directed at them so much of the time.

Nothing was concluded. Nothing was wrapped up in a bow. I don’t feel any better than I did before, and I don’t think my kids do either, and I don’t think the country does either.

This evening, the co-CEO of TFA came to do a Town Hall for the entirety of TFA Houston Institute about some of the more controversial aspects of TFA. That deserves a whole other post and I’ll touch on that later. For now, this post is about Trayvon.

 

It’s hard to feel so much right now. It’s hard to look my students in the eye and see the pain they feel from the murder and from the verdict. It’s hard to look them in the eye and see how badly they want for the adults to fix things and yet we can’t, we’re stuck in this endless cycle of prejudice and power and dominance and racism and hell.

Blessed is the God who gives us a heart to feel and words to speak. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who strive for that which may never be attained, yet in the midst of all the world’s toil, blessed are those with hope.

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    Journeys, challenges, & writings of a first-year teacher.

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