Once upon a time race was mistaken for ideology. Of course there were still racists, or at least by flat definition. There were those folks who could not stand the sight or smell or sound of the black/white/brown/red/yellow people throughout the world. But as time moved forward and there were many other things to hate, race, at least for some, lost its meaning. It was all about what someone believed. After all, weren’t there ‘good ones’ of every stripe?
Linwood Marcus had been a Republican since college. Once politically indifferent, it was the staunch liberalism of the whining suburban brats that turned him off. White kids, all of them, protesting everything from racism to the number of flavors of vegan ice cream offered in the cafeteria. They protested everything with the same intensity. Linwood, every bit a member of his generation, came to his opposition with the same blind intensity.
Because he was African-American people had different expectations from Linwood. Because he came from the city they expected him to be the sort of person he had spent his whole life trying to avoid. And yet he was every bit as angry as some oppressed person shouting about how unfair it was that the government didn’t pay his way for everything. Linwood had been taught the lesson of hard work. His father had worked himself into an early grave–he had only been thirty-seven years old, working two jobs, the janitor at school, and then janitor on the third shift at some overnight meat-packing plant. He had worked sixteen hours a day, six or seven days a week, because he knew that he had to take care of his family.
Linwood’s mother was of a different sort, no less honorable, no less hard-working, but far more religious than his father had been. In fact, after his father had died, that was the moment that his mother found Jesus. Linwood was only eight years old at the time (his older brother and sister no longer lived at home), and was immediately thrust into the hope of the word of God. He had taken to it like a fish, swimming deep into an evangelical pond. He would look at his mother, a suddenly aging, dark skinned woman, walking around in her Sunday church hat, with pursed, judgmental lips, really another stereotype, Linwood thought in his nagging moments of doubt. She was just another black woman nodding her head and not really listening, mumbling out the occasional approving or disapproving “Mmmm-hmmm.”
Linwood excelled at school. All he did was work and work hard, understanding that he was, perhaps, less talented or intellectually advanced than many of the other students–lazy, broken, high all the time–but that he was more interested in his future and was therefore among the teachers’ favorites.
Of course being as self-righteous as he was, Linwood sometimes found himself running afoul of his classmates. He really didn’t have many friends, only a handful of other geeky losers (this was the white term for what his classmates actually called him, which was “faggot-assed nigga!”), and was frequently the target of bullies who would either be in prison or dead, he assumed, by the age of nineteen.
Once he graduated from high school Linwood thought that he would be the sort of person the make the black race proud, one of those foundational leaders who could advance mankind past its cruel history of racism. He was always polite, always well spoken. He went out of his way to fulfill yet another stereotype, that of the respectable African-American male, the sort of person that the police would apologize for stopping in his Mercedes-Benz.
It was in college that Linwood’s dreams of being the new Martin Luther King soured. The more he read about Dr. King, the more disillusioned he became with his message. It did not help that all those white kids would rally around campus protesting racism, every bit as Communist as King apparently was. Probably even worse. At least Reverend King had God in his life.
The day that Linwood decided that the Republicans were the only true Americans was when one of the white protesters (and there was always a protest–didn’t these fools ever go to class?) called him an “Uncle Tom.” Linwood had recently read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in his American Literature 2 class, and had no idea why this should be taken as an insult. Yes, Uncle Tom certainly bowed beneath the pressures of slavery, but his internal decency, his willingness to sacrifice himself for the salvation of others was positively Christ-like. Uncle Tom was not a shameful character. He was a martyr in the fight for equality. And yet when he tried to explain this to the person–a tall, thin white guy in a filthy tie-died T-shirt, grubby jeans and dredlocks that looked so out of place that it was impossible to take him seriously–the kid called him a race-traitor. Him. A race-traitor, when all he had ever done was to try and do his people proud.
Well, Linwood went out of his way to offend the obnoxious liberals after that, the black ones even more than the white ones. He joined the campus Young Republicans, and a Christian Conservative group that would have silent, candle-light vigils protesting the radical protesters every Saturday night, the night when all of those goons took off to engage in whatever sinful behavior struck their fancy. Linwood was the token black person in each of these groups, but he came to be respected internally for his sincerity towards the message and the goal. Even the most racist members broke down and started honoring Linwood. After all, the fact that he was even there was a public relations coup.
Linwood continued engaging deeper and deeper in farther and farther right wing politics until he finished school, got his certification, and became a social studies teacher in the city high school he had attended. Several of the students were actually the children of those people he’d hated, and failing them was an ideal revenge.
Mr. Marcus was known as ‘a hard-ass.’ None of the students liked him, and neither did most of the staff. He had no sense of humor, was unbearably strict, and took everything personally. A student forgetting to do their homework (or not bothering, which was more likely) was in for a very hard day, one filled with personal insults and the sort of unforgivable words that were once so extreme they drove an unhappy child to suicide. Mr. Marcus would ask his classes “Do you want to just be another stupid nigger who never does anything with his life?” He would say this with frustrated rage after the highest grade on a unit test would be a 72%. He was trying to teach them American history, about the glories and triumphs of the greatest nation in the history of the world, and all he could see were shameful brats who could only make a world a worse place. After the one student had killed themselves, Linwood snorted in the teacher’s lounge, while some of the more emotional teachers were even going as far as crying. He said, “It’s no great loss. I bet that kid would have robbed a pizza delivery guy before the year was out.” All he got were glares.
