* Names changed
Teaching in da’ hood last Friday I had one of those rare experiences that totally left me speechless – if even for a few seconds.
One of the students in the class is a supposed school ‘tough guy’, and his girlfriend is also in the class; they, of course, sit next to each other. He wasn’t giving me any trouble, but the girl was. She pushed the envelope, I pushed it back, culminating in me having to squat down by her desk in order to make eye contact, because she refused to look at me. As I upped the timbre in my voice a bit to make my point that she needed to get with it, or face the consequences of a write up, her boy friend cast me a curious glance, but said nothing. A kid sitting behind me did, however.
“Oooo, Mr. Lucker – you better not talk to her like that or Derrick* not gonna like that. Don’t mess with him, Mr. Lucker…he’s a gansta! He’s a Crip”!
I shot the kid a half-glance over my shoulder; “Look – I don’t care if he’s Barack Obama…this aint his fight, this is between me and her”.
“Oooooo…Mr. Lucker! You a racist”! (Nothing unusual there; at least once or twice a week a room full of teenaged African-American kids call me that).
“You said” kid behind me jumps into a pretty good impersonation of me, “’I don’t care if he’s Barack Obama’! You racist for sayin that”!
“Yeah, you racist! Why you say ‘Barack Obama’? You coulda used some white person…like Ashton Kutcher”.
Cue the silence.
Still in my Joe Mauer squat in the aisle, I turned, looked at the kid behind me; ‘Ashton Kutcher”? I said incredulously. The kid sitting next to the kid who said it nodded in agreement.
“Yeah. You could’ve said any white person and it wouldn’t be racist. Why you say Barack Obama”?
“Well, ya know, I was trying to come up with somebody important for a comparison to make a point that It doesn’t matter who doesn’t like it, that it’s something between me and her. Somebody important – like Principal Marshall* or, gee….Barack Obama”!
“You racist, Mr. Lucker”.
“Yeah…I don’t think so” shaking my head I returned my attention to the girl that prompted all this. “So, what’s it gonna be”? I asked her.
“Don’t tell me nuttin’”!!! she hollered at me, invoking the most popular of New Orleans high school student phrases, pulling her coat over her head and plunking it down on the desk.
I stood up, walked toward the table at the front of the room to grab a write-up form, passing the kid who suggested Ashton Kutcher as a behavioral example. I shook my head as I walked by him. “Ashton Kutcher? Really”? The kid nodded vigorously; “Ashton Kutchers’ important”!
I stopped, looked squarely at the kid, trying not to laugh at his earnestness, or even crack a smile, shaking my and saying the only appropriate thing I could, considering the moment: “Man…don’t tell me nuttin’”.