May 2, 2012
Black Teen Run Off the Liberal PlantationBy Matthew May
Do you know the name Jada Williams?
You probably know the name Sandra Fluke. She received a phone call from the incumbent president after the mean old white man on the radio called her a name. You probably know the name Trayvon Martin. The incumbent president answered a planted question from a White House reporter to indicate that Trayvon, slain by an individual representing the heretofore unknown demographic of white Hispanic, looked like he could be the president's son.
Jada Williams is a 13-year-old student from Rochester, New York. Earlier this school year, she was given a copy of the book The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, written by the great patriot Frederick Douglass. Her assignment was to read the book and write an essay about her impressions. Her essay was to be entered in a contest. Jada Williams happens to be black. Many of her teachers are white.
Reading Douglass can -- and should -- incite rage and astonishment at the depths to which barbaric slaveowners and their deputies sank in treating their fellow men. The violence perpetrated upon Douglass and other slaves by the protected class of overseers is relayed in stark detail -- to wit, an anecdote about an overseer named Mr. Gore:
Ms. Williams struggled with the initial part of the assignment. She found it difficult to encounter some of the vocabulary used by Douglass. Exasperated at being unprepared to confront the text, she sought definition to that which she did not comprehend. Once she became satisfied that she grasped Douglass's use of the language, she understood what Douglass was describing. She was struck by comparisons between her life and Douglass's characterizations of the plantation overseers and masters and mistresses who denied him knowledge for fear of his becoming aware of his humanity.
In her essay, Ms. Williams drew a parallel between what she saw as a group of self-satisfied "white teachers" overseeing dysfunctional students (characterized by Ms. Williams as "so-called 'unteachable'" students) who were not being properly taught, illiterate and perpetually ignorant. This she considers a form of slavery. Ms. Williams quoted an arresting passage from Douglass's description of one of his masters, a Mr. Auld, happening upon his wife instructing Douglass in basic reading:
One wonders if the copy of Douglass's book read by Ms. Williams included, as do some editions, a letter written to Douglass by Massachusetts abolitionist Wendell Phillips. Phillips surmised that Douglass's experiences as a slave amounted to "[t]he cruel and blighting death that gather over his soul." An oft-quoted phrase about writers or by writers is that "writers write what they know." So Ms. Williams wrote.
Perhaps Ms. Williams's use of the phrase "white teachers" was provocative. Yet this is her reality. Her plea was not that her teachers should be fired or punished in any way. Her plea was conciliatory and did not limit blame for what she sees as an intolerable situation to them alone. She asked that her teachers -- and her fellow students -- work in concert to spread knowledge and prepare their students and themselves in such a way so as to be able to engage a mind like Frederick Douglass without frustration:
The essay that Ms. Williams wrote was never entered in the essay contest. Instead, she was harassed out of her school by the very people whose assistance she requested.
The teacher who gave Ms. Williams the original assignment was so enraged at her essay that copies were distributed to fellow teachers and the principal. Soon after, Ms. Williams' parents began receiving several phone calls from faculty claiming that their daughter was "angry." Suddenly Ms. Williams, a model student prior to the essay, began receiving low grades in her classes. In several meetings, these same teachers refused to show Ms. Williams' parents the papers and tests that garnered lower grades. During at least one such meeting, according to Mrs. Williams, a teacher union representative was present.
Her parents decided to enroll her another school in the district. They were told that that school was full and to try another school. The recommended school was full of actual unmanageable children, one of whom asked Ms. Williams if she were there because she fought too much in her old school.
It is impossible to believe that some member of the White House staff did not hear of this story. Why did the incumbent president decline to comment? Could he not identify with Ms. Williams? Perhaps not, since the education he received from high school forward cost somebody hundreds of thousands of dollars. Could it be that he could not personalize it enough? Perhaps not, since his daughters attend the best schools money can buy.
Or perhaps the incumbent president did not wish to gamble with the endorsement of the overlords of the overseers in Ms. Williams's school, the National Education Association (NEA). Certainly the NEA and other teacher unions have had their share of disagreements with the incumbent president. Yet their ranks are foursquare behind his re-election ideologically and financially.
Is it really the case that this president, a purported author of African descent, would have nothing to say about a young black girl who was intimidated and bullied out of a school by a group of white overseers who were upset at her impertinent behavior? Are the NEA and manifold union backers of the incumbent president a protected class who cannot suffer any consequences for ejecting a student who had become "unmanageable"?
Happily, not everyone has ignored Ms. Williams. She was awarded the first "Spirit of Freedom" award by the Frederick Douglass Foundation* of New York on February 18, 2012. Sadly, not enough people know and celebrate her courage and thoughtfulness. No members of Congress, no former governors, and no professional basketball teams have taken the time, nor has the president, to publicly applaud Ms. Williams. Nobody dons a hoodie in support of a young black girl tossed aside like trash for daring to learn, daring to speak up, and being summarily punished for it.
Do you know the name Jada Williams? She is a bright young lady with a searching literary mind that should be nurtured by her teachers, celebrated as an engaged and engaging pupil. Instead, she was hounded out of her school as the members of the early 21st century's protected class proved her thesis.
*Earlier misidentified as The Frederick Douglass Society. We regret the error.
Matthew May is the author of Restoration and welcomes comments at email@example.com.