Sunday, December 04, 2011

Magic Teacher

The story goes like this:

There's a white female teacher working in a school with a goodly population of Black students. She befriends her students, especially this one student, X, a tall, muscular Black man.

One day, in a class, another student mouths off, and X turns around and gives the student a verbal what for.


I am not that teacher. But I've heard that same basic story several times. And what interests me is not the veracity, for I believe the people telling it are basically telling what they experienced. No, what interests me are the common elements that are always part of it.

There's always an emphasis on the Black male student's large size and darkness.

Would the story be the same if it were a scrawny Latino student? An average white woman? I don't think so.

You know how in some movies there's a magical or mystical Black (or sometimes Asian) man who befriends a white man and somehow makes him special? I think there's something like that here, a playing out of cultural fantasies about a large Black man protecting the white woman who is out of place to some extent in her classroom. But in the stories I hear, the white woman is sort of magical, in that inspiring stand on desks sort of way, crossing racial and power boundaries in the classroom to be real friends with her students.

Then there's the implied violence: the Black male student can tell off his classmates because he knows he's the biggest, toughest male in the room.

I'm not sure, but I think it's also important that the white woman telling the story is fairly young as a teacher. I think it's important, though the story-telling woman never emphasizes that. Is that because she doesn't recognize her own youth in the story?

I always hear the story from the white female teacher. (I heard it again recently, so it's been on my mind.) That may be because I don't know many tall, muscular Black men who talk to me about their student days, while I do tend to meet and talk with women who are teachers. Student days don't last long, while a career in teaching lasts a while; and even if I were talking with X in the story, there's no real place for X to tell a white woman such as myself the story about how he came to the "rescue" of another white woman, especially if that "rescue" worked because he was willing to play up the stereotype of the large Black man who uses violence. Or maybe the story wouldn't be important enough to stick in X's memory, just another day in the classroom.

Have you heard magic teacher stories? Would you tell such a story, and if you did, what would you emphasize?

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