(Written not by me but by my friend and fellow citizen of the world, Uncle Teddy. The text speaks for itself.)
Either you believe Tony Robinson deserved to be killed or you don’t. If you do, you should pack up, drive to Waukesha, drive a little further, get in a rowboat, go to the middle of Lake Michigan, and there, wallow in your own hatred for humanity, until you’re either ready to come back and be a modestly positive force in society, or stay out there and die.
There are so many voices about Tony Robinson, and none of them are right. Mine neither. Murder. Self-defense. Crazy mushrooms. Police brutality. Black violence. Black lives matter. All lives matter. He hit him with a two by four. He should have waited for backup. He saved the tenants upstairs. That’s what you get when you hit a cop. Cops are racist pigs. I would have shot him myself.
Robinson’s body is fresh underground and we bear our teeth across the rift of an inextricably black and white and very gray tragedy, and I feel okay. To me, an argument is holy as a prayer before dinner. But will these prayers be answered? Which part of the prayers? The prayer for justice?
Will humanity hear it? Humanity doesn’t have a choice but to hear itself. But will humanity listen? Humanity always listens. But humanity moves as slowly as a young man grows old. But that’s hard, and sad, because not all young men get the chance to grow old.
The Monday after the killing of Robinson my fourth and fifth grade students wanted to talk. They didn’t stop wanting to talk. I had them write whatever they wanted for the last twenty minutes of class. My favorite line, from a child weighing perhaps 65 pounds: “I’m gonna beat your popo candyass so bad you pee your pants. But wait. You’re a baby. You already peed your candyass pants.”
All of my students, seventeen children of color, expressed such an explosive combination of indignation, ambivalence, and a fierce thirst for the facts, truth, and justice, that I would have been a piss-poor educator not to have set the grindstone down right there, where they could sharpen their tongues and writing and reading and analyses with a genuine passion and moral sense of direction.
Three weeks later the fifth grade teachers cleared the hallway of posters of Greek Gods. My kids made covers for their essays, and they posted them in the hallway. A week and a half later, two students, who aced the quiz that the others needed to review, got the opportunity to make a big title poster for our essay exhibition. “Here, write this,” I said, as I handed them a piece of paper: “The Tragic Killing of Tony Robinson.”
I bit my tongue at my next impulse: Tell them not to draw a gun! No, don’t tell them that. Then they’ll want to draw a gun. Don’t worry, they won’t draw a gun!
They drew a gun. A really big gun, with a round of golden bullets floating beneath the black handle. The other side of the poster had a grave, grass, and Tony Robinson’s body buried below. The center of the poster read, “THE KILLING of tony robinson.”
Oh crap. But what is a drawing of a gun but a drawing of a gun? A cop comes into the building every Tuesday to visit the fifth graders and she carries the real thing, bullets and all. A drawing is just a drawing.
But you’re going to get in trouble, tell them to take it down. No, it’s my fault, I didn’t set parameters, I can’t tell them to re-do it. They’ll fight me on it. Anyways, they’re right. There was a gun, bullets, and a dead black body buried beneath the grass. That’s a big part of who we are, as a society, and they laid it out true and simple. A cry from the mouth of babes.
The essays were taken down within a week. Not without a couple meager e-mails raging against the institutionally racist machine. Not without quintuple the e-mails flying over our teacher heads to the my boss, my boss’s boss, and my boss’s boss’s boss.
The long and short of it: some white parents banded together, determined to take down the poster with a gun and “the Killing,” and all of the essays (written by students of color) with it. The band of white parents won.
My boss is planning to put the essays back up, just with more discretion in terms of what images are showing. It’s a nice solution, since my kids had the same idea, and are handing her letters, making that exact request, along with a couple spirited accusations of racism.
This generation will be so much better equipped at handling these racially charged conversations than we are. We just need to open this space up to them, as early and as commonly as possible.
To anyone who doesn’t agree with the work me and my like-minded colleagues have been doing, not liking drawings of guns is a half-decent reason. Not liking the opinions of seventeen children is not a decent reason. Believing that a racially charged tragedy shouldn’t be taught in elementary schools is an institutionally racist reason. And believing that a 19 year old got what was coming to him is a reason I urge you to take to the bottom of lake Michigan, along with your confederate flag, and Nazi paraphernalia.
As members of the public, servants to the public, and public experts on public education, the vision of a more peaceful, more equal world, keeps many of us trudging on. And so it’s particularly annoying, when other people have visions of a more peaceful, more equal world that does not involve cops not shooting black men (even when black may be violent).
Anyway, who doesn’t want a less violent, more equal world? At least we can agree on that. It’ll simply take the painstaking opening of millions of white hearts, among many other, extremely difficult things, to get us to stand from the same heights and see the same things.
Next thing we got to do is stop making so many fabulous war machines, and start figuring out a way for police to protect us without sometimes killing us. Will our young children of color get to see this day? I hope so. I think so. Maybe. Some of them will. I don’t know.
Our prayers and our fight are righteous.
I’m not black, or even brown, but I’d be an asshole not to say it and mean it. Black lives matter. I mean it, and so should you.