VOL. 127 | NO. 131 | Friday, July 6, 2012
IT’S NOT RACIAL. IF I’M LYING, I’M DYING. We are lying. And if we don’t realize it, we will die from it.
Annie Laurie Peeler put it best. She was, after all, the best sixth grade teacher in the history of the universe. Really. With all due respect to the sixth grade teacher you love, Mrs. Peeler will spot her or him two eyes in the back of her head, three stories you’ll never forget, and four Southernisms and still beat your teacher like a cloakroom paddling.
In answer to my protest of innocence, in reply to my absolute best “Who, me?” angelic face, Mrs. Peeler said, “Only a hit dog hollers.”
I thought about Mrs. Peeler the other day when I saw Mark Norris’ response to the announcement that the Shelby County Commission would file suit against the formation of new municipal school districts in the county’s suburbs on the basis of racial discrimination.
“Candidly, I think it’s the lowest form of demagoguery there is,” he growled. “For them to assert that this effort to educate is motivated by race is reprehensible,” he howled. “That’s the old race card. It’s tired and it’s tawdry and it’s typical of this particular generation of public officials,” he yelped.
I don’t believe Mark Norris is a racist. I don’t believe most of us are racist. But if anyone here doesn’t believe that race plays a major part in every scene of our civic drama, that the move to form separate school districts doesn’t have insidious racial undertones if not bold overtones, it’s not enough to say that person is not watching or listening.
That person either has an agenda, or is in denial, or is an idiot. Or all of those. Your choice.
And we’re all being played. Pulled apart by Mark Norris and Kenneth Whalum. By David Pickler and Martavius Jones. By Terry Roland and Walter Bailey. By each other.
That’s the truth. And while the truth will set you free, refusal to accept it will keep you locked up behind walls, gates, and mindsets. Worse, the more juicy rationalization and circumspection we serve up, the more we feed the real racists among us who grow stronger and bolder on that diet. While we have all flavors, most of ours come in white, black and redneck.
So we’re going to court.
Instead of admitting that public schools that look like private schools are what we’re looking for, we claim that we don’t see it that way. Instead of acknowledging that a bump in taxes is still cheaper than learning your ABC’s at MUS, CBHS or ECS, we say all of this is about the kids.
Instead of giving a new school district for all kids a chance, we want one just for our kids and not yours. Instead of considering a well-thought-out, comprehensive plan that provides separate paths and self-determination toward the common good of Shelby County, we plan to tear it apart.
So we’re going to court. Again.
I’m a Memphian, and all of us should be hollering.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.