Two weeks ago I rolled out my pre-reading lessons for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird which includes sharing motivational stories about unknown heroes such as Edward Thomas, Houston’s pioneering African American police officer.
Thomas, who worked on the force for 63 years, died two weeks following the dedication ceremony renaming the department’s office building after him, a man who while in college was drafted into the Army during World War Two, fighting on D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge.
His country asked him to sacrifice his life yet did not treat him equally; even in the military he was placed in a segregated unit.
Due to his color, he was not allowed to enter the front of the police department building (he had to use the back door), not allowed to be in the roll call room (he had to stay in the hallway), and was on his own during his patrol (white officers would not back him up). Still, he persevered.
The final job he held was at the security desk where staff checked in which had now been moved to the rear of the building. Quite ironic that all officers now enter the only door Thomas was allowed through.
We then analyze a poem, “Incident” by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, describing a heartbreaking moment of racism for a young boy when the only memory that stayed with him during eight months in Baltimore was when another boy called him the n-word.
That leads to a discussion about the n-word and its use in literature. We went over which words for African Americans would be permissible and which were not.
Hours after having a sensitive talk about racial epithets, President Trump obliterates the point I was trying to make by using ugly language to discuss certain immigrants.
In a meeting on immigration with lawmakers, Trump said, “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from s—hole countries?”
The language was raw, the racism an open sore. Did our Commander-in-Chief actually say those ugly things?
And then the second part of the story unraveled.
The news media decided to spell the whole expletive out. There it was in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Not only that, when I turned on CNN, in the lower-thirds of the screen, there was Trump’s quote with each letter of the fully spelled out word in all its glory—no asterisk or hyphen substituted.
For further shock value, moderator Anderson Cooper and nearly all of his guests actually said the word on the air repeatedly in their conversations.
What’s baffling is when former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci gave obscenity-laden responses to a reporter last July, the media refrained from spelling out the words or saying them on the air. So why have the standards and practices of the media changed? Has the bar lowered even further on what words can be in print and on TV? If so, what about the n-word and other racially charged language?
The next day, news broke about a porn star being paid $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair with Trump years ago when his wife was pregnant with their child.
Coincidentally, I also introduced a semester-long assignment called The Decency Project which asks students to come up with ways that they can help others. Some will be collecting items for underprivileged people, while others will be working at hospitals, animal shelters, and homeless shelters.
Teenagers working at a higher moral plane than the President. Who would have ever thought that day would come.
Thank you, President Trump, for continuing to provide teachable moments for educators.