The video below tells much of the tale. However, additional information about the episode is available at The Griot.
This situation did not have to end the way it did. The circumstances are not unusual. There is a white principal at a seemingly predominantly black alternative school. The school seems to cater to low-income students or those needing a second chance or an alternative educational system due to work schedules or other commitments. The graduation ceremony is held in a local institution, a Church. The Principal apparently speaks too much and forgets a line in the program, albeit a very important one, the valedictorian’s speech. Realizing her mistake, she then attempts to corral all of the students and parents back into the sanctuary but by this point, folks have already reached car. It should be noted that from the video, the pews seem mostly full and folks are generally engaged. None of this is uncommon. None of this is criminal. None of this is yet cringe worthy. But then, things get a little crazy…or perhaps representative…
And then Founder & Principal Nancy Gordeuk–and older, white, teaching veteran of 36 years–returned to the podium.
(Quotes from The Griot…insertions are my own)
“You people are being so rude,
“You People” is already a no-no in a crowd of black folks. It’s a no-no anywhere where there is a clear racial, gender, sexuality or class (insert any other socioeconomic/identity marker) dive between speaker and audience. This signified to the audience–intentionally or not–that their type of folks, were doing something her type of folks would not. And even for them, this was “so rude.” They had clearly insulted her sense of respectability. Aside from the fact that they were apparently obeying her call to end the service. The rudeness here, tends to be the inability to read her mind, from front to back. This is reminiscent of the catch 22 many people of color experience when working with and under fellow employees that are racially empowered. We are expected, at once, to read their minds–and accordingly–punished, or humiliated for appropriately reading and following their instructions. People of color are often punished for being compliant and independent, when asked to be compliant or independent. This is a sort of code-switching that is not often articulated or studied–when to be heed directions and when to second guess. Even though this is an event without vast economic or social repercussions, unlike in a professional setting or one involving police, both aforementioned “decisions” continue to carry consequences. If this sort of racial power, or racial indifference, was executed in a room full of predominantly black adults, I can only wonder the type of survival jujitsu–and self love intake–required to thrive in the classroom, daily, for years.
to not listen to this speech. It was my fault that we missed it in the program.
It was always wonderful to take responsibility for what has been done. This is a desired, honest and ideal act for any child, let alone an adult, administrator and founder of a institution of learning (and responsibility). We see the admission of guilt and responsibility, but we do not see an apology. There is no apology for either the achieving youths/adults, the public nor the valedictorian, who had truly earned this moment. Not only would she be unable to give her speech, but it would now be tainted by the memory of public, racial-shaming. From the video, it seems that speaker is also a white woman, this can only add more discomfort. Imagine, a community of your peers and their families, being chastised, so that one white woman, can pass attention and prestige to another white individual. Now think about that, as a black student, mother, father, brother or young child. The spectacle is telling and removes the focus student achievement to racial power plays, visibility and thrashings for comportment. To seal the visual, the Founder & Principal, leans onto the podium, places her hand on right hip and elevates her voice..dripping with disdain–of course not for her own actions…
Look who’s leaving…
Well first, we are greeted with the image of an older, irate white woman, yelling and screaming at a group of black folks, coming to celebrate their children and relatives. Two, the podium is shared by another white (presenting) person–though it is clear that s/he wants no part of the foolery. Three–the image of two white wo/men, one fearful, one fearsome–demanding the respect, time and attention of audience of predominantly black adults, after their own mistake, is troublesome at best…and worst, reminiscent of an irate master’s wife, chastising the enslaved folks for being too happy, too proud and too socially adept..and demanding all attention–the center–be re-adapted to her own existence. Black bodies exist for the white gaze, and black eyes exist to marvel and obey the white body/powers.
all the black people!”
All. The. Black. People. Of course, I can’t think of a moment in my life when “all the black people” have agreed upon on anything. We are a very opinionated peoples and we take pride in our individuality and difference. Amongst black leaders, for every Dubois we have a Washington, and among the politicos, for every Barbara Lee we have a Mia Love. However, I have learned that there is nothing like outright, racial fuckery, or explicit micro-aggressions to get us on the same page. The statement alone does the work of ripping away our individuality. We have been removed as folks with free will, the capacity to think on our own, or the strength and fortitude to endure a slight inconvenience. The letters, lashes and lost (resistant) lives of black folks in American history tell a truer story. Black folks have always endured, often with a smile and a litany for liberation, the most inconvenient of American truths and brutalities. I need not list them here. But a discounting of that–which is what the last line does–a blow to the gut of the (perhaps only) collective black conscious. If there is one space of black agreement, is it that black folks are not always in agreement and a denial of that individuality, will present you with a united front of resistance and congeniality, perhaps not seen outside of overwhelming anti-black violences.
The speaker did not note this. Or perhaps she did and was unbothered. Because when the people began to depart in droves–unwilling to be belittled or jointly racialized–she remained at the podium, hands on hip, scowling at the souls of black folk. It was in this moment, that black folks showed that their souls will not be subjected to racial violence or psychological terror. The students put in their time, earned their degree, endured moments of racial fuckery and went on about their lives. This is the compounded tradition and practice of black survivance, a carry-on tradition, a pedagogy of progress, one we are not privileged enough to unlearn.
I was a bit surprised to see this all. But after browsing the schools 4 year, summer reading list, and seeing no “required” texts by black authors, it all started to make sense. Of the four years–freshman to senior–only two black authored books made even the suggested list. In a place where black lives are not taught–save the problematic and white-centric “Too Kill A Mockingbird”–it follows that black thought and black lives/humanity, only occasionally matter.
Come on Nancy, get it together. You have a few years to move your legacy and pedagogy from the
plantation podium, to the community classroom.
The student-speaker is a male, not a female.
Also, the full video is much more disturbing.