Below is an excerpt from, "The Freedom Writers Diary," by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers
When I was born, the doctor must have stamped “National Spokesperson for the Plight of Black People” on my forehead; a stamp visible only to my teachers. The majority of my teachers treat me as if I, and I alone, hold the answers to the mysterious creatures that African Americans are, like I’m the Rosetta Stone of black people. It was like that until I transferred to Ms. Gruwell’s class. Up until that point it had always been: “So Joyce, how do black people feel about Affirmative Action?” Poignant looks follow. “Joyce, can you give us the black perspective on The Color Purple?”
Maybe I am just looking at this all wrong, maybe I should feel complimented. I mean, I am being trusted to carry the weight of millions of people’s voices, right? Wrong! I don’t feel complimented. How the hell should I know what the black perspective is on Affirmative Action or The Color Purple? What is it, magic? Black people read, and poof, we miraculously come to the same conclusion? The only opinion I can give with some degree of certainty is my own.
I know some people would say, “Now, Joyce, it’s not every day one finds an African American in advanced placement and honors courses.” People think that I should know that better than anyone else, considering I’m in these classes. As if I don’t notice, or better yet, could forget I’m the only black person around. Hum, must have slipped my mind.
I remember the teacher I had before Ms. Gruwell. Let’s just say for a teacher she isn’t very tactful. I dealt with all sorts of rude and stereotypical statements, but one day she took it too far. I was in class looking over our reading list for the year, along with our essay assignments, when I noticed a saddening lack of diversity. I asked her why, and her response was, “We don’t read black literature in this class because it all has sex, fornication, drugs, and cussing.” Whoa there, slow down lady, a simple “it’s inappropriate” would have sufficed. But no, she had to take it to the extreme. I almost overlooked the blatant ignorance of her statement, but did she have to say it in front of the entire class? I mean, ouch!
I held my tongue, until lunch, when I told my friend. Her response was that I should tell my mom, tell the principal, tell the superintendent, but tell someone. I told my mom when I got home. I tried to tell her in a nonchalant, offhand sort of way. Can’t you just see it, me at the dinner table in between swallows of chicken and broccoli casually mentioning the day’s events.
“How was your day, Joyce?”
“I don’t know, the same, I guess.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, I had lunch with Alisa, and took a chemistry quiz. Oh, by the way, my English teacher is a bigot.”
There’s a brief pause, followed by a fork clinking and jaw dropping. She just looked at me. Then she asked me what I did. And I told her, “Not a damn thing!” Well, actually I can’t curse in my mom’s presence, so I said, “Nothing.” The next day I was called to the principal’s office and there was my mom with a list of books written by and about black people, I was told that my teacher had been contacted already and the principal already apologized for her words. My mom gave me a list of books and sent me off to a class with a kiss and a hug.
OK, what was I supposed to do? Walk into class with a smile and my new book list and present it to the teacher like a shiny red apple? “Mrs. Bigot, I just wanted to present you with this list of wonderful books. I hope they are all free of drugs, fornication, sex, and cussing. Furthermore, I want you to know that I hold no grudge against you, and I am really looking forward to your enlightening lectures for the next two years!” Yeah, right. I couldn’t imagine another term with this woman, and as long as I stayed on the honors English track I would be stuck being the spokesperson for the rest of my high school career.
I told Alisa about my dilemma and she told me all about her English class. She told me that her teacher actually earned the title of educator. She puts everything into her classes, cares and listens, and above all else, refuses to label people. I wasn’t really interested in all the other things, I just knew I wouldn’t have to keep sending Gallup polls out to Negroes all around the country.
And that is how I found myself starting my junior year in Ms. Gruwell’s class. It’s my personal tale of mystery and misgivings, hatred and heroism, scandal and sacrifice. Well, actually it’s a tale of how one woman, with a blind eye to stereotypes, had the eraser that took, “National Spokesperson for the Plight of Black People” off my forehead. She replaced it with “Spokesperson for Joyce Roberts.”