I grew up in the South. I don't mean the quasi-South like Missouri or Tennessee; I mean the deep South. Louisiana. Even so, I grew up without any idea that race should ever be an issue. I'm not sure why this was so other than that my parents weren't particularly racist. They weren't particularly un-racist, either. For instance, at some point when I was a kid, I remember my dad using the term "porch monkeys," and I had no idea what he was talking about. When I asked, because I couldn't find the monkeys, no one would explain to me what he meant, so, I suppose, he was ashamed enough for having said it (and my mom ashamed of him) that no one would explain it. Later, when someone did finally explain it to me, I still didn't understand. The term just didn't make sense to me; it was years before I understood that it was a racial slur.
The Oscars this year, "the best and whitest," have me thinking a lot about race and how and where I grew up. I am not much a product of my environment. For instance, I don't have an accent. Someone asked me recently about how long it took me to get rid of it after I moved to California, but, see, I never had an accent. And, no, there is no explanation for that, because my family most definitely does have an accent. In fact, I can barely understand my brother anymore.
I went to a desegregated elementary school. Of course, I didn't know that. I'm not sure any of us knew that when we were kids. I don't know for sure if it made a difference, though. The school was mixed, sure, but the classes, on the whole, were not. I never realized that until now in thinking about all of this. Supposedly, the classes were divided based upon ability and, to some extent, I'm sure that's true, because there were a few black kids in my classes, but, mostly, the black kids were in one class, and the white kids were in the other class. I'm pretty sure there were no white kids in any of the "black" classes. The white kids got a white teacher, and the black kids got a black teacher. Except 1st grade: In first grade, both teachers were black, but that was the only black teacher I had until I got to middle school.
The principal, though, was black: Mr. Hudson. I loved Mr. Hudson. By the time I was in first grade, he called me Dr. Leon. I was Dr. Leon to him all the way through 4th grade, my last year at that school. He said it was because of all my brains. Or something like that. He was always very serious with me and would shake my hand when he saw me in the hall. Evidently, race wasn't an issue for him, and he was the first adult male I admired other than my grandfather.
Middle school... I went to an experimental middle school. It was following in the footsteps of the experimental high school I would soon go to. These were some of the first magnet schools in the country and an aberration in Louisiana. I suppose the logic was that if they could get magnet schools to work in Louisiana, which was (and still is) among the worst educated states in the country, then they could get them to work anywhere. And they did work. CPMHS was in the top ten high schools in the country the entire time I was there. In Louisiana.
So, yeah, I had some black teachers in middle school and in high school... but they weren't academic teachers. They were P.E. teachers and an art teacher. The only exception to that was my biology teacher in high school. However, she barely counts, because they let her go half way through the year, because she was not able to handle the academic load of teaching the AP Bio II class. This class was geared toward academic decathlon training, so they had to find someone able to teach that class above all else. Just to be clear, she was not the only teacher let go from Magnet because the teacher couldn't handle the academic load in the advanced classes, and it was her first year teaching.
Also, to be clear, there were some black teachers of academic classes at my high school, but I was in all honors and advanced classes, and they didn't teach any of those.
My high school didn't have the regular team sports associated with high school. No football, no basketball, no baseball. We had what our principal called "Olympic sports": tennis, fencing, track. I only say that to reinforce that this was an academic school. There was testing to get in and you had to maintain a certain GPA to stay there. Each year, we lost about half of the freshman class. As opposed to my elementary school, at which the more advanced classes were more than 90% white, there were plenty of black students at my high school, and they weren't there to play sports. These were smart kids who had done the work to get into a kind of elite school. As I was reminded frequently by my friends at other high schools, we were the "nerd school."
Mostly, though, I want to focus on my elementary school, since it was a typical school in Shreveport. [I would like to think that my high school was more merit-based in its decisions on teacher hiring, and I think that it probably was because of the emphasis on the academic decathlon.] It makes me sad, now, thinking back, that my school got by by following the letter of the law while discarding the spirit of it, and I'm sure that my school was indicative of the "way things were." Probably not just in Louisiana, either. I have to assume that this was the way all schools got around desegregation all through the South. "Sure, we'll have mixed schools, but no one said anything about the classes."