White people being hyper-sensitive

The video shows 13-year-old Jada Williams, an eighth-grade student in Rochester city schools, reading from a paper she wrote as a school assignment on the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

One of the most powerful passages in Douglass’s Narrative is his description of how, as an American slave, he was forbidden to learn how to read, and how he learned anyhow by paying white boys on the sly to teach him his ABCs.  Jada drew a parallel between Douglass and the plight of black students today.  Two key paragraphs:

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. … …

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.

The Democrat and Chronicle reported that soon after Jada turned in the assignment, she started getting into trouble in class and getting poor marks.  Jada’s mother told the D&C that the English teacher confronted her about the content of the essay, and told the girl she was offended.  When Jada’s mother came to school to talk to teachers about Jada allegedly acting out in class, school staff members brought copies of the essay.

The whole thing has blossomed into a city-wide controversy, with Jada’s parents backed by the Frederick Douglass Foundation, Rochester Parents United and Cynthia Elliott, a member of the Rochester school board, and many white people among the general public taking offense at Jada’s comments.

My two-cents worth:

  • Grown-ups should show more maturity than a 13-year-old girl.  Teachers ought to be able to take in stride a comment made in a school essay.  If they think she has the wrong idea, they ought to be able to sit down and talk with her.  Goodness knows, I had a lot of half-baked ideas when I was a teenager.  I was fortunate to have wise and tolerant teachers who were able take this in stride and help me improve my thinking.
  • In a school district in which 75 percent of students cannot read at a level appropriate for their age, teachers ought to appreciate a student who wants to learn and whose complaint is that she is not being taught well enough.  Maybe they could benefit by sitting down with her and talking about how she thinks her instruction could be improved.  It could be not only a teaching moment but a learning moment.
  • We white people are not as monolithic a group as we probably seem to many African-Americans.  I have white friends who work for the Rochester school system who are dedicated to achieving a good education for all students, and other white friends who are volunteer tutors in city schools.
  • Even so, racial discrimination against black people still exists and is well-documented.  I am not talking about statistical disparities between whites and blacks, but reports by testers that show, for example, a white person with a criminal record has a better chance of getting a job than an otherwise-equivalent black person with a clean record.

For some of us white people, it seems the worst possible thing that could happen is for a black person to accuse one of us of racism.  As an example, I remember George W. Bush saying that the worst thing that happened to him during his Presidency was to be accused of racism for neglecting the Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans.  Really!  That was the very worst thing!

At the same time a lot of us complain of “political correctness” and how over-sensitive black people are.

I say:  Calm down.  Jada Williams is a 13-year-old girl writing a school essay.  If her teachers thought she had the wrong idea about things, they should have acted like teachers, and sat down and talked with her as a mature adult speaks with a young men.

Below is the complete text of Jada Williams’ essay

Jada Williams

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 (a master mentioned in the narrative) opinions towards black and education, and I quote:

Frederick Douglass

“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,” (Frederick Douglass concluded.)

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.

Hat tip to Bob Lonsberry for the text.  He has performed a good public service by making this available.  I recommend clicking on the link and checking out the comment thread.  The prejudice that black Americans face is illustrated by the number of commenters who think it is impossible that a teenage black girl could have written an essay like this by herself.

Click on Student: Frederick Douglass essay led to ostracism for the Democrat and Chronicle report.

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