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savage inequalities

Who’s The Savage?

by Jose Vilson on October 10, 2007

Police LineThis kid in my school’s about 5’10, Black Latino, raspy voice, and a good 225-235 pounds easily. The first time I ever observed him, I knew he was public enemy #1 in school. Something about hanging out in front of the AP’s office tipped me off early. In my usual cavalier fashion, I nodded my head at him, and said, “Good morning, sir.” He replied with a “Good morning.” Everytime I see him in the hallway, I give him a salute, not knowing from whence he came, but I always knew where he was headed to. I’ve been told everything from “He’s a troublemaker” to “He’s the reason why the class didn’t come down quietly, and why we’ve been here 10-15 minutes past homeroom.”

Yet, something about keeping the pulse on the floor’s most vilified children lets me know how to approach them this year. These weren’t nasty kids like I’ve had before. The ones I’ve had before were often heartless and defiant. The kid I’m talking about wasn’t even given proper footing into the world. His mom’s in an unhealthy occupation, and his classmates found out about it before his teachers did. Naturally when his teachers found out, they laughed. He gets picked on for his height, his girth, his speech, and his home situation.

What’s a kid to do but rebel? He’s constantly calling attention to himself, singing some annoying rap song or making fart noises. He throws spit balls to others, and sometimes plays rough with the other boys in his class. So what do teachers do in response? They send him to the office, outsourcing their discipline to the APs, which works to his advantage because 1) he’s not in class with his peers, and 2) he’s getting special and individual attention, something he’s been grabbing for since he was labeled. Yet, it doesn’t work because I still pass by him in the hallway, hoping he’d just get a chance to get back into class.

It was to everyone’s shock and awe that he became part of my mandated after-school program. He apparently needed help with math, among other things. From the first day, I talked to him civilly, but I laid down the law. I didn’t treat him like an animal, and helped him clarify his own questions about the problems he was given during that time period. After one sample of what could be in store for him, he begged the AP to let him into my class.

I didn’t have a comment either way. I just know that the impression every teacher who’s had him was different from the respectful and courteous kid I got in my program, in the hallway, and in front of the office. Maybe it has a lot to do with some connection of being a young Black Latino male, but I know another teacher who’s had him that’s a young White woman, and she never had issues with them.

This comes with reading Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol and reading research that shows when you talk to mentally “disabled” children like normal people, after a couple of years, they become cured of those illnesses. Is it possible for us to label a kid just because they look like a certain type, or because they come from a rough background?

I understand that, dreadfully, not every child can be saved from the factors to contribute to their eventual product. But someone has to speak up about the continual cases of urban children treated with “ADD” and other sorts of environment-influenced illnesses. These are the children who school officials basically funnel into the prison industrial complex, who people don’t give much of an option to when it comes to jobs and schooling, who turn to more high-risk occupations in the face of rejection from a society that implicitly prompt these disasters to happen.

When I first heard of the child’s background, I didn’t laugh. I somberly nodded. It was the same scenes I’ve seen so frequently in my neighborhood, but now I have a chance to affect the situation a little …

jose, who found the image on post secrets, and is still utterly creeped out by it …

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