I previously wrote an article about why I vowed never to say the Pledge of Allegiance again. It is because of the words “liberty and justice for all,” that are only true in this country so long as you are of the right skin color, sex, gender, income bracket, sexual identity, religion, ability, national origin, and political affiliation.
After writing that article I decided to recount the time when I was teaching at a predominantly Black and Latinx middle school, and two White teachers kept forcing the students to recite the Pledge. This is an issue that is much bigger than my personal feelings about the Pledge. It is a matter of two adults in a position of authority, willfully violating the Constitutional rights of 11–14 year old children. Not to mention the fact that the teachers belong to a historically privileged racial group and the students belong to historically oppressed and marginalized racial groups.
White privilege must be one hell of a drug
Teacher Admitted Forcing Students to Pledge
Last school year, the first teacher involved came to my room to chat one day after school. She told me about how angry she was because one particular student wouldn’t say the Pledge. She said she slammed a chair and was screaming at him, saying, “My kids served in the military, and they fought for your freedoms, and they’ve been in dirty shithole countries, not knowing when they’d be able to come home…” and so on.
I guess because we had gotten kind of friendly, she assumed that I would just be okay with this. However, I explained to her that she cannot force students to say the pledge because they have a right not to, and she could get in trouble for it, in addition to causing a problem for the school if a parent complained.
However, I could tell she didn’t want to hear it because she kept trying to over-talk me and justify her actions. But when I was insistent, trying nicely to let her know it could cause a serious issue, she simply got quiet and then changed the subject. I thought that would take care of it. But white privilege must be one hell of a drug.
I made sure to explain to all the students that it is their Constitutional right not to say the Pledge if they so choose, and that no one can force them to say it
Three Months Later Students Complained
Three months later I had several students come to me and complain about how she and the other white teacher had been forcing them to say the Pledge. She obviously felt like she could ignore my (the Black teacher’s) advice, do whatever she wanted against these Black and Brown students, and get another White teacher to do the same.
I made sure to explain to all the middle school students that it is their Constitutional right not to say the Pledge if they so choose and that no one can force them to say it. I also explained that if they wanted to say it, then by all means they should stand up and say it and not anyone else persuade them not to say it.
I told the students I would handle it, and I went to the Principal, discussed the situation with her, and she immediately sent out an email to the entire staff, explaining that forcing students to say the Pledge is a violation of their Constitutional rights.
The Assistant Principal Took Sides
The next day the Assistant Principal (A.P.), who is a Black man, came into my class with a student (whom I could tell had been crying) and said he needed to make an announcement, but first, he would like to start with the Pledge of Allegiance. He asked my class to please stand. The students sat and just looked at him. He asked them again, and they continued to sit.
So, he said it by himself, but then proceeded to admonish my students, telling them they should say it out of respect for the teacher’s kids who were in the military, etc. He repeated almost word for word what the white teacher previously told me she said to the students.
Then the student who came into the class with him spoke up, and she happens to be the sister of the student that teacher previously tried to force to say the pledge. She told the A.P. that I explained to them that they have the right not to say it, and when she refused, the teacher yelled at her and kicked her out of class. Then she began crying again.
I Threatened to Go to the Press
At that point, I took the A.P. into the hall and told him that this was unacceptable, especially after I already had a private conversation with the teacher and the principal sent an email to the entire staff. We went back and forth because he obviously took the side of the teachers. I had to finally tell the A.P. that if it did not stop, I would go to the press and call parents to tell them to do the same. It wasn’t until then that he said he would handle it.
He told them they should not just refuse to say it because someone else is refusing to say it (meaning me)
The A.P. Continued Reprimanding These Black & Brown Students About Not Saying the Pledge
Instead of leaving after our conversation in the hall, the A.P. went back into my class for another 15–20 minutes to continue reprimanding my students, telling them they should be careful about the decisions they make and they should make sure that if they are not going to say the Pledge, that they have researched the reasons why and that they have a valid argument.
