More Awkward Memories in Difficult Times

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Not enough people read my blog for me to write what I do for any reason other than I just want to.

Like you, I’m just hanging out on this planet drifting through space–Carl Sagan’s famous blue dot. I hope my fraction of a fraction of a split second is time well spent.

In my last post, I wrote about the first time I thought about race. After that, I didn’t think much about it. Sure, I read history lessons in which race mattered, but I had the privilege of not thinking about it. My parents, divorced and generally not speaking to one another, taught me to live and let live and be polite to everyone. Everyone.

I remember a chemistry teacher when I was in 11th grade. I was 16, and I was terrible in science classes. That’s another story, but I struggled. This teacher seemed cool. He was in his 30s. I wasn’t boring and old like all the other science teachers I’d known.

Now that I’m a grownup, I realize this teacher was, perhaps, not the best. He told me I could come to class on teacher work days for extra help, which I thought was incredibly helpful and I needed the help, so I went. Sitting in the classroom, just him and me, I really tried to understand the chemistry homework.

He came over to me and gave me a bracelet. He insisted it was no big deal. He’d found it, he said, and thought I might like it and that I might not want to mention it to because of course he couldn’t give bracelets to everyone.
Part of me felt it was weird for him to give me anything, but I was also flattered. I didn’t mention the bracelet to my dad.

A short while later the teacher quit unexpectedly. He told me that his new job was on the same street I lived on, so maybe he’d see me around. I lived on a two-mile long road out in the boondocks. The street had cow pastures, a lake, orange groves, and a business that worked on speed boats. He was going to work for the speed boat people. Anyway, that was that, and I never saw him again. Thank goodness.

But I remember one afternoon in class, during a lesson, he was leaning against the lab table–maybe you know what kind I mean? The big black tables/desks used in high school chem classes. And for some reason he was telling us that he’d lived in Atlanta, Georgia. He said how the bus system there was called MARTA. This was news to me. It’s not like I’d ever gone anywhere or knew much beyond my own very limited world. I was distracted the idea that this bus system had my name.

And this teacher said, “MARTA stands for Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.” As far as I remember, all the students laughed. I think, no I know, I repeated that stupid line to others. What a stupid thing to say. How did black students feel about his comment. Maybe they were used to it. Teachers said stupid things like this all the time.

This was a small stupid thing, but imagine a lifetime of small stupid things. I can compare it only to the lifetime of stupid sexist things I’ve heard.

What are the random, seemingly small things you’ve heard from people who were supposed to be better that hurt, that belittle, that send the wrong message. Imagine a lifetime of comment after comment after comment.

I remember a few other teachers who failed to be great adults. But those stories I’ll revisit another day.

Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “More Awkward Memories in Difficult Times

  1. Andi

    My dad once told me that I have big lips because my mom had black people in her family. I’m pretty sure he meant it as an insult to her. Thankfully at that point, I was under no delusions that he was a perfect or even admirable person.

  2. Katie Kelly-Green

    Well, wasn’t that a creepy teacher?! You’re lucky he just said weird stuff! It could have been much worse. Hopefully,these days, teachers like that guy are weeded out faster!

    1. Part of me liked that teacher, but there was this little voice in my head telling me there was something wrong. But then I would convince myself that I was imagining things. I mean, I didn’t believe a teacher could be making any sort of move on me. In school, boys never liked me! I felt most unattractive. Anyway, it was weird. At the time I took it at face value when he said he quit for another job, but I look back and wonder if there was more to it.

  3. My father is a racist and was a homophobe until my sister came out. I remember being grounded for watching “My So Called Life” because he couldn’t deal with Ricky, who was both gay and a POC.

    I grew up and still live in an area where people fly the Confederate flag. People have “Impeach Obama” signs in their yard, and if you sit too long at the local diner, you’ll hear some good ole boy use racist slurs we hoped would be mere ghosts in our current vocabulary- haunting us perhaps, but not entirely present. I still hope for that day.

    I think some part of me sees the library I work for as a way to solve this problem- that kids will find books and will know that adults aren’t always right, and the old ways around here are not good ways. That’s what helped me have a larger view of the world.

    I’m glad that teacher moved on and I’m sorry he did those things. It does sound like that even then you had a wonderful head on your shoulders.

    1. One thing I love about where I live now is that I don’t have to hear most of that racist, homophobic insanity. It’s here, of course. It’s everywhere. But at least my neighborhood is dotted with Clinton and Sanders signs.

      I don’t know if I had a good head on my shoulders. I remember he made me feel better about science. He made me feel like I was not stupid. But in hindsight, I realize that he may have had ulterior motives. Maybe not, but giving a student jewelry is probably a bad sign.

      Out of curiosity, I dug out my yearbook to find a picture of him. You know, to remind myself what he looked like and if I had his last name spelled correctly (was there an e or an i?). Anyway, he isn’t in the yearbook. No where. Almost an entire school year and no photo. Instead they have a picture of the teacher who replaced him for the last grading period. That struck me as weird.

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