Waiting for my wife undergoing an outpatient procedure, I picked up the magazine lying on the seat next to me. It was unlike most magazines that languish in waiting rooms. It was a current issue, one not yet mutilated by nervous, restless page-turning fingers.
Its oversize, glossy cover page beckoned – I wasn’t going anyplace. I opened it.
In it was a list of fifty-five private schools serving preschoolers though the 12th grade in the Detroit Metro area. Annual tuition for many was around the $10k mark. Several went to the $20k zone. The highest was $45,750. One had “free” tuition, related, no doubt, to its status as a publicly funded “school of choice” and a student-teacher ratio of 30:1. The lowest student-teacher ratio was 4:1. I admit I did not do the math, but guess that the average ratio would be 13:1.
I suspect the schools with relatively low tuition and a medium-to-high student-teacher ratio are not so different from many public schools except, of course, for extremely important differences unrelated to the schools themselves. Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney had attended one of them
Does that tidbit suggest anything to you? Does it suggest that the students attending the schools and the parents who send them there are from.
relatively wealthy households – not “rich”, but better off than the average?
homes where early healthcare, including prenatal care and good nutrition are “normal”?
“safe” communities with low potential for violence being done to them?
environments in which parents or role models are fairly well educated or highly value “education”?
backgrounds involving early language exposure by way of being read to, learning the alphabet and identifying words (if not outright reading) and listening to adult discussions?
Having lived in the area more than three decades, I have personal knowledge of the listed schools. I know individuals who graduated from several. One stepson, in fact, attended one (my wife and I had given both boys the choice of attending a private or a public school). I assure you the foregoing characteristics are accurate, but I wanted to be certain that personal knowledge (or was it bias?) had not blinded me.
Thinking I might have jumped to conclusions, I took a second look. I took a third and fourth look. Then I really started “reading”, perhaps in a way a truly literate individual would read, and found that the magazine, its contents, even the place I found it told a very American story – a story even less pleasant than my personal knowledge suggested.
The list of schools took up a single page. It was amidst “personal interest” articles about topics dreadfully interesting to some. It was between pages filled with alluring ads for cosmetic surgery and dentistry. It was tucked between full-page photographs showing fine jewelry for sale – even a one million dollar bra made of gold and diamonds. Trendy and “discovered” restaurants? You betcha. And, of course, scores of photos, ubiquitous for magazines of its genre, showing the “shakers and doers” attending events about town. All the “good life” items were packed into a single magazine waiting, in full resplendent color, to be “read”.
The story is two-fold. The first is entirely familiar: In this land of opportunity, you have the right to attend any school you want where you can get a great education and then move forward to live a life of success if you come from “money”. The money issue, starkly obvious, is seldom missed. The second element in the you-can-get-goodies equation, so very familiar it doesn’t seem to exist, almost shot right by me. Almost…
My fourth reading was to make sure the other element was “real”. That I wasn’t full of it. That I was/am, in fact, “literate”. Again, I must admit I did not do the math.
I did not count the individuals shown in the ads, interest articles, or photos of shakers and doers. The math would make little difference because it was so apparent, so natural, so “normal” that even as the Doubting Thomas that I am, I almost misread what I had seen
The story fully read required seeing and appreciating an eerie whiteness. One with few tokens. I placed the magazine back where I had found it, as I gazed off with unseeing eyes he spoke to me…
I noticed him earlier, sitting in that uncomfortable closeness of a room where patients and family members wait, some to be called in for a procedure, others for a loved one to escape from whatever medical indecencies were being carried out. Given my frame of mind, thoughts whirling, I found his words quite jarring.
He was older than I. He wore a cap with “Veteran of the Korean War” emblazoned on it. “I love this country”, he said, “It’s the greatest country in the world.”
I bit my tongue.
Over the next ninety minutes or so we talked, he and I. We talked about a number of things. He had taken a trip to Korea, Vietnam, China and other south-eastern Asian countries a few years before. He let me know Koreans and the Vietnamese are, “Beautiful people. They love Americans.” He thought the Chinese not at all pleasant, and he expressed doubts about the Japanese as well
In addition to being a Korean War vet, he had been a suburban cop. Although I had worked for a different city, We had at a small degree of commonality. We knew some of the same politicians, area judges and prosecuting attorneys.
He mentioned one of the narcs from the city I had worked for – perhaps a probing test question – I identified that person by their full name and he nodded, apparently satisfied of my bona fides. “I think he was a Mexican.” I corrected him because that narc and I had discussed this issue decades earlier – his heritage was that of Hawaiian Islander. “He knew his stuff. I give credit to him for that.”
He talked about “them”, the multi-generational welfare freeloaders. I pointed out that the majority of aid recipients were whites who live in rural areas.
We talked about a number of things. We had a degree of commonality. Color was not one of either.
He again said, “I love this country. It’s the greatest country in the world.”
I bit my tongue.
I made no reference to the suburb that man had worked for. A city where “NIWAD” stood for “Nigger in Warren After Dark”, a justification for certain types of police actions. I made no reference to what was perfectly, starkly clear. I kept my mouth shut, because I have learned over the course of my life some simply do not want the obvious pointed out to them, and that to do so prompts some to become quite violent.
I sat there. In an outpatient surgery waiting room. Thinking (Never call a White Man “White”).