More than a few eyebrows rose when the relatively new black superintendent’s contract was bought out to the tune of a couple-a-hundred g’s. Aside from the irritation over gross mismanagement of already dwindling education dollars, some also felt it reflected negatively on the county school system’s prestige when the black interloper from out of state was swiftly replaced by a white insider, a local good ole boy without a PH.D. In fact, the Board had suspiciously waived the PHD as well as the nation-wide job search requirements as they steamrolled their boy into high office. But as a new teacher to the system, I vowed to keep my nose clean of rage and stress-inducing internal politics for as long as possible. No, I would not have been tempted to research any of the tedious past history of internecine wars …had the superintendent’s wife not been a teacher right down the hall, had she not had a voice like a fishwife, and had she not given frequent voice to racist shit– most of it directed toward black kids bussed into this white, middle-class, suburban school under some obscure clause in No Child Left Behind.
Most teachers on the hall at least had the good graces to huddle confidentially when whispering their convictions that this new demographic were proof positive that blacks were subhuman. Of course, as a new employee, I experienced the usual significant looks and low-level racist comments that vetted my racial sensitivities before entrusting me with access to the group. I was sadly reminded of my first job, thirty years ago, as floater teller for an Alabama Savings and Loan. Every day I would be called to a different branch office. Every day I was subjected to a racist comment or joke that would determine whether I’d be included or excluded. I was surprised to find myself again in the hot seat. It had been a long time since I’d been vetted in this way. I did what every spineless employee with a mortgage and car payment would do: I pretended not to hear.
But that was well-nigh impossible given the screeching volume of the superintendent’s wife. The stridency with which she’d address some fleeing black kid was deafening: “Go ahead and run! You’ll be running from the police in about ten years.” Gasp! Did she not understand there had been a Civil Rights Movement? Did she assume everyone had her back here? Did she have a clue how damaging this could be to a child? Did she not realize that this made us all imagine ugly, racist dinner table conversations and pillow talk with her superintendent husband?
It didn’t take much research through the archives of local newspapers to unearth the roots of her seemingly reckless empowerment: an entire county and state that had watched in virtual silence the recent bloody coup de superintendent’s office. Unfortunately, it was an empowerment that would be played out in other significant ways besides mere abusive verbal harangues of powerless children. Within a year of my arrival, the principal and vice principal were replaced by–you guessed it– the superintendent’s boys. Both the new principal and his local educator brother had successfully weathered charges of racism levied at them by the NAACP and by individual black kids in the school system. Both have risen in the system like some perverse version of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People…in the South.
Just as suddenly as the disappearance of my principal and African-American vice-principal, funding dried up for bussing kids from failing inner-city schools to the burbs. Not that anyone had ever made it all that easy for them. They’d had to get up an hour earlier than their peers, wait for the cheese wagon on some cold, dark, urban curb, and remain after school for at least an hour as they awaited the only available bus to drop off its suburban load before bothering to pick them up. But No Child Left Behind had said they could come, and so they would. ..until told otherwise.
As the school day ends, I watch the sea white children running toward their bus in the rain, thankful that my bills will be paid on time another month, another year… another eternity in this fucking hellhole.