by Christopher Jackson

Until recently I taught at a predominantly
black high school in a southeastern

The mainstream press gives a hint of
what conditions are like in black schools,
but only a hint. Expressions that journalists
use like “chaotic” or “poor learning
environment” or “lack of discipline” do
not capture what really happens. There
is nothing like the day-to-day experience
of teaching black children and that is
what I will try to convey.

One of the most immediately striking
things about my students was that they
were loud. They had little conception of
ordinary decorum. It was not unusual
for five students to be screaming at
me at once.

It did no good to try to quiet them and
white women were particularly inept at
trying. I sat in on one woman’s class as
she begged the children to pipe down.
They just yelled louder so their voices
would carry over hers.

So many of them seemed to have no conception of waiting for
an appropriate time to say something.
They would get ideas in their heads and
simply had to shout them out. I might be
leading a discussion on government and
suddenly be interrupted: “We gotta get
more Democrats! Clinton, she good!”
The student may seem content with that
outburst but two minutes later, he would
suddenly start yelling again: “Clinton

Anyone who is around young blacks
will probably get a constant diet of rap music.
Blacks often make up their own jingles,
and it was not uncommon for 15
boys to swagger into a classroom,
bouncing their shoulders and jiving back.

They were yelling back and forth, rapping 15 different sets of
words in the same harsh, rasping dialect.
The words were almost invariably
a childish form of boasting: “Who got
dem shine rim, who got dem shine shoe,
who got dem shine grill (gold and silver
dental caps)?” The amateur rapper usually
ends with a claim—in the crudest
terms imaginable—that all womankind
is sexually devoted to him. For whatever
reason, many of my students would often groan
instead of saying a particular word, as in,
“She suck dat aaahhhh (think of a long
grinding groan), she f**k dat aaaahhhh,
she lick dat aaaahhh.”

So many black girls dance in the hall, in the classroom,
on the chairs, next to the chairs, under
the chairs, everywhere. Once I took a
call on my cell phone and had to step
outside of class. I was away about two
minutes but when I got back,
girls had lined up at the front of the
classroom and were convulsing to the
delight of the boys.

Blacks, on average, are the most directly critical
people I have ever met: “Dat shirt stupid.
Yo’ kid a bastard. Yo’ lips big.” Unlike
whites, who tread gingerly around the
subject of race, they can be brutally to
the point. Once I needed to send a student
to the office to deliver a message. I
asked for volunteers, and suddenly you
would think my classroom was a bastion
of civic engagement. Thirty dark hands
shot into the air. My students loved to
leave the classroom and slack off, even
if just for a few minutes, away from the
eye of white authority. I picked a light-skinned
boy to deliver the message. One
very black student was indignant: “You
pick da half-breed.” And immediately
other blacks take up the cry, and half
a dozen mouths are screaming, “He

For decades, the country has been
lamenting the poor academic performance
of blacks and there is much to
lament. There is no question, however,
that many blacks come to school with a
serious handicap that is not their fault.
At home they have learned a dialect that
is almost a different language. Blacks
not only mispronounce words; their
grammar is often wrong. When a black
wants to ask, “Where is the bathroom?”
he may actually say “Whar da badroom
be?” Grammatically, this is the equivalent
of “Where the bathroom is?” And
this is the way they speak in high school.
Students write the way they speak, so
this is the language that shows up in
written assignments.

It is true that some whites face a
similar handicap. They speak with
what I would call a “country” accent
that is hard to reproduce but results in
sentences such as “I’m gonna gemme
a Coke.” Some of these country whites
had to learn correct pronunciation and
usage. The difference is that most whites
overcome this handicap and learn to
speak correctly; many blacks do not.

Most of the blacks I taught simply
had no interest in academic subjects. I
taught history, and students would often
say they didn’t want to do an assignment
or they didn’t like history because it was
all about white people. Of course, this
was “diversity” history, in which every
cowboy’s black cook got a special page
on how he contributed to winning the
West, but black children still found it
inadequate. So I would throw up my
hands and assign them a project on a
real, historical black person. My favorite
was Marcus Garvey. They had never
heard of him, and I would tell them to
research him, but most of them never did. They
didn’t care and they didn’t want to do
any work.

Anyone who teaches blacks soon
learns that they have a completely different
view of government from whites.
Once I decided to fill 25 minutes by
having students write about one thing
the government should do to improve
America. I gave this question to three
classes totaling about 100 students,
approximately 80 of whom were black.
My white students came back with
generally “conservative” ideas. “We
need to cut off people who don’t work,”
was the most common suggestion.
Nearly every black gave a variation on
the theme of “We need more government

My students had only the vaguest
notion of who pays for government
services. For them, it was like a magical
piggy bank that never goes empty. One
black girl was exhorting the class on
the need for more social services and I
kept trying to explain that people, real
live people, are taxed for the money to
pay for those services. “Yeah, it come
from whites,” she finally said. “They
stingy anyway.”

