I left law in the summer of 1985 to become a high school English teacher.
When people would ask where I was going to teach, I told them, “Rossville High.”
More than once I received the reply, “They have a lot of blacks there.”
The way that comment was delivered was a kind of judgment – that a lot of blacks would not be a good thing for me.
I think I replied, “That doesn’t matter to me.” Or I hope I did. Because it truly didn’t matter. But I feel sure I didn’t really challenge the inherent racism in that comment. And I should have.
I do remember standing in the hallway the first week of school and looking at the kids coming and going – and wondering, “Where are ‘all of the blacks’??”
There were hardly any black kids at our school. I think it was around 10 percent.
But I guess to some people a school that was 90 percent white and 10 percent black had “a lot of blacks.” I went to a high school that was about 60 percent white, 40 percent black – and that didn’t seem to me like “a lot of blacks.”
At Rossville High, I enjoyed the black students in my classes, just as I enjoyed the white students. I enjoyed the black girls on our basketball team (I was the assistant coach), just as I enjoyed the white girls.
I didn’t think much about race after that first week of wondering where all of the black kids were.
But when I look back, I realize our faculty was almost completely all white. I remember one black teacher. When I took over as softball coach, I think both years all of my players were white. I don’t remember any black players until my next school.
It was easy for me not to think about race. White was the default. I was white. So white seemed “normal.”
I’m not sure what it was like for our few black kids. I don’t know if white was their default. We didn’t discuss race.
Or I don’t remember us discussing race.
I do remember we had a couple of black girls at the top of their graduating class. They were a pleasure to have in my Advanced Placement English class. One was the only student I ever had to ask to rewrite an essay so that she could learn how to write a better essay. Not for a replacement grade. Simply to learn to write a better essay. That was impressive.
It still is. She’s an M.D. now, or so I heard.
I don’t remember race being an issue during my first years of teaching and coaching. The students and athletes all seemed to get along. The few black kids didn’t seem to mind being outnumbered.
At least that’s what I remember.
But I never asked the black kids or the one black teacher how it felt. I think I did wonder what it was like always to be so outnumbered, but I never asked.
I should have.
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