Back in the day, when I was young punk of a college professor teaching at a state college in Indiana, my first semester there, in fact, I had a smart, talented, conscientious student who was a skinhead. Came to every class in full uniform. Black t-shirt, black jeans, cuffed, over black boots with red laces. Point is, he came to every class, prepared, and took part in discussions. Always on point. And fortunately, in class, he kept his political and racial views to himself.
Not in his first essay assignment, though.
For their first essays that semester, I had the students write an introduction to themselves, focusing on one thing in their lives they felt made them who they are, excluding God, family, and love and sex. I figured that those subjects might produce confessions too intimate to grade objectively. In his essay, this kid set out to explain what being a racist associated with a lot of other racists known for winning political debates by stomping on their opponents with their red-laced boots meant to him.
He argued that white people needed to show pride in their race. They should follow the example of black people, in fact, and celebrate and identify with the achievements of famous people of their own color. For whites, that would include scientific geniuses.
Like Albert Einstein.
It was my practice---and still is---to meet regularly with students to go over the first drafts of their essays in one-on-one editorial conferences. When he came to my office for his, I pointed out to him that Albert Einstein was Jewish and as a neo-Nazi he might have a problem with that.
He thought that over.
“So I should change it to somebody else?” he asked.
With what I thought admirable patience and tact, I said that that wasn’t exactly my point. My point was that the fact he identified with Einstein, someone who as a skinhead he shouldn’t count as a member of the white race, suggested that the question of just who belongs to what race was an open one and that maybe the answer is everybody belongs to just the one human race. A good starting point, for him, I suggested, would be to achieve something on his own, take pride in that, and leave the rest of the white race to worry about themselves. And that’s about as far as we went with that topic because in the next part of his essay he’d written about one of his favorite activities as a skinhead.
He and a friend liked to drive around black neighborhoods in the friend’s car on Saturday nights, with a case of beer between them on the front seat, and shout insults and throw their empty cans out the windows at people they passed.
Of course, I was horrified. But I was also scared for him.
“You do realize that black people have Second Amendment rights, don’t you?”
That seemed to shake him. Apparently, he and his friend hadn’t considered the possibility they were risking making someone mad enough to want to shoot them.
I didn’t get into the other thing about the way he spent his Saturday nights that worried me.
His friend was thirty-five years old.
I didn’t ask him if he’d ever thought about why a middle-aged man would be spending his Saturday nights alone with an eighteen year old boy.
Anyway. Reason I’m thinking about this student is this story at RawStory by David Ferguson: ‘Not racist’ Confederate flag-waver shot in Indiana after N-word altercation with black men.
A South Bend, Indiana man who was shot while flying a “huge” Confederate Flag from his truck and driving through a black neighborhood last Thursday didn’t mean to provoke a racial incident, insists his friend.
It’s not my student. Too young. This jamoke was born just around the time my skinhead wrote his essay.
But I’m not surprised this sort of idiocy is still going on in Indiana. Then, I’m not surprised it’s going on anywhere. We have an idiot in town here in Upstate New York who drives around in his pickup with a large Confederate flag flying from a pole bolted to the back of the cab.
The pickup’s white, in case anyone might miss the point.
But Indiana is still the place with the most outspoken and unashamed racists I’ve ever lived, and I lived in Boston.
It’s true, what William Carlos Williams said. The pure products of American go crazy, and they don’t get any purer than “back home” in Indiana.
By the way, beside the fact it was insane, my student’s essay was very well-written.