“Many black people make over
$50,000 dollars a year and you would
also be taking away from your own
people,” I said.

She had an answer to that: “Dey
half breed.” The class agreed. I let the
subject drop.

Many black girls are perfectly happy
to be welfare queens. On career day, one
girl explained to the class that she was
going to have lots of children and get fat
checks from the government. No one in
the class seemed to have any objection
to this career choice.

Surprising attitudes can come out in
class discussion. We were talking about
the crimes committed in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina, and I brought up the
rape of a young girl in the bathroom of
the Superdome. A majority of my students
believed this was a horrible crime
but a few took it lightly. One black boy
spoke up without raising his hand: “Dat
no big deal. They thought they is gonna
die so they figured they have some fun.
Dey jus’ wanna have a fun time; you
know what I’m sayin’?” A few black
heads nodded in agreement.

My department head once asked all
the teachers to get a response from all
students to the following question: “Do
you think it is okay to break the law if it
will benefit you greatly?” By then, I had
been teaching for a while and was not
surprised by answers that left a young,
liberal, white woman colleague aghast.
“Yeah” was the favorite answer. As one
student explained, “Get dat green.”

How the world looks to blacks
One point on which all blacks agree
is that everything is “racis’.” This is
one message of liberalism they have
absorbed completely. Did you do your
homework? “Na, homework racis’.”
Why did you get an F on the test? “Test

I was trying to teach a unit on British
philosophers and the first thing the students
noticed about Bentham, Hobbes,
and Locke was “Dey all white! Where da
black philosophers’?” I tried to explain
there were no blacks in eighteenth century
Britain. You can probably guess
what they said to that: “Dat racis’!”
One student accused me of deliberately
failing him on a test because I
didn’t like black people.

“Do you think I really hate black
“Have I done anything to make you
feel this way? How do you know?”
“You just do.”
“Why do you say that?”

He just smirked, looked out the window,
and sucked air through his teeth.
Perhaps this was a regional thing, but
the blacks often sucked air through their
teeth as a wordless expression of disdain
or hostility.

My students were sometimes unable
to see the world except through the lens
of their own blackness. I had a class
that was host to a German exchange
student. One day he put on a Power Point
presentation with famous German landmarks
as well as his school and family.

From time to time during the presentation,
blacks would scream, “Where da
black folk?!” The exasperated German
tried several times to explain that there
were no black people where he lived in
Germany. The students did not believe
him. I told them Germany is in Europe,
where white people are from, and Africa
is where black people are from. They
insisted that the German student was
racist and deliberately refused to associate
with blacks.

Blacks are keenly interested in
their own racial characteristics. I have
learned, for example, that some blacks
have “good hair.” Good hair is black
parlance for black-white hybrid hair.
Apparently, it is less kinky, easier to
style, and considered more attractive.
Blacks are also proud of light skin.
Imagine two black students shouting
insults across the room. One is dark
but slim; the other light and obese. The
dark one begins the exchange: “You
fat, Ridario!” Ridario smiles, doesn’t deign to look
at his detractor, shakes his head like a
wobbling top, and says, “You wish you
light skinned.”

They could go on like this, repeating
the same insults over and over.

My black students had nothing but
contempt for Hispanic immigrants. They
would vent their feelings so crudely
that our department strongly advised us
never to talk about immigration in class
in case the principal or some outsider
might overhear.

Whites were “racis’,” of course, but
they thought of us at least as Americans.
Not the Mexicans. Blacks have a certain,
not necessarily hostile understanding of
white people. They know how whites
act, and it is clear they believe whites
are smart and are good at organizing
things. At the same time, they probably
suspect whites are just putting on an
act when they talk about equality, as if
it is all a sham that makes it easier for
whites to control blacks. Blacks want a
bigger piece of the American pie. I’m
convinced that if it were up to them
they would give whites a considerably
smaller piece than whites get now, but
they would give us something. They
wouldn’t give Mexicans anything.

What about black boys and white
girls? No one is supposed to
notice this or talk about it but
it is glaringly obvious: Black
boys are obsessed with white
girls. I’ve witnessed the following
drama countless times. A black
boy saunters up to a white
girl. The cocky black dances
around her, not really in a menacing
way. It’s more a shuffle
than a threat. As he bobs and
shuffles he asks, “When you
gonna go wit’ me?”

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