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Contemporary Fiction People of Color

“We’ve called you in here today to discuss the concerns that numerous parents have voiced over the past few weeks,” Scott said calmly to Nadia as he crossed one leg over the other. Nadia glanced at Scott, the head of Trinity Lincoln School, and then looked at the other members of the board in front of her. They were all coincidentally white, leaving Nadia as the sole, brown-skinned person in the room. Nadia couldn’t help but notice that her colleagues all somehow looked like someone jammed a pole right up each of their asses and they couldn’t quite get comfortable. She knew why she was called in here today. But she didn’t know why they needed six members of the faculty to speak to her about it. She felt like she was on trial for murder, not a teacher speaking to her supposed associates.  

“Concerns?” Nadia asked innocently, deciding to take the naïve approach. She knew damned well that there were parents complaining about her. But that wasn’t her problem, it was theirs. If parents didn’t want their teenagers to read books about real-life issues, then they should lock them in their houses and home school them.

“Yes…concerns,” Scott said as he cleared his throat and then uncrossed and re-crossed his legs again. Nadia wondered if he had to pee. Why else would he be doing so much crossing and uncrossing? She waited for Scott to continue; this was his meeting, not hers, and she was happy to answer any questions he had. He just needed to ask her one. Nadia leaned back and crossed her arms in front of her instinctively as she felt fourteen eyes burn into her soul.

“Uh huh…” she responded, waiting for him to elaborate.

Scott cleared his throat. “Well, it looks as though you selected a novel for your eleventh-grade honors class that was not on the list I gave you.”

“Uh huh…” she said, waiting for Scott to grow a pair of balls and say what he wanted to say to her.

“Annnnd…the novel you selected is quite controversial and offensive. Many parents were upset when they found out that their children were reading a book with such contentious topics.”

“What did the parents find contentious about the novel?” Nadia asked, already knowing what the parents had been saying.

“Well,” Scott took off his glass and rubbed his eyes. “They are saying that there is foul language. And murder. That all seems very inappropriate for children to be reading.”

Nadia fought the urge to roll her eyes. After two years of teaching the syllabus at this hoity toity private school, she had decided to toss in her own pick this year, The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas.

“And Macbeth and Crime and Punishment as well as all of the other novels on your list don’t have foul language or murder?” she asked matter-of-factly. She looked from Scott to her colleagues all staring at her stoically and continued, “It’s not as if I picked out this book for second graders. These are seventeen-year-olds. Practically adults.”

“Right and that’s all fine and dandy. But we have a process at Trinity Lincoln. All novels must be approved by the board to prevent any upset. And this is the exact reason we do this. Because look what happened? There is upset,” Scott said as he uncrossed and recrossed his legs again.

Nadia felt her face begin to flush with anger. Two years ago, when she had applied to this 85% white school with tuition that is thirty thousand dollars a year, she had her doubts. Would she face racism being one of the only people of color on the staff? Would she be able to have real-life and in-depth conversations with her students whose only experiences in life were going to their summer getaways in Nantucket and country clubs? But after her first-year teaching, she had tossed out all her concerns and taught the students the best way she knew how. And the first year had been okay. It had been more than okay; she had felt pretty good about it. But she felt the novel selection the school had was old and stale. The students needed to read contemporary books about real world issues. After she had read, The Hate You Give, she decided her students had to read it and she naively thought the staff would have been progressive enough to agree with her.

“Have you read it?” she asked Scott and then turned her eyes to the other faculty in front of her. “Have any of you read it?” Scott looked over at the women and men sitting in their chairs uncomfortably, waiting for someone to speak up.

“I started to, but couldn’t get past the slang,” Mary, the AP Science teacher, spoke up.

“Slang?” Nadia asked in astonishment. “It’s dialect. No different than the dialect in Huckleberry Finn.”

“It seemed like it was doing a lot of white blame on black issues,” Mary blurted out, her face turning beet red.  Nadia tilted her head in confusion and horror.

“Sorry, African American issues,” Mary corrected herself, her face almost purple now.

“The novel examines the way society uses stereotypes of black people to justify violence and racism against them. These stereotypes protect white communities, such as the school in the novel which is not much different from our school quite frankly,” Nadia began.  “It helps our students to reflect upon systemic racism.”

“We don’t have an issue with racism at our school,” Scott said. “We have some African American Students. We celebrate Martin Luther King Day.”

Nadia squeezed her palms together, now sweaty. “Scott, let’s be real here. What’s the issue? These kids play video games that have prostitutes and murder. They watch movies and TV shows with drugs and sex. In all honesty, probably some of them are DOING drugs and having sex. I can’t see the harm in allowing some white kids to read a novel about systemic racism.”

“The parents feel differently, Ms. Nelson,” Scott addressed Nadia formally, never a good sign. “We are going to need you to write a letter of apology to the students and families and unfortunately you will be on suspended leave until the summer in order for this incident to die down. We can’t have this leaking into the community that this is what we are teaching our students. Especially when we are getting incoming Freshman applications for the Fall.”

