Greg Is Not His Real Name
by Lennox V. Farrell
And he could be a student in any school.
But he is very much for real about his feelings of being in Grade ten Basic classes. He is for real about arriving a couple of minutes late each day for class. He is chronically late because of his lingering in the washroom; risking yet another detention for being late, again. He hides until the hallway is clear so that other students, including other Black students will not know that he is entering the hated Basic class. He also rushes to leave class before the dismissal bell for the same reason.
Slow in arriving to class; swift in leaving it.
Greg also has problems walking the hallway, and dreads going home with the textbooks that the other students can deduce are not Advanced, nor General level. Students are wily about finding out these kinds of things. About finding out where other students are in the school academic hierarchy and social order. And for all their freshness and innocence, they are cruel so, to each other. And he schemes to get non-Basic texts to display on the outside of the Basic texts. He carries these defensive texts - a shield against the barbs, name-calling, and the possibility that others, especially girls will know the grim truth:
That Greg is Basic!
That is how, at the beginning of the term, in the first classes for the year he introduces himself to you, a teacher; someone whom he accepts will know, anyhow, this badge of shame that at his already coarsened 16 years of age he must wear.
He is not Canadian.
He is not a student.
He is not human.
He is Basic!
"Sir", he confesses with crushing finality, "I am Basic". And thus, every school day he spends enormous amounts of energy: physical, and mental in his hourly attempts to escape this desolation.
There are others like him. Other basic students, but who have given up trying to hide. They accept without outward show of resistance this branding. Like cattle led knowingly to slaughter, but unable, or unwilling to resist, anymore. These other Basic students cause Greg problems, since they no longer try to disguise their entrance to their Basic classes. Greg has problems with them when they have to leave the room and forget to close the door quickly.
He rushes to it.
No, he charges at it, bitterly slamming it shut as one would bolt a door in winter against a frigid blast. For these and other reasons, they bicker constantly, taunting each other as others taunt them.
Greg has these problems despite the fact that there is no other community in this country, Canada, which dedicates as much volunteer time as does the Black community to education for our youth. We are constant in consultations, in workshops, in meetings with Ministers of Education, with Directors of Education, with Superintendents in Boards of Education, with Principals, with teachers, with political representatives, like trustees, and other Ministry officials at all levels.
The only other meetings which surpass these are the number of times that students like Greg are sent out of classrooms to "go and see the principal". Greg is sent to the office so often that he will sometimes refuse on other occasions to go there and get something as innocuous as some chalk.
If the Principal sees him, no matter what, he will get in trouble, he says.
Later in life, he will also have the same relationship with Police.
His is a life in which every new day is another ambush. And days reach to months, and months to years in which there is an evolution of declining expectations, for him by all others; of him for himself.
He is given options that are constantly being diminished and diminishing. And he does what a normal human being, faced with abnormality would do. He rebels. He becomes obnoxious. He may traffick in illegal drugs. He could use a weapon on another Black youth. For a buck, or less.
The life of a young, Black male he has already learnt, is, unlike that of a white male, cheap and expendable. In every sphere of life, less is expected of him. For example, comparing student ability with school performance, a white male who is quadriplegic has a better chance of making it through the Ontario Advanced Credit (OAC) courses than an able-bodied Greg.
Along with the violence of the Police forces, he also contributes to a criminally absurd phenomenon in North America - the one in which the leading cause of death among young, Black males is homicide. The injuries, infamy and public loathing that his hopelessness and criminalization heap upon despairing, Black communities make his operations akin to being that of the Black arm of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
There is another absurd phenomenon. Greg is among the many young Black people who, on average, have a lower level of education than their parents: the only ethno-cultural group so accursed in Canada. He is also more than likely to grow in a house headed by an exhausted, overworked mother; more often than not, without the presence of a father, or authoritative, consistent, healthy male figure.
A child, too, of official rejection, if his parents had emigrated before him, he might have had to wait from the age of a baby until he had painfully reached that of a stranger before the immigration process allowed him in.
Or, regardless of how many generations his ancestors had lived in Canada, he would still be from somewhere else. Like Jamaica, or "the islands, aye mohn?!"
In spite of this, he is so much for real that he is among the young Black people who, while being streamed into Basic level programmes because authorities judge them unable to "understand" Advanced poetry in school, go on, outside of school to create international art forms like Rap, and Breakdancing!
Despite this, too, he does not think much of his own opinions.
Nobody listens to him, he says.
He is being prepared to be self-disrespecting, and subsequently disrespectful to others - especially if they are also Black.
And before he enters the world of the young adult, he would have likely become part of the anti-social phalanx of Black youth who rudely challenge parents, and bus drivers, as well as teachers, janitors, and other authority figures in, and outside the school; leaving the caring teachers to sorrow; and the uncaring ones to retreat to staff-rooms and possibly contemplate the validity of Philip Rushton, the University of Waterloo professor's vile, racist assessment of Black people.
As if to prove these racial theories correct, Greg would be more associated with teachers in Physical Education, and detention, than with teachers of Physics, Chemistry, and Math.
Unable to further a socially-acceptable career for himself, Greg's general distress, the abnormal expectations had of him, as well as high levels of unemployment among Black youth -as high as 53% in cities like Montreal, and 70% in South Preston, Nova Scotia- will create employment opportunities and career options for guards in Malls; for Police officers, court clerks, parole officers, prison staff, psychiatrists, newspaper columnists, et al ...
Greg lives in a civil society that espouses the ideals of individual liberty. But it is also one in which the reality is that individual value is based on personal wealth and on the ethno-cultural community with which one is identified.
Ours is a society that holds sacred, the principles of Democracy. But it is a Democracy, based not so much on meeting the needs of people as on protecting the privileges of property, regardless of how it is acquired.
It is also part of what is referred to as "Western culture and society" that understands the uses of power, but not the limitations of it: limitations imposed, always and ultimately, by issues of morality. Oftimes painfully imposed, too!
Ontario society is one that still has options, however. It can choose to go the route of denial, and pay the steep social costs that accompany the creating of a wasted, twisted humanity. These costs are already being experienced by other societies, like that of the United States of America, which, on issues of justice, acts as if it has no sense of consequence.
Or Ontario could choose to be sensible. It could flesh out the principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which are to ensure and increase the opportunities that provide all its people with a sense of ownership over the institutions that shape our lives and affect our livelihoods.
Greg is not his real name.
And he could be a student in any school in the Greater Toronto Area.
But he is for real.