The 2011 Mr. Vilson Manifesto [Dark Knight Feeling]

Jose VilsonJose3 Comments

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 …

Comments 3

  1. Dear Jose,

    You’re one of my few heroes, for a variety of reasons. It’s a short list, and you’d be embarrassed by the others on my list, not because they’re silly (they’re not), but because you are modest.

    I spoke up today–the details do not matter to those not involved, and would add nothing but the titter effect here should I spell out the details. But I did, and while it was the right thing to do, it was not without risk, and most of us (and I’m a big part of the “of us”) value security over risk.

    I have moments when I question doing the right thing. Then I read your words, and am reassured.

    I should never question doing the right thing, but…but…but….(lots of foolish nonsense here, but still….)–I do.

    And here’s an interesting thought (for me, anyway). Would I have done the same thing today had I not read your words, felt your presence?

    You make me braver, Mr. Anti-Hero.

    Thank you.

  2. Pingback: If You Don’t Give Me Heaven, I Raise Hell | The Jose Vilson

  3. I’m not quite sure what you’ve written about falls into the anti-hero mode. On one of my blogs I write about race often enough. On another, the one I’m linking to here, I had my campaign over the summer where, in two posts, I named a total of 50 black social media professionals that most links ignore because they don’t have any black people on their lists at all. I didn’t see myself as a hero or anti-hero; I saw myself as someone who came along at the right time to try to right a wrong, and then went back to what I do most of the time. I know it affected a few people here and there positively, I opened up a communication, and that was pretty much that.

    I also had a friend ask me why I talked about race so often and I said because I see things that just need to be addressed that others won’t address. Once again, not a hero or anti-hero; just who I am and what I think I’m here for.

    But if you persist, then just be the hero; I like it better that way. :-)

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