May 2, 2012
Black Teen Run Off the Liberal Plantation
By Matthew May
Do you know the name Jada Williams?
You probably know the name Sandra Fluke. She received a phone call from the incumbent president after the mean old white man on the radio called her a name. You probably know the name Trayvon Martin. The incumbent president answered a planted question from a White House reporter to indicate that Trayvon, slain by an individual representing the heretofore unknown demographic of white Hispanic, looked like he could be the president’s son.
Jada Williams is a 13-year-old student from Rochester, New York. Earlier this school year, she was given a copy of the book The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, written by the great patriot Frederick Douglass. Her assignment was to read the book and write an essay about her impressions. Her essay was to be entered in a contest. Jada Williams happens to be black. Many of her teachers are white.
Reading Douglass can — and should — incite rage and astonishment at the depths to which barbaric slaveowners and their deputies sank in treating their fellow men. The violence perpetrated upon Douglass and other slaves by the protected class of overseers is relayed in stark detail — to wit, an anecdote about an overseer named Mr. Gore:
Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd’s slaves, by the name of Demby. He had given Demby but few stripes, when, to get rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out. Mr. Gore told him that he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come out at the third call, he would shoot him. The first call was given. Demby made no response but stood his ground. The second and third calls were given with the same result. Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with any one, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more…He (Gore) was asked by Colonel Lloyd and my old master, why he resorted to this extraordinary expedient. His reply was, (as well as I can remember,) that Demby had become unmanageable.
Ms. Williams struggled with the initial part of the assignment. She found it difficult to encounter some of the vocabulary used by Douglass. Exasperated at being unprepared to confront the text, she sought definition to that which she did not comprehend. Once she became satisfied that she grasped Douglass’s use of the language, she understood what Douglass was describing. She was struck by comparisons between her life and Douglass’s characterizations of the plantation overseers and masters and mistresses who denied him knowledge for fear of his becoming aware of his humanity.
In her essay, Ms. Williams drew a parallel between what she saw as a group of self-satisfied “white teachers” overseeing dysfunctional students (characterized by Ms. Williams as “so-called ‘unteachable’” students) who were not being properly taught, illiterate and perpetually ignorant. This she considers a form of slavery. Ms. Williams quoted an arresting passage from Douglass’s description of one of his masters, a Mr. Auld, happening upon his wife instructing Douglass in basic reading:
If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.
One wonders if the copy of Douglass’s book read by Ms. Williams included, as do some editions, a letter written to Douglass by Massachusetts abolitionist Wendell Phillips. Phillips surmised that Douglass’s experiences as a slave amounted to “[t]he cruel and blighting death that gather over his soul.” An oft-quoted phrase about writers or by writers is that “writers write what they know.” So Ms. Williams wrote.
Perhaps Ms. Williams’s use of the phrase “white teachers” was provocative. Yet this is her reality. Her plea was not that her teachers should be fired or punished in any way. Her plea was conciliatory and did not limit blame for what she sees as an intolerable situation to them alone. She asked that her teachers — and her fellow students — work in concert to spread knowledge and prepare their students and themselves in such a way so as to be able to engage a mind like Frederick Douglass without frustration:
A grand price was paid in order for us to be where we are today; but in my mind we should be a lot further, so again I encourage the white teachers to instruct and I encourage my people not to just be a student, but become a learner.
The essay that Ms. Williams wrote was never entered in the essay contest. Instead, she was harassed out of her school by the very people whose assistance she requested.
The teacher who gave Ms. Williams the original assignment was so enraged at her essay that copies were distributed to fellow teachers and the principal. Soon after, Ms. Williams’ parents began receiving several phone calls from faculty claiming that their daughter was “angry.” Suddenly Ms. Williams, a model student prior to the essay, began receiving low grades in her classes. In several meetings, these same teachers refused to show Ms. Williams’ parents the papers and tests that garnered lower grades. During at least one such meeting, according to Mrs. Williams, a teacher union representative was present.
Her parents decided to enroll her another school in the district. They were told that that school was full and to try another school. The recommended school was full of actual unmanageable children, one of whom asked Ms. Williams if she were there because she fought too much in her old school.
It is impossible to believe that some member of the White House staff did not hear of this story. Why did the incumbent president decline to comment? Could he not identify with Ms. Williams? Perhaps not, since the education he received from high school forward cost somebody hundreds of thousands of dollars. Could it be that he could not personalize it enough? Perhaps not, since his daughters attend the best schools money can buy.
Or perhaps the incumbent president did not wish to gamble with the endorsement of the overlords of the overseers in Ms. Williams’s school, the National Education Association (NEA). Certainly the NEA and other teacher unions have had their share of disagreements with the incumbent president. Yet their ranks are foursquare behind his re-election ideologically and financially.
Is it really the case that this president, a purported author of African descent, would have nothing to say about a young black girl who was intimidated and bullied out of a school by a group of white overseers who were upset at her impertinent behavior? Are the NEA and manifold union backers of the incumbent president a protected class who cannot suffer any consequences for ejecting a student who had become “unmanageable”?
