“Is it worse to be a ‘cheater’ or a ‘white supremacist’?” I ask my sophomore ELA Eighty. The voices go silent. The students are trying to figure out the response that their ‘white female’ English teacher might want to hear. This BIG question is one of the many we are exploring in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The silent student atmosphere is begging for me to deliver
In a world where social and cultural conditioning happens, both, cheating and white supremacy, are difficult ‘wrongs’ to discuss. My students are predominately non-white. Mainly, immigrant family descendants. They are those who are subjected daily to the present day U.S. Administration’s new immigration policies and viewpoints.
I walk the line by touching this topic today.
Or any day.
Being white (albeit the blonde is from a bottle), I can not possibly grasp their experiences with racism. Kindly, no one speaks this to me, but everyone in the classroom knows it.
To understand context more, here is The Great Gatsby back story: Tom Buchanan, a major character in the novel, is an elite “old money” white male living in the Roaring Twenties: a time when American millionaires increased by 400%, prohibition was rampant, and the Jazz Age pushed integration into mainstream society – a time when “anything seemed possible” according to F. Scott Fitzgerald. A time when progress bucked tradition. Tom’s “woman in New York”, yes, his mistress, continuously calls during Daisy’s (Tom’s wife) dinner party, creating a stir amongst the guests. To add some salt, Tom has been reading a book: The Rise of the Colored Empires. It’s by “this man named Goddard…it’s all scientific…The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — utterly submerged,” states Tom and he states it “violently”. It’s this supremacist attitude that creates quite a “disgust” in the inner thinking of the book’s narrator, Nick.
And quite a disgust in the English teacher who teaches the book (um, me).
And it’s this white supremacy attitude that I am questioning them on when I ask poignant question #1 : Which is “worse” according to Nick, in the 1920’s, white supremacy, or cheating on your spouse?
To ease the discomfort, my students and I stop, research the internet on the book “The Rise of the Colored Empires”, and discover that like stark white supremacy, it does exist.
Then, I strategically read to them a carefully researched excerpt from a 2013 article in The Atlantic:
“Just-released census estimates say that by approximately 2043, the white majority in the United States will indeed be no longer… For the first time in more than 100 years, white deaths in the U.S. over the past year exceeded white births. At the same time, earlier than predicted, the majority of births were to black, Hispanic, and Asian mothers. William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution told this morning’s New York Times, ‘These new census estimates are an early signal alerting us to the impending decline in the white population that will characterize most of the 21st century.‘”
“Students,” I say, “Here’s poignant question #2. Does this mean, according to the article, there will be more people of color in the U.S. in 2043 than people who look white, like me?”
My doe-eyed, beautifully brown-skinned-student-souls stare, again begging me for my interpretation. Perhaps, they don’t want to hurt my feelings about their amazing, powerful dominant genes, or maybe they do NOT fully grasp the concept of their potential, yet.
Before giving them my opinion, the one they SO desire and deserve,
(This is what we English teachers call a “pregnant pause”:
a place to build up suspense for the dramatic comeback.)
Then, I exclaim, “YIPPPPPPEEEEEEEE!” as my hands are up in the air in a ‘stadium-like-wave’ fashion, I finish with, “It’s about darn TIME we see countless shades of black!”
Some smile. ALL stay quiet.
Then, I lay truth out, in more understandable terms:
“No matter what the present-day administration says or does, my beautiful students, white-decline can NOT be stopped. I, being white, have recessive genes. You, being shades of black, have dominant genes. From biology class last year, we got educated in how the Punnett Square works: dominant genes overtake recessive genes. Darker shades overcome lighter shades. If the stats are correct, in the U.S by 2043, darker will be predominant over lighter.
Although I will be in my seventies, I will gladly live to see it.”
According to Eckhart Tolle, in speaking the above,
I’m in The Power of Now (The book I’ve been ‘into’ lately).
In this ‘present’ moment, I let years of “resistance go” by saying
The words I have been desiring to publically say for years.
Here’s my English Teacher Poetic Rendition:
There is intensity in Shades of Black.
Heaven knows best: deepening from dusk, then twilight, to darkest of night.
Beauty in Pigmentation.
Stars adore Depth.
A Unity Bath.
My fellow humans, and readers, we are uncanny beings.
You know, the magic sparks that make color (and often gender) disappear:
Ah! Human Beings falling in love!
In that state, colors truly fade.
Inevitably prejudices do too.
Ah! 2043: Countless Shades of Black.
The Voting Poles.
I see it now.
Biases “fade” out.
Along with fences, deportation, and fear.
The Shades of Black Movement.
It is exactly how Eckhart Tolle informs us in The Power of Now. Tolle suggests when opposition presents itself, here’s how we can handle it:
“Feel the mental-emotional energy behind your need to be right and make the other person wrong. That is the energy of the egoic mind… acknowledge it by feeling it as fully as possible. Then one day, in the middle of an argument, you will suddenly realize you have a choice, and you may decide to drop your own reaction… and [let go] of the entire emotional energy field inside you that was fighting for power.”
So, in English teacher fashion, I write a note to you Tom Buchanan, and all who “fight for power”. I write it in unity for 2043, The Shades of Black Movement:
Dear Mr. “Supremacy”:
Best to release your attachment to your egoic energy. Because “Tick tock” goes the clock… though you continue to fight for supremacy now, time is running out. With an artist’s pen — your “need to be right” will be beautifully blotted out. Stars adore the night sky, and your “opposition” will be overcome.
And this white female teacher is cheering and educating it on.
Sincerely, Teacher to The 2018 ELA Eighty
A peaceful protest march in my future?
An empowering voice in my daily lesson plans?
So, I will ask poignant question #1 when I teach The Great Gatsby again next year, and the next, and the next, and the next — till the day I need not ask any longer.
Because one day, my “Yipppppeeee” and stadium-like-wave will no longer be comprehended.
The question will no longer be “poignant”.
Because The Answer will have been delivered.
Because my students will have the answer.
Because They will be The Answer.
Because they ARE The Answer.
As They Have Always Been “The Answer”.
And That Deserved to Be Said.
Blessings and Peace,
A “2043 Shades of Black Movement” Member