This post was written by my wife on Facebook and I wanted to share it with others.
I haven’t mentioned this before, but I taught high school for a year at Trayvon Martin’s school (Homestead, FL):
- It was one of the top-5 worst urban public schools in the country.
- It had something like a 60% dropout rate.
- It was a school built for 1700 students but into which 3300 students were packed.
- It was rated a D/F school under Florida’s grading system of the time.
- The absenteeism rate was unreal. I wouldn’t even be told as a teacher if one of my students was suspended for 10 days for carrying a butcher knife in his backpack—I would have to find out by inquiring amongst his/her classmates.
- As teachers, we were required to keep our classroom doors locked at all times in order to protect our students from gang members or other unsafe situations that might be roaming the halls at any given moment.
- Gang warfare between Hispanic and/or Cuban students vs. black students was constant—up to 5 gang fights per day. The temperature at the school was kept very, very low (I had to wear a fleece every day) in order to keep the fights down.
- The school’s ethnic make-up was approximately 60% Hispanic or Cuban and perhaps around 40% black (my memory might play me false on exact statistics here). I believe I taught something like 3 white students out of the around 150 students I taught that year in class.
- School administrators/teachers were black, white, and Hispanic.
How is this relevant?
A couple things: Trayvon Martin was horribly failed as a student and as a human being at every possible level of the educational system (from what I can see). Case in point: I had an African-American male student who loved to study, loved to write poetry, and loved to play piano for his Seventh-Day Adventist church services. What do you suppose he spent his time doing at school? Literally hiding out in the classrooms of teachers during lunch breaks so he wouldn’t get beaten up during the school day during recess/breaks/lunch. Why? Because he was black and he wasn’t into the gang/ghetto culture that black males had to be a part of at that school in order to survive. And because he wasn’t part of that world, he needed to physically hide out in order to survive. That other student I mentioned who was bringing a butcher knife to school? He was black and LGBT and was horribly picked on constantly. He had brought a knife to defend himself from the constant physical danger, and he was caught with it in his backpack instead.
In an environment like that, who can possibly stand a chance?
I say all of this to say that the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman case has bothered me at a lot of levels, but I am particularly troubled by what the case is NOT: a white man using racism against a black teenager. I don’t see that the Zimmerman trial is specifically about white versus black racism. Why? George Zimmerman is ethnically Hispanic and was raised ethnically Hispanic. He is not a white man. (There is a whole other set of issues between Hispanics and blacks in Florida, as I briefly touched on above.)
This trial has been made to stand-in or represent the racism issue for whites and blacks in this country (white guilt, white fear of black males, etc.). But it’s difficult to legally, fairly do that when Zimmerman isn’t ethnically white. And I don’t know what other people’s cultural/ethnic exposure is, but Zimmerman doesn’t look “white,” either: he looks Hispanic, which is what he is. And Hispanics and blacks in Florida have a whole other racial relationship in Florida: a very different one than whites and blacks do.
I notice that in so much of the media (mis)making this trial into a tale of exclusively white privilege/white abuse/white power, we got to conveniently skip many of the much-messier elements that made up Trayvon Martin’s short life: a horrifically abusive, unsafe, substandard public-schooling system that any rational American human being should view as a form of child abuse. This woefully inadequate system (as I described above) literally allowed for the continuing shaping and funneling of disadvantaged kids (via group coercion and violence) into gangbangers who would drop out of the system long before graduation.
Please let me hasten to say that there were some good teachers at that school: teachers who refused to show physical fear and who demanded standards out of their students and who did everything they possibly could to give the kids the best chances they knew how in that unutterably bleak situation (I guess I also didn’t mention that the year I taught there, somewhere around 30 teachers quit/moved elsewhere).
I am aware that there is a lot of verified information regarding the choices Trayvon Martin had been making in the several years prior to his death, and they weren’t healthy choices for his future. I acknowledge that.
But I also ask you, what chance did he ever have in the first place? Let us say that he was on his way to burgle a house that night. Do you know how much “cred” that would have given him in the school he once attended? And how much gang “cred” one needed in order to survive? Do you know how much that information (once shared in school) could have made him “king of the pile” and kept him from being at the bottom of a bloody heap of beaten-up kids? And yes, we know he was a drug dealer. Once again, do you know what an excellent survival tool that was in the school where he once attended?
I am deeply saddened and disappointed in our “trial by media” that was put on by the so-called journalists who populate the American airwaves.
By simplifying this case into white-on-black racism (inaccurate at best), we are able to avoid dealing with many of the actual issues that scream at us from this situation: what kind of people are we as Americans that we allow children like Trayvon Martin to grow up in systems like the one I saw in Homestead? Systems that literally helped allow and mold the students into criminals who could fend for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world of violence, coercion, control, drugs, and ultimately death? All before they even turned 16, in many cases?
There are no easy answers. And I am disgusted and sickened by those in the media who choose to take the easy way out by claiming this case is exclusively about white privilege and how it once again trumps all.
As tragic as this story is, we are *all* guilty here. As long as we Americans tolerate this horrific abuse known as the urban public-schooling system, we have no moral right to lecture ANY OTHER NATION on any of their human-rights abuses. Period. If we allow any of our nation’s children—of any color, ethnicity, or first language—to be mandated to attend such hellholes, we are a ridiculous joke ourselves and have no moral right to address “children’s rights” in any other nations or parts of the globe.
May God help us all…