Were You Scared?

A few days ago, a beloved former student of mine (a black man) from the charter school where I used to teach tagged me on Facebook with the following meme:14390985_518072815058980_3971467955046972534_n.png(It’s probably good to note here that I’m one of those teachers that is better in retrospect than I am in the present moment. I’m kind of like childbirth that way. When my class is over, you’re glad you went through it and tend to forget the pain.)

Perhaps it is this amnesia effect that caused my beloved former student to forget that I ruin jokes. And I ruined this one big time. The man was trying to be nice to me in a public forum, and I replied with:

There were no bad kids in any of the places I’ve taught, smarty pants.

Then another former student chimed in: I was bad you were cool with me lol.

But here’s the thing, both of these former students were lovely, talented, hard-working, and kind. Yet once pulled over by police, the only context either may have in this country is as someone who is inherently bad.

If the Ellen meme was ever funny, it isn’t now. Not after I watched the film of Terence Crutcher’s murder, the cop voice-over calling this unarmed man a “bad dude.” Not after Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile. . . the list goes on. You know their names. We all know their names.

Statistically speaking, the only one in that photograph who should feel safe is Ellen. Everyone else should be running for their lives.

The former student who posted the meme gave the okay for this post. Want some context for him? He was a brilliant AP student, and is now a college athlete, a religious person, a wonderful man. I also know damn well that none of that would matter in a situation like Mr. Crutcher or Mr. Castile found themselves in.

Do you want to know the most common question many white people ask me when they find out that I taught at that particular charter high school where most of my students were black?

Were you scared?

Let that sink in a minute. Was I scared of what? Of the most dedicated students I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with? (It was a little scary when books I meant to last for a few weeks of instruction were read within two days of my passing them out. That happened a lot at that school. You know who you are, class of 2014.)

So no, a meme showing a successful white business woman and entertainer surrounded by successful black business men entertainers who are referenced as “bad” isn’t funny. It isn’t funny as long as unarmed black people are shot in the streets by professional law enforcement.

I am a professional school teacher. I am thoroughly trained and dedicated. It’s a great job, if you love it, and I do. I respect teachers as a whole. However, I consider teacher incompetence to be social injustice, and I have zero tolerance for teachers who harm kids.

In the same way, I respect law enforcement. I am grateful to first responders, and count many as my friends and former students. However, I am intolerant of law enforcement who carry their prejudices into a job where they get to carry a gun. These murders are not unavoidable situations. They aren’t regrettable mistakes. They are the result of generations of systemic, willful ignorance that looks at a picture of someone who looks like me and thinks good and a picture of someone who looks like Terence Cutcher and thinks bad.

Ignorance isn’t funny. It’s fatal.

A writer and professor I deeply respect once told me that dialogue is important in situations like these, so I’m leaving comments open for now. But I swear if you are white and want to tell me that racial prejudice isn’t a thing in our country because when you were a kid another kid beat you up, and he was black, please rest. Same to you with the All Lives Matter razzamatazz. Save it for another girl.








  1. I love this post, and your honesty. And I especially love the last lines: “Ignorance isn’t funny. It’s fatal” Holy shit, we need more people reminding us of this, especially in these very odd (and scary) political times. .

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Cinthia. We are in odd times, aren’t we? Although, I guess we always were. The only difference now is we have it all on camera for proof. We never should have needed it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol De La Mater

    Brilliant and insightful as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ann Baltezore Shoff

    I live in hope that an intelligent forum will be created of like-minded and experienced humans who are tasked with the goal of changing the ignorant minds with their vast knowledge of the truth. I pray you are the Chairperson of said forum so this significant conversation will begin as soon as possible! Thank you for sharing your considerable insight into the many facets of humanity! MAUREEN O’LEARY WANKET FOR UN AMBASSADOR GENERAL! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are spot on about everything in your article. My only question why did you, a professional school teacher, refer to yourself as a girl? You are a woman. It matters.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Yes!!! As one of your for behaviorally challenged students, I’m blessed to read this. YOU ARE THE DIFFERENCE Auntie Wanket!!!


    1. It was an honor to be your teacher and you were never behaviorally challenged so haha you’re not fooling anybody. You are every kind of wonderful, Kyle.


  6. As you are aware, I have some questionable characters in my life. (None of whom are Black by the way.) I converse with lots of deniers, apologists and outright Racists. Why? Because the things you address in your blog cannot simply be spoken and thus heard by only like minded people. I read and love your posts. I find you are able to articulate my experiences as a biracial man and dark skinned American in ways I can’t .

    So thanks Maureen. For giving me words to offer those I mentioned above. Will it change them? Most likely not. But it does change and empower me.

    It’s an honor to call you a friend and colleague.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m honored to call YOU a friend and colleague. You know who I hope to reach with these things? The well-meaning white person who doesn’t even realize his or her own biases. There are people I count on to call me on mine. You are one of them, my friend.


  7. Rory Tira

    Sat down tonight to do my reading and gathering of the facts in Stephon Clark’s story. I love that i found my way to this piece by way of another terrific student we shared. thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading.


  8. You are the one I come to when I need clarification on this crazy country we live in. And as always, your clear insight always points me in the right direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love you, my sister. I count on you for wisdom too, you know.


  9. Joan Vreeland

    Thank you Maureen. Your words are wisdom!


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