Nadia stared at Scott in disbelief. Letter of apology? Suspended leave? For teaching a novel about racism? A best-selling novel at that? One that teenagers all over the United States are reading and discussing? When Nadia had chosen that novel, she had hoped that maybe she, a brown skinned girl from humble beginnings, could teach the white privileged students at Trinity Lincoln literature. Real literature, not just the ancient books she was told to teach. And maybe, even teach them some humanity. But she realized that maybe she had hoped too much. Maybe Trinity Lincoln wasn’t ready to get out of their square box.

“Suspension isn’t necessary,” Nadia said as she rose from her chair and pushed it in, refusing to allow the group of cowards in front of her to waste any more of her time. “I’ll be resigning today,” she said as she picked up her purse and put the strap over her shoulder. She turned and walked out of the door and before she closed it behind her she said, “You should be hearing from my lawyer soon.” She slammed the door behind her and left Trinity Lincoln School for a more hopeful future somewhere else.   

March 15, 2022 20:03

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22 comments

Felice Noelle
00:34 Mar 16, 2022

Kathleen: Maybe twenty or more years ago I had a friend who taught middle school who lost her job for discussing Jean Aul's "Clan of the Cave Bear,...without much of a school board hearing. I think she had used some sort of a video that went with it and both caused a lot of public discord. I remember having to get special dispensation to share "To Be a Slave" with my elementary aged students. It seems that more things change, the more they stay the same. Thanks for such a well-written relevant story. Well-done, well-written. I went...

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Kathleen Fine
20:40 Mar 19, 2022

Thank you Maureen! I’m seeing this a lot on the news now but I know it has been going on for a long time! It is scary!

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Scott Mc Kay
16:31 Apr 05, 2022

A very powerful story. I've had many discussions with my cultural anthropologist wife about the systemic racism in our country. What makes it so difficult to combat is that when people think of racism they tend to envision blatant insults and hateful opinions of others based on the color of their skin. But racism is often so much more subtle than that.

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Kathleen Fine
23:00 May 22, 2022

Thanks Scott!

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Garson Gardiner
23:33 Mar 24, 2022

The way how you shine light on the dark spots in the world is truly astounding.

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Kathleen Fine
14:42 Mar 25, 2022

Thank you Garson!

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Brian Stanton
23:16 Mar 23, 2022

Hi there, You do dialogue very well. The conversation is believable and easy to envision. I enjoy it when dialogue is moving the story forward.

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Kathleen Fine
14:43 Mar 25, 2022

Thanks Brian!

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Elizabeth Hudson
01:13 Mar 22, 2022

Great job conveying the tension of the room. Timely, well written.

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Kathleen Fine
12:59 Mar 23, 2022

Thank you Elizabeth!

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Yvonne Clarke
15:58 Mar 21, 2022

Good for her! I could identify completely with this character.

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Kathleen Fine
12:59 Mar 23, 2022

Thanks Yvonne!

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Sharon Hancock
23:24 Mar 20, 2022

Great story and example of the prompt. It seems as if schools really don’t want kids reading anything at all…especially if it leads them to think for themselves. It baffles me that parents have time to monitor their kids reading choices anyways. That book is now on my list! Thanks for writing and sharing this.

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Kathleen Fine
12:59 Mar 23, 2022

Thanks Sharon! Yes, it’s a great book- I recommend it!

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00:15 Mar 20, 2022

I really liked this story alot! I can understand the WASPY attitude of the school board. It's old school New England syllabuses. I like the way Nadia stood her ground. I used to work at a library for the school district and any young adult over 13 can check out any adult book as long as they have a library card. If the parent puts up a fuss, of course, then that is the parent's right. The book is in the real world, "The Hate You Give". I never read it so I can't know what it is about but it would be good for debate in a classroom setting. Wh...

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Kathleen Fine
17:00 Mar 20, 2022

Thank you Kathryn! You should read the real book, The Hate You Give! It is very good!

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Michał Przywara
22:23 Mar 19, 2022

The story does a great job of conveying that "elephant in the room" feeling. Nadia feigns naïveté, her peers beat around the bush -- a game of chicken to see who will be the first to say it's about race. I like the implied argument here too, with her being suspended because of fall registrations. "Don't rock the boat while money's involved." That sounds sadly very believable.

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Kathleen Fine
16:59 Mar 20, 2022

Thanks Michael!

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20:37 Mar 19, 2022

Powerful and brilliant!

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Kathleen Fine
20:39 Mar 19, 2022

Thank you Alexandra!

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Okashi Kashi
18:33 Mar 19, 2022

Great writing Kathleen! This is one of the few stories that I've read and can say I've witnessed myself. It's a damn shame. One correction: when writing races (White, Black) capitalize the letters. -OK

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Kathleen Fine
20:39 Mar 19, 2022

Thank you for the feedback Okashi! I wasn’t aware of that so I am glad you let me know!

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