Waiting For…A White Lady?

You gotta watch at least the first 55 seconds of this video — hilarious! (if you can’t see the player, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VC3h8BTzGNs

So, before folks get all upset at me, let me make it clear that I am in no way suggesting that there aren’t well-intentioned, skilled, concerned and effective White ladies doing great work in our nation’s schools. I have worked with and beside dozens of them. Just Google “Katie Haycock” and the “Education Trust” in D.C. if you want to meet one amazing White lady who tirelessly advocates for quality education for urban students of color.

Having said that, let me get on to the real point of this post, which is Hollywood’s portrayal of the “great White crusader” as the answer to the many ills that plague the inner-city. To this day, Dangerous Minds stands as one of my LEAST FAVORITE movies of all time. HATED IT. Not because the heroine of the movie was a nice White lady doing her best to inspire her poor urban students to learn, but because her sole comrade was a fellow White teacher–and every Black adult in the movie was portrayed as disinterested, self-serving, ignorant and apathetic.

I’m a writer, and when I sit down at my keyboard to create visual images for readers it is not a haphazard or accidental process. Writers have something to say, and the words we use are intentional–we are painting pictures with them.

So, someone please explain to me how the Dangerous Minds screenwriter (Ronald Bass, a quite skilled and prolific writer who is the genius behind a few of my favorite films) didn’t think it was important to have at least ONE non-white adult character in the film who cared about education?  Did Bass really believe that the reason schools in the Black community are so abysmal is because there aren’t any caring Black adults in them who are going above and beyond to reach kids? That is an incredible insult to the many who are.

For those who will argue that the movie was based on a true story, please know that in Hollywood the term “based  on” means you can pretty much add or subtract whatever fiction or reality you care to if that will make it a more marketable film.

The scary thing about this movie is that even today it is being discussed on  YouTube, and many of the scathing comments about Black teachers and parents are coming from young people who have never stepped foot in an urban school, yet seem to believe every scene and every character in the movie is actual.

I have worked in urban education and school reform for over twenty years, and though I have encountered plenty of teachers and administrators of color who shouldn’t be anywhere near kids (no exaggeration), I have never been at a campus where there were NO teachers, parents or administrators of color who cared if kids got an education.

And, while I’m at it, I’m not denying that there are plenty of apathetic and confrontational Black parents, but I never once met a Black parent (or grandparent) who was angry and bitter about their child being taught a challenging English curriculum that would help them graduate and/or be better prepared for college.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Notice all the rose bushes in her yard? (Film directors don’t do anything by accident either, so you have to know that the roses in the yard are there on purpose.) So, this grandma is interested in nurturing and caring for those flowers, but her grandsons better not be wasting their time on poetry? Ugh. The screenwriter was making a point with that scene, and I’m having a hard time believing the point was well-intentioned.

Even if a woman like that mean grandma really did exist, she is definitely not the norm in the Black community. The vast majority of Black and Latino parents I’ve worked with, even the neglectful and uninvolved ones, saw high school graduation and preparation for college as valuable goals.  The lie that Black and Latino families care more about vocational ed, and less about college prep, is just that–a lie.

Want to see how much inner-city families really do value quality education? Watch the documentary Waiting for Superman. The lottery scene will break your heart.

UPDATE
LouAnne Johnson (the real-life teacher Dangerous Minds is about) responds to the questions I raised in this post — I’m stunned by her comments. <<—Click to read.


4 Responses to “Waiting For…A White Lady?”

Leave a Reply