Reading this recent news story brings to mind some events from my past….
First off, I think this lawsuit and its outcome were absolutely correct….It is a school’s responsibility to provide a safe environment in which to learn and apparently this school did not.
I feel this way because I had a similar experience when I was in junior high school…For the duration of seventh grade, I had lived abroad in Karachi, Pakistan due to my stepfather working for the United Nations….When I returned to the rural community in Northern California where my stepfather owned a home to start eighth grade, it happened to coincide with the revolution in Iran and more specifically the resulting hostage crisis….I am half-Indian and so while not dark skinned look I look almost Arabic as my mother’s white features cancel out some of my father’s Indian ones….Long story short, the mostly redneck population began to single me out for verbal abuse (although not so much physical)….They basically branded me as an Iranian and it became a constant source of taunting….One of the favorite things that was said why don’t you go back to your own country?....This was very funny since I am native speaker of English and even in those days English was my best subject….I was also born in the United States.
What I have in common with the Egyptian girl in the lawsuit is the lack of response from the administration of the school to what was going on….In my case, I even had a teacher tell me one time I should go back to my country basically mirroring what the students said.
I never thought about suing though….I guess the statute of limitations have long since expired but I do respect this Egyptian girl for following through….I imagine it is even worse if you are a real foreigner in small town America’s schools.
My junior high school had one black student and he was also the subject of much abuse particularly by the PE teacher who seemed to not like black people at all….Small town America is still very racist but even more importantly in these days of the first non-white president, it’s also deeply xenophobic….They are ignorant of other cultures so they hate and fear other cultures….That’s the American redneck way!....in the 1800’s, they hated Irish and Italians until they became part of America then it was Jews then Chinese and other Asians….Every race goes through the whipping boy period because America, at its heart, is extremely insular and intolerant even more so in small towns.
The truth is I’ve never agreed with nor indentified with America’s mythologizing small town life….Small towns that were isolated by distance and/or geography from larger urban areas in my experience are places where you find people who are less educated, less rational, more animalistic, more racist (and one could also say more homophobic)….In short, small towns are where you find people who are less civilized….Norman Rockwell paintings aside, small town morality is a dubious fiction inspired equally by a twisted view of morality as well as a distrust of anything educated or modern or scientific.
My views are perfectly summed up by an interview with Christopher Guest about his year at Saturday Night Live and a sketch he did that got censored by the network….The sketch was a parody of a show that was popular at the time that featured newsman Charles Kuralt traveling around the USA in a RV chatting up small town folks and chortling at their homespun wisdom….In the sketch, the people he met didn’t like blacks or jews or gays or any foreigners at all and were a bit like the two encountered in the movie DELIVERANCE (Squeal like a wild piggy boyyyyyyyy)….Guest said that SNL felt it was too controversial to run a sketch that portrayed small town people in this light (despite the fact they run sketches mocking Arabs and other groups all the time).
The bottom line is despite what happened in voting booths last November, small town America at its heart is still a scary place for a foreigner or non-Anglo Saxon American or anyone remotely different….This is nothing to celebrate but rather something to vilify or even more productive satirize and ridicule….Three cheers for the plaintiff in this case!