Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Protesting the Pledge

Since the start of this blog, I have written a series of posts in the form of a story that describe a high school dealing with a system that encourages its students to pledge allegiance to “one white nation, indivisible.”

A PDF file if the first part of this story can be found on my web site:

A Perspective on the Pledge

It’s time for the next chapter.

“All I want to do is teach,” Shelby Johnson told herself while she watched the students file into her classroom. She was watching for Shawn to enter, hoping that he might decide not to come to school today. She was disappointed. He came through the door. Almost bumping into another student at the doorway, he stepped back to give the classmate room to enter, then entered himself, taking a seat in the back corner, near the door.

He looked up at her, then closed his eyes and laid his head down on his desk.

The sound of the bell announcing the start of the class startled her. Shelby put herself on auto pilot. “All stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Shawn, of course, did not stand. He kept his head on his desk as if he was asleep. Jenny remained seated as well, glancing at Shawn. The boy sitting in the row next to Jenny leaned over and whispered something to her. Jenny’s expression showed her anger, but she did not respond.

As was her duty, Shelby lead the class in the Pledge of Allegiance. Again, she was startled when the class again shouted, “one WHITE nation.” That wasn’t helping, and she resolved that she would put her foot down against that kind provocation.

She did not get a chance. When the Pledge ended, and the students took their seats, Shawn suddenly stood. Standing at attention, his hand on his heart, and in a loud and clear voice he started, “I pledge allegiance to the United States of Ameryca . . .,”

“No! Shawn, sit down!” Shelby shouted immediately.

He ignored her and continued. “. . . and for the republic for which it stands . . . “

Her mind raced to consider her options. Should she let him finish?

“. . . one BLACK nation, indivisible . . .”

“That’s enough!” Shelby shouted. Others in the class erupted in anger as well. One of the larger white boys stood up and started to charge Shawn, but another student between them interfered. “Sit down! Everybody sit down!”

Shawn finished the pledge before sitting, but that did not take much longer.

“Shawn, get out! I will see you at the Principal’s office. Take your stuff and get out of my class!”

Others in the class started to heckle Shawn while he picked up his bag.

“Shut up!” Shelby said. “The next person to speak will go with him.”

The class remained silent while Shawn approached the back door. As he left, Shawn turned to Shelby and said, “I am very sorry I couldn’t keep my promise,” then left.

After Shawn had closed the door behind him, Shelby addressed the rest of the class. “Anybody who shouts ‘white nation’ while saying the pledge ever again, you’re going to the Principal’s office. That’s a deliberate act of provocation and I will not stand for it in my clsssroom.”

One of her students answered, “But that’s what the Senate did, Ms. Johnson. When the appeals court said that the pledge was unconstitutional, they all went onto the steps of the capital and said the pledge, and they shouted, ‘one WHITE nation'.”

“You get yourself elected to the senate, and you too can act like an ass. Not in my classroom. Now, I have to go to the Principal’s office. Jim, go across the hall and ask Ms. Benson to keep an eye on my class while I’m gone. You will remain silent, and you will read the first chapter in your books while I am gone.”

"I already read it," protested one student.

"Then read it again. It won't kill you," Shelby answered.

As she started to leave, she noticed the student next to Jenny take another anticipatory glance in her direction. It seemed a poor idea to leave Jenny here alone, since she had also remained seated. “Jenny, come with me.”

Several in the class taunted her by saying, “You’re in trouble now.” They seemed content with that interpretation, and Shelby let it stand.

When Shelby got to the administrative center, Shawn was standing before the reception desk, and Principal Hadley was just coming out of his office. “What’s going on here?” Hadley asked. He recognized Shawn and asked further, “What type of trouble have you caused now?”

After telling Jenny to sit down, Shelby approached the Principal, “We’re having a bit of a misunderstanding regarding the Pledge. I just need to talk to Shawn for a bit.”

“What kind of trouble?” Hadley asked.

“I think I can take care of it, Mr. Hadley,” Shelby said.

Speaking slowly and deliberately, Hadley said, “I want to know what happened.”

“It was nothing,” Shelby said. “Shawn remained seated during the pledge, as did Jenny. But, when the pledge was over, Shawn stood to give his own version of the Pledge. He pledged allegiance to 'one black nation'?”

“Black nation?” Hadley asked, turning to Shawn with a look of utter contempt.

“I’m certain he was just trying to make a point.”

“Ms. Johnson, come into my office.”

Shelby and Mr. Hadley disappeared behind the closed door. Shawn was certain he knew what they were talking about. Hadley did not want to fight in front of the student, and was telling Shelby to get in line.

