I have two more parts to my Perspective on the Pledge series.
The previous parts of this series can be found here:
Detention did not end when the school day ended. Detention ended at 4:30, when the last of the teachers were getting ready to go home. So, when Shawn and Jenny were finally released and allowed to talk to each other, the school was nearly empty.
“So, what happened?” Shawn asked.
“I waited until everybody else had said the Pledge of Allegiance, then I stood up and gave my version. I didn’t say ‘black nation.’ I hope you don’t mind. I just couldn’t bring myself to say it.”
“What did Ms. Johnson say?”
“She didn’t say anything. The rest of the class started to boo me, and she told them to sit down and be quiet. She let me finish. Then she sent me to the Principal’s office and here to detention.”
“What about Mr. Hadley?” Shawn asked.
“He gave me a lecture about you being a bad influence on me. He said how he hates to see me go down this path, and I have all of this potential and he would like to see me make better choices”
“Speak of the devil,” Shawn said. Mr. Hadley had just entered the library with a middle-aged couple close behind.
Jenny gasped, “Those are my parents!”
Jenny’s parents seemed quite well off. Her father was dressed in a well tailored suit and tie, and her mom was dressed as if she, too, could step into a board meeting without a second glance in a pants suit with a laptop bag over her shoulder.
Mr. Hadley simply opened the door to the detention room and let the couple enter.
“This is the young man?” Jenny’s mom asked, looking at Shawn.
“Yes, Ms. Bradford.”
“Young man, I ask that you find better things to do with your time than to corrupt my daughter.” She then held her hand out towards Jenny and added, “Come along, dear.”
Jenny went with her mom, leaving her dad and Principal Hadley behind. Mr. Bradford waited until the women were out of earshot and added, “I realize that you people have difficulty determining right from wrong, so I will put this in terms that you can understand. If I catch you hanging around with my daughter again, you will suffer the consequences, and that is a promise.”
He did not wait around for Shawn’s rebuttal. He spun on his heel and was out the door at a quick pace, catching up with the women.
“What am I going to do with you, Shawn?” Principal Hadley said. “I can’t let this continue. You are disruption to the school. Either you need to start living by our rules, or I will have no choice but to convene a hearing to have you expelled.”
“Living by the rules. That means pledging allegiance to white power.”
“You have the option, according to state law, of sitting quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance.”
“While everybody goes through this ceremony that says that in order to be a patriot one has to pledge allegiance to white power.”
“You have the option to sit quietly while the rest of the class says the Pledge of Allegiance. That is your only option. I will let you have the night to think about it. Tomorrow morning, you will either tell me that you will live within the rules, or you will come here to detention while I convene a board of expulsion. I have nothing more to say this evening.”
“And Jenny, will you expel her, too?”
“If I have to. Hopefully, with her parent’s guidance, we can get through this phase she is going through without doing permanent harm to her future. She really does have a promising future ahead of her. You’re dismissed. Sleep on it, Shawn. Make the right choice.”
Shawn picked up his books and his backpack and headed down the nearly deserted halls of the school.
He was just off of school property when he heard somebody shout his name. He turned and saw three black students approaching him from behind. He recognized the one in the middle, an athletic kid by the name of Paul who was in his physical education class. Shawn stopped for them, though they did not hurry.
“What do you want?” Shawn asked as they approached. None of the three answered. They looked angry. Shawn let his backpack drop from his shoulder and into his hand.
The middle of the three boys stepped straight up to Shawn and shoved him backwards. As Shawn’s arms went out to keep from falling, he dropped his backpack onto the sidewalk.
“What are you doing?” Paul asked. “Everything was fine here until you come along. Now all the white students are looking at us as if we’re all potential terrorists. Everybody got along. Black people haven’t had it nearly as bad as a lot of other groups did. We’re not getting beaten up and killed like black people in some other schools. Then you come here and start stirring up trouble.”
“All you have to do is pledge allegiance to white power?”
“What does it matter, man? Nobody pays attention anyway. It’s not like people take the Pledge seriously. We just mouth the words anyway. You act like it’s such a big deal.”
“If it’s no big deal, when why is there so much resistance to changing it? One of the ways in which I discover if something is a big deal or not is by looking at whether it dies of neglect. I do not see the Pledge dying of neglect, here. In fact, I see people willing to lynch anybody who suggests that we have a Pledge of Allegiance that is anything other than a pledge to white power.”
“You’re not changing anybody’s mind, Shawn. You’re just getting them mad, and all of us are going to pay the price.”
“Right,” said the student who stood at Paul’s side. “Haven’t you ever heard that you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar?”
“You call this honey?” Shawn asked. “Your honey has a really bitter aftertaste.”
“You’re not listening, man,” Paul said, stepping up close. “You’re just making them mad. You’re not going to get anybody to change their mind by ridiculing and belittling them.”
“Do you expect that I can get them to change their mind by telling them that there is nothing wrong? You can’t get somebody to change their mind without first saying, ‘You’re wrong and here’s why you’re wrong.’ They’re wrong to have a school ritual of pledging allegiance to white power. And there’s no better way to show them why they’re wrong than by exposing them to a pledge of allegiance to black power.”
“Pledge to black power, and they’ll just see you as a threat. They’ll see all of us as a threat.”
“No,” Shawn said. “All you’re saying is that we’re supposed to act like nice, peaceful little slaves in order to keep the master happy. That way, he won’t beat us as badly. Maybe that’s true. Maybe telling the master that slavery is evil is a good way to get beaten. But slavery is wrong.”
“Leave it alone,” Paul repeated. “If you were the only one to get beaten, I would tell you to go enjoy yourself. But you’re not. All of us are going to suffer as well, and our suffering will be on your hands.”
“No, again,” Shawn said. “That’s like saying that the cop who dies trying to arrest a criminal is the fault of the judge who signed the warrant. No. The wrong being done here is being done by those who insist on a pledge of allegiance to white power. If any evil comes of that, it’s the responsibility of those who support such a pledge, not those who oppose it.”
“You remember that when you read about one of us in the hospital, Shawn.” Paul signaled to his friends that it was time to leave. As he walked away, he turned for a parting word. “I warned you, Shawn. I’m not going to suffer because you can’t keep your mouth shut.”