The decisive blow to the proposal came when a key spokesman for the establishment delivered a speech against the proposal, averring that he could not be a racist since his wife is a non-wasp, but that he wanted his son to be able to teach this course some day. Since the man’s son is not yet out of public school, his problem seemed irrelevant to the immediate question. Nevertheless, the majority of those present were convinced. After the meeting, I overheard another establishment type saying that, while she opposed the course, “We were trapped by history.” I didn’t point out that the American black man has been “trapped by history” for more than 300 years. \(In fairness, I must mention that, possible acting on higher r orders, the department did attempt unsuccessfully to recruit a black faculty THE NEXT CRISIS occurred some days after the meeting when a ranking departmental member assured a forum of black students that neither Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, nor any other “polemicist” would be taught in the course. This incident resulted in a considerable loss of faith within the NTSU black student community. Despite such tempests, it became clear that someone had to teach the course this fall. The non-racist’s son still not being ready, one other member of the committee and I were asked if we would teach it since we had written the proposal. With misgivings about my background in Bowie and in black literature I agreed, as did the other committee member. We decided on a chronological approach Frederick Douglass to the present. Were we going to teach Malcolm X and Cleaver? Of course. How? It was simple to order the books directly from the book store. No one from the department said anything about our order; through regular channels we ordered Dark Symphony \(an Up from Slavery, The Souls of Black Folk, Cane, Native Son, Blues for Mister Charlie, Invisible Man, Why We Can’t Wait, and The Poetry of the Blues. The class began with one nervous South whitey facing a group of about 25 students, around 60% white, 40% black. For the first week, only the whites would participate in class discussion. I really got uptight. Was my racial liberation strictly theoretical? Was I doing or saying something wrong unkowingly? Early in the second week, we were discussing three poems by, of all people, Paul Dunbar. “Which of these is the best poem?” I asked. ” ‘We Wear the Mask’ ” a black student whom I shall call Mr. Smith said, “Why?” “Because it says something, and the others are sell-out dialect poems.” “What does it say?” “Oh, you know.” “Come on, what does it say?” “Oh man, you know what it says. Don’t make me say it.” “What does it say?” “All right. It says that to white people we wear a mask and grin and sing and look happy, but underneath we hate your guts.” “Is that true?” I asked, “It was always true until recently.” “What changed it?” “Watts, we took off the mask in Watts. Now you white people wear it.” “How?” “Because of the civil rights acts, you have to hire us and give us jobs and other stuff, but you don’t really like us any better than we ever liked you.”Class discussion became integrated at that moment. From then on, the class was the most stimulating and enlightening teaching experience of my life. There were debates over DuBois \(Mr. Smith objected to the Talented Tenth theory: “Any time a black intellectual appears, he is given money and made successful by white society and therefore separated forever from the \(“Was he a complete sellout?” “Hell yes,” “I wondered if he was saying to himself about me, A real sweet ofay cat, but a little, but a little frantic.” said Mr. Smith and nearly every other black student there. “But he did start a Richard Wright \(I liked Native Son, as did most of the white students. “Oh man, he doesn’t really show you what the ghetto is like. One rat doesn’t make a ghetto, but you white liberals want to believe that if you can kill one rat, you can cure the ghetto,” asserted Smith and two other and Cleaver \(“Aren’t they unnecessarily suspicious of whites? Don’t they hinder any dialogue by their insistence upon racially separate organization for progress? Why must the ‘collective white man’ prove anything to anybody? Why don’t blacks just accept it when I say that I’m not prejudiced?” chorused several whites. “Oh, I think that the weight of historical proof does rest on the white man. After all, slavery, segregation, Selma. Besides, it is true that white money has historically taken over organizations devoted to black progress,” asserted one white student. Mr. Smith and the other blacks simply THERE WAS ONLY one destructive incident during the semester. One Friday about six weeks into the course, a bright white coed called my office and said that she wanted to discuss some problems about the course with me. We made an appointment for that afternoon. Then she said something that chilled me: “I think I solved my problems with Mr. Smith yesterday. Now I just need to work out some things with you.” When we met later, she shocked me: she felt that Mr. Smith was talking too much in class, that I was allowing him to “get away with illogical statements,” she resented it, and the class resented it, and furthermore she had talked to Mr. Smith the day before and told him all this. Mr. Smith had assured her, she added, that he was uncomfortable in the role of “black spokesman that you force him into” and that he would not “try to dominate the class any more.” Moreover, she named several other black students who resented my allowing Smith to say the things he did. “Besides, he had no right to say the other day that he didn’t trust you,” was her concluding charge. \(In explaining Du Bois’s “veil” metaphor, I had tried a pedagogical trick on Mr. Smith. “Do you trust me?” I had asked him, conficently expecting him to say he did. Then I was going to say, “But you shouldn’t, because you don’t know me. And very few blacks have ever had a chance to know whites in America, and DuBois is saying that personal acquaintance must precede trust in any human relationship.” But when I asked the question, Smith simply answered, “No,” Somewhat dazed, I tried to tell the girl that she and Mr. Smith and all my students had the right to say whatever they thought in class discussions, though I honestly didn’t think Mr. Smith was making “illogical statements.” I spent that weekend first contacting the white students whom I had taught before and asking them if they were upset about Mr. Smith or anyone in the class. They were all baffled by my questions. Then I toured Southeast Denton \(the town’s the girl had named and asking them if anything about the class was upsetting them. One man was great. I caught him shaving before a date. “No, sir, I think the class is going fine. What are you worried about?” I told him that a student had said that Mr. Smith was talking too much in class and dominating it. “Man, that’s just the way he is. He talks a lot and says a lot. He’s read every damn thing in the world. Besides, anybody can talk in there who wants to.” As I was leaving, the student, his face still covered with shaving cream, asked, “Dr. Giles, why didn’t you wait until Monday to ask me this? It’s not all that serious. That class is going to be all right.” As I walked to the car, I wondered if he was saying to himself about me what Baldwin had said about Norman Mailer: “a real sweet ofay cat, but a little frantic.” Finally, on Sunday, I got Smith on the phone. Yes, the girl’s approach on campus had upset and angered him. No, he didn’t feel that I was “forcing him to be any kind of spokesman or anything.” Was he May 15, 1970 9
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