2012 on-campus. A crowded claustrophobic classroom. The horse in me wanted to bolt.
English 101 discussing “Shame” from Dick Gregory’s autobiography Nigger.
(A book the book banners will surely ban)
A place kicker on a football scholarship groaned in protest.
“Why do we have to read this stuff?
Aren’t we done with racism in this country? We’ve got a black president, after all.”
On the first day this student — white and entitled — had the gall to say he wanted an A
but didn’t want to work particularly hard or learn anything.
Alarm bells went off. I should’ve banned him right then and there
but I didn’t. The warrior in me naïvely took the bait and accepted the challenge.
He was a supreme energy suck: a talker, casual, slick, and snide, full of asides.
Skilled at detecting and poking at weak spots, a natural bully. A predator.
Ultraconservative: spewing the party line but no life experience beyond the exurbs.
(Later I saw with uncomfortable clarity his narcissism.)
(Later I realized I was being gas lit and played every day.)
My department chair suggested I encourage the rest of the class to handle him,
but he had already cowed the rest of the class. So it was up to me.
He sugarcoated his racism and denied his white supremacism
so I attacked his craft instead: the coward’s way out.
3 AM nightmares and emergency conversations with Henry,
my mind still searching for solutions but my body terrorized in dread.
HR was no help; none of his other teachers was having trouble.
Gas lit again, I dug my trench deeper until one day
I wrote a note to Henry and left it on my desk
“it’s a good day to die.”
Then I went off to class fully expecting a trenchcoat hiding a weapon.