July 03, 2011
What We Talk When We Talk About Prejudgment
Tired from another day of work and little sleep, I woke at three A.M. to a symphony of sirens—there had been one more victim of crime in my neighborhood. Neighborhood watches had failed, even though they were arranged with the help of the local police department. Heading up the workshops on tolerance within the community, especially in the wake of increasing crime in the city, I had begun to see some improvement between the African-Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians that made up the local population—the school year began badly when one (African-American) boy apparently stole his (Mexican) friend’s girl (Caucasian) and began fighting one another, yelling racial slurs at each other, and threatening each other until it escalated to a level involving the other students, administration, and local community members. This balance was delicate and, as I would soon find out, that change was not to last. Since I was up and wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, I opened my e-mail only to find an urgent message from the local police department—where I’d been volunteering as a Crisis Support Team member for about four years. They needed me to assist in the relocation of a family after they suffered a home invasion—two surviving children needed to be placed in foster care after their whole family was butchered following a robbery in the middle of the day. Both boys had been hiding in the attic after they heard someone break down the door; the boys were found in a catatonic state. Of all ten members—grandparents, parents, and six siblings—only the two boys were left alive. No small consolation that they survived only because the intruders didn’t realize the boys were even missing. In the years I’d been volunteering as a CST, I’d never seen a situation as gruesome as what happened to those two boys. It was for people like Damien and Troy—the two boys who survived the home invasion—that I decided to teach for a living. I wanted to be able to work with children and reach them before they were lost to the world, even in the wake of recent racial violence—I was a teacher at the school where the whole problem began.
I needed to fall into my routine so that I could freshen up and be ready for work—middle school students were always packed with energy and no self-control. I would need all my reserves just to make it through the day, especially since social studies didn’t seem to hold their attention for very long. But today was Teacher Appreciation Day and students and administrators had planned activities—including staff lunch and prizes. I drove to school thinking about how to manage work while still worried about how I was going to arrange foster care for the two children who’d recently lost their entire family. After morning announcements, students read a poem they’d collaborated on—Glee Club and Journalism Club joined efforts in writing a poem that the Glee Club set to music and sang. It was a refreshing beginning for me. After announcements, I shuffled to class along with the students in the hallways. “Hey, Mr. Agamemnon! I need more time!” carped one of my students as he begged for an extension on his research paper. I always found this nickname quite humorous—I know I looked nothing like a ruler. My physical appearance was meager in many ways—I stood only 5’4” inches tall and weighed no more than 140 pounds—and was more diminutive than most of my middle school students. “You can have one more day to finish your paper, but no more I’d already given you too many chances”. Class resumed with no further delay and before long it was lunchtime. I joined my co-workers in the staff lounge, free of lunch duty and grading, so that I could enjoy Teacher Appreciation lunch. “I can’t believe that idiot killed his kids! What kind of man does that?” Phoebe Black, white from head to toe and naïve about most things in life, commented...