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10.26.04, tuesday morning

In the afternoon, Jhumpa called. We rarely talk on the phone, so it was amazing to hear her voice. During our conversation, I found out that she co-teaches an ethnic studies class at a school in the working-class eastside flatlands of Our City. Only one white kid attends the school.

Everyday Jhumpa must break down the simplest terms as race is rarely an urgent topic in high school textbooks; in popular educational discourse, it is oft constructed as a bygone artifact of the past. The students won't even read those textbooks, thanks to the low expectations of teachers and administrators, so all work must take place in the classroom proper. Most students can't even name their ethnicity. When Jhumpa asked them their ethnicities, they answered, in one way or another, "I don't know, whatever, everything." (But perhaps that "whatever, everything" describes the broad commingling of ethnicities in Oakland.)

Of course, if they don't know the language, the building blocks to critiquing race, class, gender, capitalism, imperialism, etc., then they can't perceive how images or selves are historically constructed or how fuckedup it is that they don't even control their own histories . . . and if they can't control their history, then they risk the overdetermination of their future by the institutions within which they are caught. Everyday these students risk wage-slavery for the rest of their lives. They risk the environmental disasters wrought by corporate occupation of their low-income neighborhood. They risk police brutality on a day-to-day basis. They risk being the kid wielding the rocket launcher at the rear of a military convoy, angry and scared in another country, as rightfully angry people, armed with AK-47s, aim to kill.

Jhumpa said that if she could reach them, then she could reach anybody. I loved her so dearly when she said that, I wanted to write a poem for her.


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