How I Learned the Truth About Race

Eric Gustafson, American Renaissance, July 11, 2014

And lost my liberal illusions.

Once when I was in high school, I annoyed my conservative parents by asking a cute Hispanic girl to a dance. I knew this would bother them, but I never understood why. They had occasionally given me vague hints to find a mate of my own race so as to “keep my heritage white.” However, they failed to explain exactly what that meant, or why it was important. Perhaps they took too much for granted. They had spent most of their lives in white towns and I also grew up mostly among white people.

In my younger days, my libertarian views clouded my understanding of race, which I thought was a corrupt, collectivist concept. To add to the confusion, my mainstream, 1980s Christian upbringing had taught me always to look past the surface and into the heart–a teaching I interpreted too broadly. I had a self-righteous moral universalism that was sometimes openly hostile to the values of my own parents. In my arrogance, I saw my elders much the way Michelle Obama sees older white people: as misinformed throwbacks who needed to be enlightened by young people.

This was my view of race throughout my college years, but what happened after graduation changed all that. The shock of making a living in a large, multiracial city shattered my race-denying idealism and set me on the path to truth.

I had a liberal arts degree and little interest in graduate school, so I made ends meet by working as a security guard and as a substitute teacher. When I was growing up I had a few black and Hispanic friends, but my background sheltered me from the madness that is the majority-minority high school. I learned more about race in one semester of substitute teaching than I did in all of my formal education. Nothing could have prepared me for that.

Certainly, the one-day orientation class I got from the school district didn’t prepare me. We covered very basic policies and procedures, and I thought it odd that I didn’t learn anything that suggested I was actually supposed to teach.

The first thing I found out was that the only schools that ever seemed to need substitutes were ones with many non-Asian minorities, and I quickly learned why there were so many teacher absences: The students literally ran riot. At one campus, especially, black and Hispanic students constantly roamed the halls. That was actually preferable, because trying to corral them inside classrooms only amplified the chaos. I was constantly on the phone with security guards to ask them to remove unruly students.

When I wondered what my parents may have meant by “white heritage” I thought of the old proverb, “Silence is golden.” Black students, in particular, always shouted. This was intimidating because they hollered so loudly and so frequently that I couldn’t tell if they were happy or on the verge of violence. They shouted in class, in the halls, outside–everywhere, and often for no reason at all. Since there was no way I could teach in that environment, I came to see myself as more of a custodian than a teacher.

I learned to pick my battles. One morning, when I ordered an obese Hispanic drifter, who had been banging on doors, to get out of the hall and return to class, he roared back, “I will f***ing kill you!” He had an enormous physical presence, so if he was capable of violence he could be dangerous. I wanted to know who he was, and report him to the authorities if necessary, so I went back to my room and asked if anyone knew his name. No one said a word. Later, I spoke with another Hispanic student whom I had caught selling prescription pills during class. I told him I would not report his drug selling if he told me the name of the student who had threatened to kill me.

Drugs were everywhere. During one class when I was showing a video, a Hispanic student directly in front of my desk took out a bag of marijuana and casually began breaking the buds apart. It was common for students to come to class on drugs, but one black girl was so high she literally staggered around the room for the entire period, climbing onto desks and staring at the lights. When I spoke to her she was completely unresponsive.

Black and Hispanic students are keenly aware of the power they have over whites. One day, I was trying to keep order in class when an indeterminate mestizo or mulatto began walking around the room hollering. I asked him to return to his seat and stop bothering others. Instead, he ran out the door and returned moments later with a black female security guard.

“Miss, this dude is a racist,” he declared with a smirk. She shot me a suspicious glance. I was forced to explain myself to the security guard, as if I had been the one who was out of line.

The most frequent assignments I received as a substitute teacher were to so-called “special education” classes. At first I thought I would be comfortable in them, since I had been around people with Down’s Syndrome, autism, and other developmental problems. Generally, people with these conditions are sweet and gentle.

The first time I got a special-education assignment at a majority-minority high school, I was shocked to find that none of the students showed any of the symptoms I was expecting. They were like the other poorly behaved minority students, only worse. During a conversation with one “special needs” student, I asked him why the class was filled with people who seemed to suffer from no disorder other than a lack of discipline. He said students voluntarily had themselves classified as having “special needs” because that exempted them from state-mandated standardized testing. I asked if he didn’t mind being thought of as having a mental problem. He said it didn’t bother him so long as he could advance to the next grade without taking the standardized test. The schools probably encourage this so as to keep the worst students out of the school evaluations required by the No Child Left Behind law. Whatever the case, the students and their families seemed perfectly content with this arrangement.

In another special needs class that was mostly black and Hispanic, I had an Asian student who was so loud and disruptive I had to have him removed from class by security. He returned with a teacher’s aide who told me that the administration did not like having special needs students written up for discipline issues. She would not explain why. Maybe the schools are under pressure not to have a higher rate of discipline problems for minorities and special needs students–even though they cause a hugely disproportionate amount of trouble.

“But what about when these kids go out and try to find a job?” I asked the aide. “When are they going to be prepared for the real world?” Instead of replying, she went up to the boy and put her arm around him affectionately–like a mother hen with her chick–as he continued his foul-mouthed tirade.

In my semester of substitute teaching, I was assigned twice to a middle-class school in a better part of town. I knew that most of the students were white, but by that point, I had become so jaded I expected more of what I had found on the other side of town.

I was wrong. The students were incredibly polite. They addressed me as “Sir” or “Mister Gustafson.” They paid attention and asked questions that showed genuine interest in the subject matter. On the two occasions I caught people violating the rules, they apologized and immediately corrected their behavior. This school was not all white, and the few minority students reminded me of my non-white friends when I was young.

I had a friend who was also a substitute teacher, and he told me about a conversation he had with a full-time teacher about the difference between good and bad schools. Since he is a classic liberal, he wanted to know if the district spent more money on majority-white schools. He learned that the worst minority schools got about three times as much money per student as majority-white schools, but that a lot of the money went into such things as English as a Second Language, security guards, and daycare for students’ children.

What I saw as a substitute teacher completely changed my views. I began to read more on race and education. Thanks to the Internet, I discovered that people were writing about their experiences, and that many of them matched my own. I gradually reached several conclusions:

First, my earlier, mostly positive experiences with minorities in a majority-white setting were useless for predicting how non-whites behave when they are the majority. I began to worry about mass immigration, because I could no longer ignore what happens to a neighborhood, a school, a city, or a nation when it becomes majority non-white.

Second, I realized that this country does not have an education problem; it has a race problem. It isn’t enough to teach a child reading, writing, and arithmetic. The student has to believe there is value in what he is being taught. Studies suggest–and my observations bore this out–that blacks tend to be more prone to impulsive behavior and immediate gratification, and less likely to invest in education. Yet we babble on about the virtues of diversity, spending untold amounts of money with the unstated and impossible goal of making minorities act more like whites.

Finally, my experience helped me understand what my parents may have meant by “white heritage” all those years ago. Although the Hispanic girl I took to the dance was not the sort of Hispanic I encountered as a substitute teacher, my experience made me aware of the advantages white folks take for granted–so long as we continue to enjoy majority white schools, communities, states, and nations. We accept displacement at our peril.

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Eric Gustafson
Mr. Gustafson is a technology professional who works in higher education.
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