This installment of the Perspective on the Pledge series was inspired by news of a billboard that went up in Pennsylvania, showing a sign much like the one described in this story. Quite coincidentally, the story provides an excellent way of illustrating the moral quality (or lack of it) of those who would post such a sign.
Previous installments can be found in yesterday's post
Principal Hadley had given Shawn the night to choose between submitting to a pledge of allegiance to white power without protest, or being expelled from school. Shawn did not need even a minute to consider his options. He imagined himself sitting there while Ms. Johnson insulted his dad, claiming that a patriot must support white power, and he could not even imagine himself bearing the insult in silence. The only thing he could imagine was Ms. Johnson simply refusing to support the insult, refusing to give class time to the idea that all good Americans pledge allegiance to one white nation.
He told his mother that in the evening. He had everything all worked out, assuring her that he would study and get his degree, even if he was not allowed to attend a public school, but that he would fight any attempt the school made to dismiss him. “I’m doing this for dad,” he told his mother. “I’m doing this because he was a patriot, even if he didn’t have any allegiance to one white nation.”
Eventually, his mother had given in. “When your father went off to war, I didn’t want him to go. I wanted him to stay here with us, safe. Let somebody else do the dirty work. But, if everybody thought that way, nobody would ever do the dirty work. And none of us would ever be safe. I was scared, but I was so proud of him for agreeing to do the dirty work. Shawn, don’t do anything stupid.”
“I’ll do it just like Ghandi did, mom. I won’t raise a hand against anybody, no matter what they do to me. But I won’t give in either.”
The next day, when he got to the school, he found a group of students gathered around the front door. When they saw Shawn, they parted, leaving him a path to a sign that somebody had taped to the door. The sign showed a white kid standing before the flag, his hand over his heart, and a caption below the flag that said, “Why does Shawn Henry hate America?”
Shawn clawed the sign off of the door and looked around. He counted four teachers standing within line of sight of the door, yet none of them had thought to even ask what was going on. Crumpling the paper in his hand, he marched in the direction of the administrative center.
Jenny intercepted him. She handed him another version of the sign. This one said, “Why do blacks hate Ameryca?”
“I can tell you why?” Jenny said and she matched Shawn’s stride. “Because Ameryca is a white nation. If you’re not in favor of a white nation, then you have to hate Ameryca, because Ameryca is a white nation.”
“If Ameryca is a white nation and if loyal citizens have to pledge allegiance to white power, then it deserves to be hated,” Shawn grunted.
“Say that a little louder, Shawn,” Jenny said. “Then you won’t have to worry about detention any more, not until you’re released from the hospital, if you live that long.”
Shawn stopped. He found a chair sitting against the wall of the hallway and climbed on top. “Ameryca is either a great nation that values liberty and justice for all. Or it is a bigoted nation that values white power. It’s one or the other. Take your pick,” he shouted.
Two teachers were already working their way through the crowd to call him down, but Shawn did not give them time. He stepped down and continued toward the administrative center.
Side by side, they entered the administration center, where Principle Hadley and Ms. Johnson stood waiting.
Principle Hadley greeted them with a smile. “Jenny, let’s start with you. Show Shawn your good sense. I trust that your parents had a long and serious talk with you about the importance of staying in school.”
“Yes, Mr. Hadley,” Jenny said with a wide smile. “They taught me the importance of an education. They also taught me the importance of doing what’s right. Ms. Johnson, I live by that motto I gave in your class on the first day. A person does not show her moral character by doing the right thing when it is easy. She shows her moral character by doing the right thing when it is hard. I’ll accept my punishment, but I will not support a pledge of allegiance to white power.”
Hadley reached forward, took hold of Jenny’s arm, and dragged her away. “Jenny, this isn’t some noble cause. Shawn is just a troubled kid trying to find some attention. It’s the Pledge of Allegiance, not the abolition of slavery.”
“It’s a pledge to white power, Mr. Hadley. Of course, I have nothing against white power, if whites actually make the best leaders. But they aren’t the best leaders because of the color of their skin. They’re the best leaders because of their intelligence and moral character. I know it is said that blacks lack the moral sense of white people – that they have trouble being moral. But, from what I see, Shawn’s got a lot better moral sense than a lot of the white people around here.”
“There are a lot of private schools that my dad can get me into, Mr. Hadley. But you’re going to have to expel me. In the mean time, I know my way to the detention hall.” Jenny gave a polite bow, and headed down the hall towards the library.
“Look at what you’ve done,” Hadley said. “I suppose that expecting you to apologize and put an end to this is out of the question.”
“Yes, sir,” said Shawn. He held up the sign that Jenny had given him. “I suppose that expecting you to put an end to this is out of the question.”
“Guard, get him out of my sight,” Hadley said. He turned and went into his office while the school guard took Shawn to the detention center.