Since my relocation to Nashville I have been ambivalent about my feelings towards this city-town. I try to find bright spots in what is a fairly dark place.
My first experience was in their public schools which I have deemed a 40 year old failed experiment in Social Darwinism. Then I began to read a book about this very school system, Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and its Limits, by Ansley Erickson and my worst fears and beliefs were confirmed. This is what I face every day. I have to have a job like this due to my own erratic scheduling needs and I somehow have to reconcile the self loathing along with the idea that I am somehow complicit in some convoluted elitist plot. I too have had to question my own values as my encounters with the faces of color that are in the primary positions I encounter on a daily basis make me wonder why they are so unbelievable arrogant coupled with amazing ignorance that not only affects those who belong to their own race but further isolating and validating many stereotyped images that seem to have raise their ugly heads of late in the media.
Case in point: I work for and largely with black women. They are the first faces I see when I walk into a school and they are largely the faces of the administration that I encounter when I need assistance. They in turn are rude, smug, utterly unkind and in turn I assume that it is because I am white which then places as adversaries versus contemporaries. I have seen and heard these same women and some men, scream at children informing them they are worthless, retarded and other epithets that would be deemed as racist if a white person shouted them to the same group. At times I have equated it with Southern Culture and my never ending belief that Southern Hospitality is an myth like Unicorns.
This last week after being in the school the day before, and in turn scheduled for three days; we thankfully had a Tornado warning on Thursday that closed the schools. It turned out to be a great day as I have come to realize that three days in a Nashville School is akin to the adage: "Fish like company stink after 3 days" and the weather, perfect too! In fact more than one day in these schools is something that places one on edge in ways that one cannot explain but it is not something to look forward to. The Teacher, whom I was subbing for is one I had done so before, so I was used to her disorganized mess, her busy work that is useless and the supposed magnet academics which means discipline not curriculum is the true definitive as a way of sorting the fat from the milk is what defines magnet in Nashville. It is not cream they are looking for at this point, just the ability to make butter into clarified butter. If it was a STEM magnet as claimed, the kids would have fast speed internet access, excellent resources and do more than creating bottle rockets in both science and art to show how they are thinking modern. They would also have trained STEM staff, clear tools and measurements but this is Nashville and that too does not exist.
So when I walked in early on Friday, I was already scolded by Security for not wearing a badge (I got there early to amend the crap lesson plans as we had missed a day) then when I finally went downstairs to get my rosters, the Secretary berated me for not getting the attendance rosters down to her immediately (as once those rosters go I am afraid it is our one lifeline to who these kids are) and not answering the phone on day one, I thought this will be a long day. I tried to explain that it when I have perfect attendance I don't worry about them (and I did) and my ignoring the phone was largely due to the fact that it was turned down so low I could not hear it. She has that way as the Teacher runs a classroom like a military academy (they all do frankly) where they are working in total silence so it does not need to be loud. That and that the phone is tucked at the corner of the desk and not easily accessible either by a student let alone heard by it (as she suggested putting a student in charge of the phone, sure not doing classwork and being my secretary is more important). But it seemed odd to her that when you are teaching and working the room it is difficult to hear regardless. I yes I had been getting said messages and when I called to the main office I also got no answer so I assumed if they really needed me they would track me down at lunch, during prep to ask why I wasn't answering the phone and if they needed a student try the school intercom as you could be in the library, the gym or another class. But that is not how they do it here. Nothing is ever done easily or with convenience.
Ironically however during my prep a Parent called about the homework and assignments for the week, and as I was sitting there I heard it ring, answered, spoke to her about the schedule for the week and what the students had for the week ahead which is what she needed to know, she thanked me and we hung up without incident. When I shared that with the Secretary, I was told that I was not to speak to any parent ever and that was not right as whoever transferred that call was wrong, wanted to know if that was done, who did it and again more lecturing on me speaking to an adult that was apparently not her while denying that she did not not answer her phone.
When you see it escalating into this there are two roads and I took the low one I am afraid. I said that if she truly felt I was incapable of managing a class, teaching, speaking to an adult and doing ostensibly my job then perhaps I should leave and she could find someone more amenable to her demands and needs. She responded "well" then smirked and shook her head. I will now call this the April Ryan which when Sean Spicer acknowledged her similar reaction it set into motion a series of rages and admonishments that his comment were perceived as racist. that would actually mean he thinks that gesture is in fact one associated with Black Women, which I seriously doubt he has had that much exposure to. Have you not seen these Press Briefings? He does that to anyone. So while I am quite familiar with that head shake and smirk it is not just a "black thing," I have also seen it across the color spectrum here. It is a mark of smugness and yes the Press can do this regardless of color or gender better than anyone as they too are often in isolated clubs that permeate a culture that is akin to ignorance. So when I see the smirk/shake it is the equivalent of "bless your heart" "yes ma'am" or the one I prfer "GFY" which I think but often don't say. But in this climate we are all so close to ignition that the trigger words or gestures take little to light the fire. The gestures I ignore it as again when you see it enough that is the least of the problems, it is more the words and manners that bother me. Almost always every inquiry or comment comes in a type of condescending and patronizing manner and that I do acknowledge and interpret it as a type of racism/classism. The hierarchy in NPS is that a Secretary is superior to a Teacher and one as a Substitute even more so.
That again is the true system of racism here - classism which I have heard from another Black Administrator who said, "Well you are from Seattle and you don't understand our children here." It was clear she meant I am white and that I don't "get" black people. Race much? Racism is a two sided coin.
And the races here equally disdainful of one another. The relationships I see between the children of color is truly as if I stepped onto a Fox News set. They demean each other with the most hateful of racist epithets, they evoke stereotypes and are often so vulgar and rude it is as if I am listening to a bunch of convicts in a prison gym. And then I remind myself where I am and the parallels here to the school yard to the prison yard is actually something that for the first time I can attest is a fact. Again, I am ashamed to be a part of it and the type of woman I am becoming in response to it.
So when I read the recent stories about the Tennessee State Legislature and the Judge recently arrested and charged in Federal Court, I thought my God this is like the stories I heard Huey Long Boss in Louisiana in the "good ole days" but the legacy of the boss system runs deep in this country and has a long history here as well. But this story of the Private Club and the Hate PAC confirmed again my worst beliefs and fears here in Nashville.
This is where I live. What does it mean to live among those who profess to be such circumspect Christians, so disdainful of others who they are elected to serve and to those who live here how are they to rise above their status or their role in society that they are born into?
I have a 3-4 year sell by date and I hope to somehow preserve my sanity, my dignity and my soul. I can't say who I will become but I know who I am now and this place is so full of hate that no music can cleanse it.