“Shawn,” Jenny whispered, looking furtively around to see if anybody was paying attention.

“Shawn,” Jenny repeated.

Shawn turned from the glass window into the Principal’s office to face Jenny.

“Why did you say ‘black nation’?” she asked.

“Because I wanted them to see how wrong it was to say ‘white nation’. The way they felt when they heard me pledge allegiance to one black nation . . . well . . . that’s the way I feel when I hear them pledge allegiance to one white nation. It’s a pledge to treat those people who aren’t being included as lesser beings. Besides, I also wanted them to see that the choice is not between saying ‘white nation’ or not saying it. I wanted them to see that the choice was between saying ‘white nation’ or ‘black nation’, and it’s because both of them are wrong that the right thing to do is to say neither.”

“Well, it didn’t work,” Jenny whispered. “Now everybody thinks you’re some sort of militant who wants to wipe out white people.”

“Militant? That makes as much sense as calling Ghandi ‘militant’. I never so much as raised a finger against anybody. I did nothing but pledge allegiance to the flag. That’s militant? What is it, then, when they pledge allegiance to the flag?”

At that moment the Principal’s door opened and Hadley and Shelby stepped outside. Hadley stepped up quickly and shouted to Shawn, “You stay away from her young man. You have done enough damage as it is.” He literally pulled Shawn away from Jenny and stood him up against the wall.

While they stood, face to face, Ms. Johnson kept walking, looking nervously over her shoulder. She entered the hallway and turned towards her classroom.

Hadley continued. “Our classrooms are for learning, young man. Keep your political protests off of school property.”

“For learning to denigrate good men like my father,” Shawn said. “He died for this country. He died for one nation with liberty and justice for all. He did not die – he would not die – for one white nation. You’re trying to ‘educate’ me into believing that my dad could not be a patriot because he would not and could not devote himself to ‘one white nation’.”

“Your dad has nothing to do with this,” Hadley said. “Get this through your thick black skull. Nobody, I don’t care what your race, has a right to disrupt the classes in this school.”

“So how come it’s not a disruption when I sit quietly while everybody else pledges an allegiance to one white nation, but too much to ask others to sit quietly while I pledge allegiance to one black nation?”

“Shawn, this country was founded by white men. If you paid attention in your history classes you would know this. This is a white nation. You would have us deny our heritage? If you have something to say, we have channels. Take it up you’re your congressman if you want to, but do not come here and disrupt my classes.”

“My white congressman?” Shawn asked. “Did my father go to Afghanistan to ask Al-Quida to respect our rights?”

“How dare you compare us to Al-Queida!”

“How dare you accuse me of comparing you to Al-Queida. When my dad went to Afghanistan he was armed. He had to be. Here, I would condemn violence because I respect that most people will do the right thing once they learn what the right thing is. Only the most hate-filled bigots will insist that I do nothing while the school I attend spits on my dad’s grave by saying that patriotism requires allegiance to a white nation. My dad deserves better than that.”

“I don’t care what your cause is, you will not disrupt this school. You are confined to detention for the rest of the day; I’ll have your teachers deliver your homework. If you insist on continuing this demonstration, you will be expelled, and where will that get you?”

Hadley turned around and told the school guard, “Take this boy to in-school suspension.”

He then saw Jenny, still sitting on the couch. “What are you here for?” Hadley asked.

“I don’t know,” said Jenny. “Ms. Johnson asked me to follow her.”

“Get back to your class,” Hadley commanded. He returned to his office, slamming his door behind him.


CrypticLife said...

Interesting story. Is it based on specific, actual incidents, or is it speculative?

Not that it doesn't have value if it's speculative, I'm just curious.

CrypticLife said...

Ah, read the first part.

It's an interesting parallel, but somehow as an atheist I don't feel quite as offended by the actuality as I suspect I would feel if it were based on race. Not sure why, but it doesn't seem very personal.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


There is, of course, some measure of truth in this story, but it is substantially a work of fiction.

For centuries, women did not at all feel offended at being treated as second-class citizens, and still do not in some areas. Many blacks supported the South during the civil war and did not feel all that put out by the Jim Crowe laws. This is because people become comfortable in the environments they are raised in, even if those environments are extremely unjust.

The reason for this story is to illustrate the level of offense that is warranted by the Pledge of Allegiance. That many people do not actually experience this level of offense is because they truly do not appreciate the injustice inherent in it.

When you discover that you cannot actually defeat the analogy, then you have two options - to argue that atheists should be far more offended than they are in fact, or to argue that blacks (in a similar situation) should be less offended then they would in fact.

I recommend the former.