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The 2011 Mr. Vilson Manifesto [Dark Knight Feeling]

by Jose Vilson on September 5, 2011

in Jose


I’m not a hero.

You can start off with the greatest intentions, develop great relationships, and create wonderful initiatives for your team. By our own meritocratic illusions, we believe that the more someone does these things in their spaces, they’re entitled to a certain amount of greatness. Yet, our reality establishes limits on that type of success, even for those of us doing the right work. Through the process of success, feelings like enmity and envy develop where love and camaraderie could sit. When enough people develop this resentment, you’re in a situation where either you must change the environment or change yourself.

It reminds me Jay-Z’s line in “So Appalled”:

“Dark Knight feelin’: die and be a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I went from the favorite to the most hated, but would you rather be underpaid or overrated?”

This came from Harvey Dent (Two-Face) and Batman’s eventual conclusions about the events leading to his anti-hero turn in The Dark Knight:

Batman: You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things because I’m not a hero, like Dent. I killed those people. That’s what I can be
Lt. James Gordon: No, you can’t! You’re not!
Batman: I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be.

After careful consideration, it seems to me that this anti-hero figure makes sense for those of us in pressure-cooker situations, especially schools in this time of imbalanced accountability or other jobs with too many demands and not enough reciprocity. (If you’re in a situation where you’re doing the job of three people, for instance, this is for you.) The hero and the villain have clearly defined characteristics, the former virtuous and integral and the latter crooked and deceitful. While waiting for fictional heroes to save us, the people doing some of the painstaking work never wore capes, never received awards, always spoke up and out to the heart of their most important matters, and have built a general consensus around them that the work they do matters.

This year, I’m taking on the role of anti-hero with no remorse.

I didn’t understand this necessary step for me until I started to get more involved in the plethora of conversations on race. Only then did I see how hard these conversations become around “like-minded” people, but how quickly people attempt to squash conversation around anything without any thorough inspection. Heroes, the ones that everyone loves, choose peace in that situation.

As an anti-hero, I have to call these indiscretions out. This year, I pledge to do so.

Peace is awesome, and usually, it’s my modus operandi. This summer, I decided I’m taking a different approach. I prefer to not be liked if it means that the kids get the best education possible. I’ll eschew the niceties of placating outsiders if it means my students understand the material presented to them in depth. I’ll also push my colleagues more often around curriculum and pedagogy, hoping they push me on the same level.

In no way does this mean I’m going to antagonize people purposely, but it probably means I’ll do so indirectly. In years prior, I squelched a few fires and provided levity when necessary, but I couldn’t shake the “cocky” label, nor the “Angry Black Man” one, either (I don’t agree with either).

I’ll eat the labels, and the other ones, too, so long as I can keep doing the work the students need me to.

Jose, who goes back into Mr. Vilson mode tomorrow …

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