Happily, not everyone has ignored Ms. Williams. She was awarded the first “Spirit of Freedom“ award by the Frederick Douglass Society of New York on February 18, 2012. Sadly, not enough people know and celebrate her courage and thoughtfulness. No members of Congress, no former governors, and no professional basketball teams have taken the time, nor has the president, to publicly applaud Ms. Williams. Nobody dons a hoodie in support of a young black girl tossed aside like trash for daring to learn, daring to speak up, and being summarily punished for it.
Do you know the name Jada Williams? She is a bright young lady with a searching literary mind that should be nurtured by her teachers, celebrated as an engaged and engaging pupil. Instead, she was hounded out of her school as the members of the early 21st century’s protected class proved her thesis.
***Written by Matthew May***
December 30, 2011 English
Expressions from the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas
During my Christmas break I had the opportunity to read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas.
The Rochester City School District supplied us with this novel to read and expected me to expound on what I read and how it made me feel, as I myself being an African American and an eighth grader in the Rochester City learning institute.
Before, I began to read this novel, I had heard about it prior from a few older people that have read it and raved about it. I myself experienced it differently; I had some mixed emotions towards it.
When reading the novel my first impression was “what am I reading”? The content of the narrative was far more advanced for me. I found myself getting a dictionary/thesaurus to look up words I have never seen before in my life. On the other hand I was appreciative because it helped to expand my vocabulary. So with that I am grateful.
After, being able to cross-reference the words unknown to me I was able to read through the novel again with a clearer understanding.
That’s when it all sank in. So then I began to feel very angry to read such material that was brutal and degrading to African Americans.
Furthermore, I myself began to question,” as to why the Rochester City School District would supply us with a novel that would evoke such emotions?” I, also began to question,” what were the District motives and the intent behind us reading about history that doesn’t compliment the white race and their behaviors at all; what would come about of this?”
Would they even consider my thoughts and my opinions? So I’m very curious to see what the turn out will be.
The one passage I would like to focus on was written on page 20, where it quoted Mr. Auld’s opinions towards black and education, and I quote:
“Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters.
Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, if you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master-to do as he is told to do. Learning will spoil the best nigger in the world.
Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there will be no keeping him. It will forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.
As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” (Skipping down)
“I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty- to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom,”
My thoughts: This type of thinking is somewhat still prevalent in our society today.
Most white teachers that I have come into contact with, over the last several years of my life, has failed to instruct us even today. The teachers are not as vocal about us not learning how it has been described in this narrative; but their actions speaks volumes.
When I myself sit in crowded classrooms and no real concrete instruction is taking place. It makes that saying “history does repeat itself” all the more true.
For white teachers to be able to be in a position of power to dictate what I can, cannot and will learn, only desiring that I may get bored because of the inconsistency and the mis-management of the classroom and remain illiterate and ignorant; or better yet distracted because some children decide to misbehave because they don’t understand, and ashamed to ask for help.
The teacher recognizing all of these things and still not addressing the matter at hand, so much time has been wasted- then the bell rings and on to the next class, same drama different teacher, different class. When do we get off of this roller coaster?
When the white teachers began to pass out pamphlets and packets, they expect us the black students to read the directions, complete it, and hand it in for a grade. The reality of this is that most of my peers cannot read and or comprehend the material that has been provided.
So, I feel like not much has changed, just different people, different era, the same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man.
In closing, my suggestions to my peers, people of color, and my generation to try achieve what has been established by the African Americans and Abolitionists that paved the way for us to receive what’s rightfully yours. Blood, sweat, and tears have been shed for us to obtain any goals, which we may set for ourselves.
Never being afraid to excel and achieve, because our ancestors have been bound for so, so, so, so, so long. We are free to learn, and my advice to my peers, people of color, and my generation- start making these white teachers accountable for instructing you. They chose this profession, they brag about their credentials; they brag about their tenure, so if you have so much experience, then find a more productive way to teach the so-called “unteachable”.
They contain this document that states they have all this knowledge to teach, so show me what you know, teach me your ways. What merit is there, if you contain all this knowledge and not willing to share because of the color of my skin.
To all of our surprise, we all have the same warm, red blood running through our veins, regardless of what race I may be. If you don’t believe me, then poke me and poke a white man and you will see.
To my peers, people of color, and my generation, start asking questions, start doing the research, get involved. A grand price was paid in order for us to be where we are today; but in my mind we should be a lot further, so again I encourage the white teachers to instruct and I encourage my people to not just be a student, but become a learner.
Jada Connects Frederick Douglass Narrative to Todays Education System
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Jada Reads her Essay. Find out what happened to her after writing this essay that was supposed to be entered into a contest (which never was) Find out more about what happens when you stand up to fight for your education. Let’s hold the Rochester City School District accountable.
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