Then this Black man had the nerve to use the same illogical argument that racist white people use whenever Black people call out racial injustice, where he tried to turn the conversation about white teachers violating the Constitutional rights of Black & Brown students into one about so-called “Black-on-Black” crime. And he proceeded to tell 14-year-old children about what they needed to do to improve their communities, instead of worrying about whether or not they were being forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance against their will.
He also told them they should not just refuse to say the pledge because someone else is refusing to say it (meaning me). I had to tell him that they had been complaining about having to say it since the first day of school, and all I did was make them aware of their rights. They made up their own minds to stop saying it. But he did not seem to believe me until one of my students had to come to my defense and confirm what I said.
What happened next was truly a “Karen-esque” moment
Why I Had to Step In
Because of all of this, I no longer trusted him to handle it. So, I decided to handle it myself. I wrote an email to the staff the next morning reiterating what the principal said. I also attached the 1943 Supreme Court decision that outlawed not only forcing students to say the Pledge, but also forcing them to stand for the Pledge, and punishing them for not saying it. I made it clear that it was not about anyone’s personal feelings, or who served in the military. It is about the students’ rights. And they do not owe anyone an explanation if they choose to exercise this right. I said that I would continue to be a voice for them if I continue to hear that their rights are being violated. Then I put stickies on the two offending teachers’ desks asking them to read their email (so they couldn’t claim they were unaware).
What happened next was truly a “Karen-esque” moment. The first teacher, the one who admitted to me that she screamed at a student while trying to force him to say the Pledge; the one who forced several other students to recite it and kicked one out of class, making her cry; the one who did not take my advice when I told her in private so she wouldn’t get in trouble; the one who still forced students after the principal sent an email to all the staff; the one who obviously went to another teacher and the A.P. to get them on her side; the one who then went back to the A.P., giving him the sticky note I left on her desk…
This conniving woman actually filed a complaint against me with the A.P. and told him that she felt attacked, yes ATTACKED, saying that I singled her and the other teacher out with the email I sent to the staff.
First off, I did not use any names, so no one knew who I was referring to. But she knew because she was the guilty party. Even the other teacher left it alone at that point. When the A.P. came to me with this ridiculous insinuation, I told him that what I did was not an attack on her or anyone else, and I didn’t care how she felt because she is a grown woman, their TEACHER, who KNOWINGLY VIOLATED the Constitutional rights of CHILDREN, and is now trying to play the VICTIM. Really??
I Will Always Defend the Rights of Children
I reminded the A.P. that I had already discussed this situation with the teacher in private before it got out of hand, but because she did not heed my warning or the warning that our Principal sent out, she was the cause of the ENTIRE situation. I asked how was it that she was the one who was being attacked when it was clearly THE KIDS WHOM SHE WAS ATTACKING.
That would be like a rapist claiming they were the one being raped because their victim went to the police to file charges against them.
I told him I had no remorse for sending the email, or for anything I did, and if anyone violated these kids’ rights again, I will defend them again. We went back and forth and finally, he said “Well, she knows now that she can’t do this anymore.”
Then he asked how she could make it right. I told him she needed to apologize to the kids for everything she did to them. He said he would talk to her about it, and we left it at that.
The Audacity of Whiteness
Days later I asked the students and found out that neither teacher ever apologized for their abhorrent actions, but they did finally stop trying to force the kids to recite the Pledge.
This whole situation is clearly indicative of a larger problem in our society. It is a symptom of the audacity of whiteness. Not just White people, but whiteness. There is a difference, which I have previously written about (click link below).
It is indicative of the need of whiteness to try to prove superiority over people of color. It is a matter of the way whiteness tries to manipulate the truth whenever it is called out for its wrongdoing. It is about the way whiteness uses Blackness to try to get other Black people to “fall in line.” It is about the danger of whiteness when it believes its actions, no matter how heinous, are justified.
It is about the entitlement that whiteness carries, which is not concerned with violating the rights of others, even children. It is about knowing that the words “liberty and justice for all” truly only apply to whiteness. And it is about whiteness not caring about anything else except preserving whiteness. As my husband has told me before, this country wants us to pledge allegiance to it, but it does not pledge allegiance to us, as people of color. It never has, and it never will.
Written by L.A. Justice. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.
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