Here in the Northeast it’s not Virginia — or is it?

Virginia was the home of the capital of the Confederacy, so the recent events in Virginia might not have surprised you, but could they happen here in the Northeast? What follows is a lightly edited version of a true account (recently written by a friend of mine) of an incident in the late ’70s at Jefferson High School, a public high school in a wealthy suburban town in Westchester County, New York:

I walked into the computer center and found Charles and Mike up in the rafters, with Mike wearing a dunce-cap-shaped paper hat and Charles backed into a corner and, I’m pretty sure, an amateur noose hanging from a beam.

Let me make it clear that they were play-acting. And also, you have to know that Charles was more or less the only black teenager in town. (We had other black students bused in from the big city.)

The thing is, at the time, the details of what I was seeing went totally over my clueless head. Charles and Mike looked at me as if they were sure I was going to give them hell about it, but I thought they were looking that way because they shouldn’t have been climbing on the ceiling, which didn’t bother me because they were in the corner with the coat hooks, not over anything expensive. It wasn’t until years later, looking at the picture I took of them, that I suddenly got it, much too late to ask them what they thought they were doing.

Charles was, you know, one of the gang, not a marginalized outsider, at least in our computer lab. I have no idea what his life was like out in the world (which includes the rest of the school). And in every way, he was more like any other kid in town than he was like our other black kids from the big city, and I think he felt guilty about that sometimes. So, I don’t know, maybe it helped him to put himself in the camp of the oppressed that day. And, to make it clear, Mike wasn’t a racist, and the two of them were friends.

(As I stated above, I am not the author, but I have altered all names of people, places, and schools in this story. Otherwise it is verbatim.)


Categories: Life, Teaching & Learning