Thursday, July 17, 2014

African History Dropout

I was about 14 or so and my mother was hoppin’ mad. She found the taboo adult literature I was hiding. I thought it was in a safe hiding place, buried way down deep in the underwear drawer of my nightstand in my room at the state-operated boarding school for cripples, which I affectionately refer to as the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT).

My mother demanded to know how an adolescent cripple in a sheltered environment like SHIT could have acquired such adult reading material. It was not one but two books. One was On Contradiction by Mao Tse Tung. The other was Mao’s Little Red Book.

I cracked under the heat of interrogation and confessed that one of the houseparents, which is what they called the aides at SHIT, slipped the books to me on the sly. The houseparent was Brady, the guy with the big Afro haircut. Brady looked like the kind of guy the people in my snow white neighborhood referred to at the time as a “black militant.” (Note: The more worldly people in my neighborhood, such as my mother, acknowledged that not all black people were black militants. There were some blacks who had jobs, kept up their property and looked after their kids. These blacks were “the good ones.”)

My mother confiscated the books, lest I fall under the corrupting communist influence of the black militants. I didn’t tell her that it was too late. I dared not say so when I went back home to the neighborhood but I thought the black militants were super cool. And it didn’t have anything to do with the Mao books. I didn’t understand them. I just thought the way the black militants protested was so cool. I wasn’t even sure what they were protesting about but it was so cool.

In fact, I really wanted to BE a black militant. And it pained me greatly to know that I would never be able to achieve that revered status, just because I happened to be born the wrong color. So I did the next best thing. I took part in a student protest at SHIT demanding that an African history course be added to the curriculum. There were a lot of student protests in those days demanding African history courses so some SHIT students organized one too.

The SHIT principal responded very shrewdly by giving us exactly what we asked for. African history was added to the curriculum. I signed up right away. But the first indication that our great protest triumph would go terribly wrong came when Mr. Bodean, our regular history teacher, was assigned to teach the class. That wasn’t how it was supposed to work. African history was supposed to be taught by someone who looked like Cornel West or Frederick Douglass. But Bodean was white. He was way smart, too smart to be teaching at SHIT. He should have been teaching at Harvard or something but he was crippled. He had an enormous bald head and he walked funny. He’d be walking along just fine and all of a sudden his feet would skip a little. It was as if his feet were fucking with him just for a laugh. In those days, about the only place a guy who was crippled like Bodean could get a teaching job was at a place like SHIT.

And Bodean had a really screwy idea of what an African history course was supposed to be about. He thought it was supposed to be about the history of the continent of Africa. What a goofball! He never once talked about the protesting black militants. One day Bodean’s lecture was about indigenous crops of Rhodesia, or one of those 12 million African countries. At the top of the hour, he talked about millet and sorghum. I fell asleep. I work up at the end of the hour. He was still talking about millet and sorghum.

I dropped out of African history.