Sunday, February 22, 2009
I mean no disrespect, but Florida is a scary ass state.
To be fair my own state is probably just as scary, in its own endearing way, but it seems that every time I travel to The Sunshine State I hear horror stories about the small minded rednecks who run the asylum.
Ouch, maybe that is too harsh.
In the spirit of the objective ethnographic researcher I will document two stories; comments to follow (mine and hopefully yours...)
The first story was told to me by Graham, a young teen who dropped out of high school. He is now pursuing a 'good enough diploma' or GED while working as a cosmetologist.
A contributing factor in his decision to 'drop out' was the sort of incident that took place one day before gym class. It is a requirement that everyone "change out" from their street clothes into their gym uniforms. As an 'out' gay teen he had endured many snide remarks from the other boys at school. This was only heightened in the locker room. On this particular day, as he changed into his gym clothes, a few boys accused him of looking at them. Obviously, he needed to be taught a lesson.
Afterwards he went to the principal; an adult who could provide some sense of justice or a voice of reason. Graham was told that he deserved what he got because, after all, the other boys said he was looking at them.
The second story came courtesy of my niece's boyfriend, Gregg. I met Gregg and with my ever present wit and charm I remarked that I couldn't understand a word of what he was saying. Of course I could, but it sounded like he had a thick accent (Irish?) and it is part of my goofy shtick that I can neither talk with an accent or understand anyone with one. Haha, hehe. Oops!
Well, he does not have an accent. Turns out he had been attacked just 5 months before at a party. Some good ol' boys were there making remarks and harassing an African American teen who had the nerve to attend. When Gregg asked them to knock it off he was hit in the head with a Jack Daniels bottle. The blow made him drop to the ground where he was relentlessly kicked in the face until his jaw was shattered. He had to be airlifted, bloody and in pain, to the hospital. He showed me the deep, dark scars that run along his jawline (how did I miss them?) that were a result of the surgery.
His 'accent' is a consequence of the fact that he is unable to open his mouth very far.
I was totally wrapped up in this horrible story. "What happened to the guys who did this?" I asked. Gregg replied, "Nothing".
Nothing was done.
He was told it wasn't worth pursuing. No one wanted to support him in his quest for justice because this stuff happens. Oh well.
Both of these stories, along with a few others that were less dramatic but still unsettling, made me think about authority; authority related to my role as a teacher. In our schools, at least in MY school, we stress respect. All of our class and school rules have respect at the core. When the rules are broken, there are consequences.
What would happen if a child came to me for help (or justice or to be a voice of reason or to simply listen) and I blew it off? What a horrible lesson. I hope I don't do that. Certainly not to the extent of the Florida stories but I hope I allow my students to feel that the wrongs of their world can be made right again. Fundamentally I believe they can.
I suppose I must remember that just because someone has 'authority' it does not mean that they are deserving of it.
Just ask Graham or Gregg.
I couldn't resist the juxtaposition of the happy, sunny images of The Sunshine State with these horror stories. Look below the surface and all is not so bright.