Everydy, I am reminded that, by far, white people are in complete denial of racism. When they do acknowledge it, they make it about their feelings. I am so tired…
The following is true — all of it. And it’s not even scratching the surface.
I still remember that day very clearly. I was in the second grade at a time when classes were tracked in NYC. So, if you were in class 2-1 that meant you were the cream of the crop. On the flip side, if you were in class 2-6, say, then everybody took you as a dummy. Though I lived in the Lower East Side with a majority being Puerto Rican, class 2-1was full of white (mostly Jewish) kids.
We fought all the time. The Jewish kids were some bigoted muthafuckas…
I was academically gifted and my father taught to me how to read before I went to kindergarten. My father always had a library in our home and we would read together. Reading in our home was expected. It was part of the culture.
So, in the second grade, lorded over by a nasty piece of work, Mrs. Finerman (I’ll never forget her name), though my reading score was high, she sent me to something I can only call a special needs class whenever reading time came. We would do jack shit during this time. Some white lady would give me some crayons and shit and tell me to color.
But I was too smart and whenever Mrs. Finerman would call on me to read, I read better than her precious white kids. I was too young to understand, but I felt in my body that something was wrong. I couldn’t name it — I was in the fuckin’ second grade! — but I knew I was being singled out and I knew Mr. Finerman took some pleasure whenever I didn’t know the answer to a question or if I slipped somehow.
Eventually, I began to become passive. I began to recede in the hopes of escaping her notice. I didn’t like the way I felt in her class, and I didn’t feel safe, or valued and, as a result, my grades began to suffer. Now, fuckin’ up in school was a major no-no in our home, so I was getting it on one side from Mrs. Finerman and on the other side from my strict parents.
I didn’t know what to do because Mrs. Finerman was a teacher and my parents demanded that I respect my teachers. Yet, while I didn’t have the psychological awareness to name what Mrs. Finerman was doing, I felt it was wrong.
One day, I got tired of all the bullshit and I was determined to answer a question and I raised my hand even though Mrs. Finerman always ignored me. So, I blurted out the answer even though she didn’t call on me and she became infuriated. She turned red in the face and spittle coming out her mouth, she yelled out, “YOU SPIC! WHO TOLD YOU TO ANSWER THE QUESTION?! GO TO THE CORNER!”
A hush settled over the class for a moment before the class erupted in laughter. I didn’t even know what “spic” meant. I mean, I had heard the merchants on Orchard St. use the term, and I knew it wasn’t a nice term, but I had no clue. What I knew was that I felt utterly humiliated. My ears burned with shame, and tears came from my eyes unbidden. My stomach clenched and I felt sick. Some of my classmates took up the refrain, “Spic! Spic! Spic!” until Mrs. Finerman hushed the class and then she took me roughly by the hand and sat me in the corner. I can still see her smirk as she walked away, saying, “You’re going to have to learn your place, boy.”
I remember punching Butch in the nose (and breaking it) after school when he came to tease me once the bell rang. He ran screaming to his house and his mother, the loudest bitch on our block, came to complain to my father.
Think about it: an academically gifted young boy, not even seven year’s old, falling from grace as a result of emotional and psychological abuse from an authority figure. My life was taking a bad turn and I was only seven years old.
My father, who was very loving but strict when it came to education, asked me what was wrong. Why was I failing at school and becoming violent and just plain fucking up? I didn’t know what to say. I thought, what if I told him about Mrs. Finerman and that got me in worse trouble? My father saw the fear in my eyes and very gently asked me, “It’s OK, tell me what’s going on.”
And I told him — everything. I was so scared! I thought for sure I would be punished forever. My father simply held me to his chest and, soothing me, he kept saying, “It will be OK.” After a bit, he smiled and asked me if I wanted to go to the store with him to get some ice cream. Then he told me the one thing I’ll never forget, “There’s nothing wrong with you, my son. I will protect you and we will fix this and everything will be fine, OK?”
And it was. Unbeknownst to me, my father paid a visit to the school and from that time, Mrs. Finerman, who was made to apologize to me in front of the class, couldn’t have been nicer to me for the next two months. I couldn’t stand her and I knew she was a fake.
So, I guess white privilege is never having to worry that what happened to me would ever happen to your child or someone you love. And, believe it or not, this happens everyday in almost every school across the land. In one way or another, it happens.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…