Dearborn School, Roxbury, MA, May 1957. City of Boston Archives.  Photographer: R. T. Lonergan, Jr. In the public domain.

By Kathie MM

My first full-time job was as a long-term substitute teacher of special needs children (labeled “mentally retarded” in those days) at the Dearborn School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1963-1964.  It was also my first immersion in the United States’ longest-running wars—the wars against people of color and the poor.

The racism at the Dearborn was not universal but it was pervasive, virulent, hostile, destructive.

I loved my students, ages 6-9 with a wide range of challenges, mostly poverty-related.  They were so eager for and responsive to kindness, respect, encouragement, affection. I tried to promote their active engagement in learning, having them help each other in the process–serving as peer leaders, and collaborating to master assignments–much like what Bel Kaufman advocated in Up the Down Staircase  and I later did in the college seminars I taught.

The teacher in the next classroom was appalled at my “naivety,” my failure to exercise constant control, my inability to see that “those children” were the enemy, the threat to the stablished social order, the disrupters of peace and safety, the dangerous advance troops of a neighborhood whose complexion was becoming darker.

She let everyone including the children know she saw them as stupid, dirty, disobedient, trouble-making, and unworthy of her efforts.  A lesson unlikelyto be forgotten.

Millions of taxpayer dollars have been poured into “The War on Poverty”–a war the country is losing royally, because there’s no commitment in the ruling class to eliminating poverty.  What gain can they see for themselves from removing barriers to equality and social justice for those they tread down?

It is “The War on the Poor” that occupies the White power structure, and they seem to be winning that war and their War on Color, terrifying millions of otherwise decent people into supporting programs destituting many while generating obscene profits for the few.

Evidence of their success is documented in the work of Jonathon Kozol, who published Death at an early age in 1964, exposing the destructiveness of the school system in which I was teaching. His later books, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2006) and Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (2012) illustrate clearly the nature of the lambs being sacrificed to the gods of profit and prejudice.


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3 Responses to THE WAR ON COLOR

  1. Barbara says:

    The war against people of color may not resort to guns and cannons, but in its way is as fatal to its victims as a bullet aimed at their brains. It is tragic to see this country’s hard-headed and heartless prejudice toward children born with a skin darker than the lily-white standard held up as the only color that is “pure,” “righteous,” admirable. A beloved relative of mine tried very hard not to be bigoted toward anyone, but once murmured to me of the African American she had hired as a maid, “She’s very nice, but it’s too bad she has that awful kinky hair.” I was tempted to respond, “It’s too bad you have that awful kink in your brain” but managed to control my disapproval of her remark. It’s frustrating that people–even people who can be so kind to so many so often– can be so blind to their own prejudices and so deaf to the harm those apparently trivial prejudices can do.

  2. AJ says:

    I recently joined my girlfriend (who also began her teaching career at the Deerborn), teaching special needs students at an urban outpost of Boston Public Schools. I saw several of the inequalities you describe, though thankfully much less overt racism. I found many committed faculty and staff, though I did find it interesting how many were white, given darker student demographics. Most eye-opening was the reception I received as a tall, new, white male: consistently challenged verbally and physically by older students, male and female alike. Middle-school is a tumultuous time wherever one goes but I can see how it’s easy for well-intentioned adults who have had a relatively easy life coming to think of their role as educators as part prison warden, quelling potential riots in a place where they are the minority. (One thinks of the embattled mentality of some American police officers who manage to produce threats where there are none.) It’s an impulse I tried to fight, but note that most don’t stay at the Deerborn long. I didn’t either. As generous as BPS salaries and benefits are, it’s a tough, tough job; the work follows one home. Hats off to the educators who stay in, build relationships, and stay kind.

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks for your observations on the challenges to kindness in today’s world. Seeing threats where there are none is a big one–and addressing that problem is itself an enormous problem when there are power brokers who benefit mightily by dividing people from each other and denigrating kindness.

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