Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Am Not Charlie

Snow delays and cancellation have given me ample time over the last 48 hours to read about the murders in France, and to follow the spread of "#Je suis Charlie" across France and around the world.

I agree with the sentiment behind that. An attack on freedom of speech anywhere is an attack everywhere, and it is easy to see that nothing good will come of those vicious assaults on magazine writers, editors, cartoonists, and police.

But I can't help reflecting on the degree to which, personally, I am not Charlie Hebdo.

We often fall into the rhetoric of battle in the debate that surrounds public education. We call it a battle. We call it a war. But at times like this I have to take a step back and remember that I am not in an actual war at all.

Part of my privilege as a white male American is the privilege of safely being a pain in the ass.

Whatever else I may believe about Arne Duncan, I don't believe he's going to send a group of armed assassins to my home to kill me. I don't believe that I make blog posts in defiance of a threat to my life.

I'm an adult, so I won't be dismissed for being snotty. And I'm a white guy, so I'm not going to be dismissed as "shrill" and "hysterical." Nor will I be called "angry" in public and "uppity" in private. Nor will other white male bloggers be told that if they want to be taken seriously, they should really try to get me to be more reasonable and proper.

It is routine in our country to inflate rhetoric in order to create a sense of epic conflict around every issue. Our government routinely declares "war" on things; we never get an announcement of "A New Well-calculated Thoughtful Initiative To Create Incremental Solutions To This Complex Problem." I long ago ran out of patience for calling things "rape" that are not (rape is rape; nothing else is rape).I understand this impulse-- when you are in the midst of a struggle, you want to convey to other people your sense of urgency. You want them to feel how important it feels to you. And, if truth be told, sometimes you want to be an Important Person who is doing Very Important Things. And so you up the rhetorical ante for effect. But the words in your mouth do not change the facts on the ground. You cannot borrow the difficulties of others in order to make your own look more dramatic and awesome.

Today, there will be teachers risking their lives just by going to their classrooms. I will not be one of them. Today, there will be people risking their lives by speaking up, making a point, expressing their thoughts. I will conduct my mockery of Power in a safe and comfortable place.

So, I can be Charlie Hebdo in my belief that human beings have a right to speak their truth. But I am not going to try to appropriate those deaths in France to somehow elevate my own importance or dramatize my own endeavors.

Make no mistake. I believe that the work I do in school is supremely important, and I believe the current attempt to crush the tradition of American public education is a terribly wrong thing that threatens some fundamental values of our nation. And I will continue to speak out about it as best I know how. But I will do it from a safe, secure, comfortable seat, and trying to pretend otherwise is a slap in the face to all the people who do not get to stand up in a safe, secure, comfortable place.

1 comment:

  1. I'm guessing you have not spent a whole lot of time in France. I lived there, and speak the language fluently. Using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is not about appropriating the deaths of the journalists. It is about saying that an attack on one of "us" (i.e. French people of all backgrounds or religions) is an attack on all. It's about the solidarity of being French in a way that may be difficult for an outsider to grasp.
    It's about the subtlety of language. Je ne m'appelle pas Charlie.... mais aujourd'hui je suis Charlie.