Friday, August 1, 2008

The Brotherhood of Neon

I sit in my classroom watching the valiant waif’s placed my charge work on an exercise the topic of which is discrimination. We began this day by reading a story in the literature textbook on the bus desegregation events of the 1950’s. Rosa Parks was, as she has always been, the hero of the tale.

The class size is twelve young men, two-thirds of which are what we now refer to as the politically correct term “people of color.” I abhor this term. I hate all that is prejudicial and hold particular scorn that which is intolerant within me. To denigrate someone in this manner is a crime against nature. What is wrong with just calling them people? Why do we have to single them out as someone or something different? What the hell does their color have to do with who or what they are? Shit!

I have spent time in my life where the color of a person’s skin mattered to me. For those times I am mortified and deeply apologetic, even though saying I am sorry might just be the best definition of who I might be…one sorry son of a bitch. I live in a world of my own making most of the time and attempt to value things based on what I believe is appropriate. This system of standards is an ever evolving creature. I am currently in the stage where I, perhaps, devolve. I have found all the things wrong in my world and rather then champion the causes I find irksome, I defer to the comfort of my classroom, and the proverbial “mouths of babes.” My kids are currently my muse, and the rhythm, much to my displeasure, is in the cadence if Hip-Hop. Long live Tupac Shakur (sic).

I observe these children with wonder and amusement. This particular class population consists of teenagers who are in an inpatient substance abuse program for adolescents. Their life is full of prejudice of an institutional manner. There are harsh rules they are obligated to comply with or circumstance can become extremely unpleasant. Infractions always result in consequences the worst being that they can go to prison. This means a state youth facility that is, in reality, prisons for kids. The nature of these offenses can certainly be worthy of incarceration, but many are things that I, as an adult take for granted.

The lesser infractions result in what is called “slow-down.” This a state in which the culprit is not allowed to speak unless spoken to by the staff of the program or me as the teacher. They are required to wear a neon colored vest similar to what the flag people on a paving crew would where. Having, in a past life, earned a living wearing one of these vests, I know the purpose for the color is to ensure one may be seen and hopefully not run over by an irritated motorist anxious to get on their way. In the case of the boys, it is an announcement to the little world of academia we exist in that this transgressor has transgressed. What the offense might be is no longer something I have desire to know. What seems petty and insignificant is not for me to judge, just the same way it is not my place to judge another based on such arbitrary and capricious items as age, race, sexual identity, creed, religion, or lack of religion (this list compiled from recovery literature). Would that I could heed my own counsel. I, shamefully, have grown to hate people who hate. Sesquipedalianism will not aid this dearth within me. I can not write my way out of this scarcity of principled convention. I am incapable of justifying the loathing of what I would liken to be unprincipled and criminal activity as long as I purport myself in similar manner. It is not okay to hate.

I learned this in class, watching my would-be paving flagmen. They sit in my room and remind me that they have consequences in their life that would be violated if they did certain activities I assign. I chose to get my students to work in groups and if a member of the group cannot participate through proper communication, I cannot complain of the burden these practices create for me. I just need to respect that these young men, perhaps for the first time in their lives, wish to act in an honorable manner.

Therein lays the rub. If people were to act in as honorable a manner as my kids, the world would be a better place. Teachers like me would probably die an early death from the joy it would bring to there hearts. What’s he talking about? Is he rambling again? Is he exactly as weird and stupid as I first thought? Maybe.

What makes me think on the effects of prejudice is the lack of selfsame offense my kids display. After reading about Rosa Parks, these future captains of our collective well being, all told me that discrimination is Bull! I believed them. I particularly believed them when one of the staff of the treatment program came and collected a few of the ugly neon vests and they cheered for their peers who had lived with their consequences without the need for hatred, bigotry, or spite. God Bless Them! God Bless anyone who likes these actions! More importantly, God Bless those who do not choose to live with the principles and honor of these righteous offspring of a world where bigotry and hatred most certainly still exists! There are, metaphorically, still buses that require some of us to sit in the back. Peace.