It was a nightmare for most of the staff five years later when Linwood became the principal of the school. He had worked very hard all those years and had aced his administrative exams. He had strong beliefs and ideas, and the way he promoted himself with the school district during his interview was as the sort of man who could get things done. The blaring corporate mentality of the public school system did not consider the still growing extremism of Linwood’s personal politics. They did not ask him about this, despite the fact that numerous people throughout the years had complained about his biased accounts of history in the classroom. He had been assigned to teach two courses on Black History, one of the core curriculum classes, and he rebelled against this by refusing to call it by its name, and making the entire lesson a military recounting of every major battle of the Civil War. He rarely touched on slavery. And when some of the students asked about this Linwood would shut them down: “People talk about race too much. If you lazy punks would just live up to your responsibilities then it wouldn’t be a problem.”
By the time Donald Trump was running for President Linwood, married for the past fourteen years to a woman who resembled his mother, with three children, Aaron, Mary and Carl, subdued and studious all of them, had graduated into the role of a right-wing fanatic. He went to numerous rallies for Mr. Trump, even once being pointed at by the new messiah and spoken to: “Look at my black guy! Do you see him? Look at my black guy!” Linwood was heartily cheered. And despite the fact that on his way back out to the parking lot he was accosted by two men, both who shoved him and asked “What’re you doin’ here? Nigger.” The other one asked him if he was a spy for Crooked Hilary. Linwood was lightly bruised by the encounter, but he managed to retain his dignity. He even understood why this had happened. Poor white folks like that had never had a reason to trust a black person, he told himself.
Eventually Linwood was challenged by one of the union leaders at the high school. She stood up, this time a very well put together, conservative looking (but not thinking) black woman named Rashonda Mitchell. She said during an open staff meeting, “I just don’t understand you, Mr. Marcus. I mean, you have a Trump/Pence sticker on the back of your car! How could you? You’re a black man! Don’t you get it?”
The staff, mostly a group of black and white liberals, needed some schooling. The handful of Republicans hovering in the background, almost exclusively middle-aged white men who taught Math and shop classes, and coached a variety of sports, narrowed their gaze and glared at their principal. Clearly they believed that he would somehow betray them, would betray himself, and prove himself as just another black guy who thought only about himself and his own race. But they did not know Linwood Marcus. He exploded:
“First of all, Ms. Mitchell, you have no right to question my beliefs. The fact that you do this in front of the whole school only betrays the flaws within yourself.” There was an audible gasp and Rashonda was one the verge of responding. Linwood continued.
“The fact that you think you have the right to tell me what to believe makes me doubt your qualifications as a teacher. What are you teaching these children? What makes you think your opinions matter to anyone other than yourself?” There was an increasing murmur among the staff, and that was when Jim Dooley, a young teach-for-America convert, stood up.
“You can’t say that,” Mr. Dooley said. “You have no right to tell Ms. Mitchell–”
“Sit down, Mr. Dooley.” Jim did so. There was another hush in the room. Linwood turned back to Rashona. “I am your boss, Ms. Mitchell. I was given this job partly as a maneuver to diversify the opinions among the administration of our school district. Most of you are liberals. I understand that. I do not accept your beliefs, but I realize that you have the right to hold them, no matter how ignorant they may be. But that does not change the fact that this is my school, and I will run it however I see fit.” He paused, hesitated, then shook his head.
“These kids need structure. Most of them come from broken homes, or their mama’s on crack or Daddy’s in jail or their grandma is raising them because there’s no one else left. A lot of them get beaten and most of them come to school high. They have not been taught to believe either what you guys do, or what I do. They’ve been taught nothing, not even anarchy. They live in an endless world of hopelessness and failure. They don’t have Jesus in their lives and too many of them become Muslims–”
This was too much for Eshaal Ali, an orthodox Muslim woman who wore her hijab and veiled her face. Linwood had never liked her and the feeling was clearly mutual. She stood up and pointed her finger. She shouted one word. “Racist!” she said. Linwood’s face was blank as a low laughter spread.
“Islamaphobe!” she continued, and now a few other people stood up.
“You’re a racist, Mr. Marcus,” one of the white teachers said, followed by four more. Then the black teachers got into it–nearly all of them. One of them sat down at her laptop and began composing a letter to the superintendent, exaggerating the incident. She wrote, “And then Mr. Marcus told Mrs. Ali that she could lose her job if she didn’t get out of ‘her wool sack.’ He told her that she was going to Hell if she didn’t change her ways.”
This incident exploded into the news, the press relieved to finally have a black person to condemn. It evened things out, they believed. There were so many white people to condemn–legitimately too–that it was time to prove once again that all humanity was flawed.
Linwood lost his job. He tried suing the school, and was given a six-figure settlement then ordered to remain silent. Instead he went on social media and began talking about conservative voices being censored. He called out the liberal media, was attacked by numerous voices on Facebook and Twitter, and responded, frequently, with racial slurs. When Twitter finally banned him, Linwood increased his rage against the “fake news liberal media.” He said that he and other patriots were being silenced. He proclaimed that he had done nothing wrong. He talked only about his politics, and never his behavior. He declared that he was further to the right than Genghis Khan, and invited all of his people to join him in a crusade to save the United States of America from the liberal poison that was destroying the nation at her very root.
©2019, 2020 Lance Polin