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Thursday, May 28, 2020
Opinion Opinion: In the matter of the blackface teacher, there’s a more important...

Opinion: In the matter of the blackface teacher, there’s a more important question than whether he should be fired…

In regard to the matter of one David Carter, the Milpitas teacher who wore blackface in the classroom last Halloween, and whose job status with the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) will be decided tonight in closed session, I’m seeing the debate on social media break largely along one question:

Should the teacher be fired?

As it happens, however, a more pressing question applies here. I’m not the first one to think of or mention it, of course, but I would like to attempt to centralize it:

Should the teacher, David Carter, have known better?

That’s a less easy question, I believe. For many (not all) of our black community members, the answer is an easy Yes. But for a great many residents, it’s a harder question to focus on. Particularly for those who are inclined to forgive Carter, to alleviate Carter’s pressure, and to give Carter a pass, this second question might seem less relevant than the first. 

For the first question draws upon our compassion and our sense of personal tragedy: Should a man lose his job or get to keep it? This question gets more painful when we consider that the man loves his job, and he’s also known for being good at it. For heaven’s sake, the whole thing’s a heartbreaker.

That’s why the second question is a harder one. For it’s not emotional; it’s intellectual. It calls not upon our empathy for one individual, but upon our broader sense of calculation. In that way, it’s colder, yes. But it’s also, I dare say, of more critical importance: 

Should the teacher, David Carter, have known better?

Some will revert here to basic knowledge of life. They will say that the life experience is marked by mistakes. They will say, with correctness, that we all make mistakes. They will ask who among us is without any sin, and thus willing to throw the first stone. 

Good questions, wise questions. But these aren’t the questions. 

The questions the Board asks should be critical in nature. For the Board is responsible for leading a District. The Board knows a flawed man is now in its ranks. The Board has the option of keeping him or trying someone new. 

Accordingly, foremost, the Board should now speculate. The question is unfair, as there isn’t only one answer, but it should nonetheless be waged with great focus:

Should the teacher who wore blackface have known better?

In other words, should the teacher, this bright and capable man, this man of accomplishment, this professional of 20 years, this man with the affection of students and colleagues alike, who loves his town, his school, and his family; this man who was tasked with educating our children, who’s worked within a cultural environment that’s long been aflame, wherein famous people get fired for having worn blackface in the past, wherein videos circulate of unarmed black kids getting shot by police, wherein the President of the United States, an executive of unparalleled coarseness, speaks of “shithole countries” while igniting the white supremacist voting pool, wherein Nazis got emboldened to march in the streets, wherein our first black president’s country of birth was emphatically questioned (by the white man who’s president now)…should he have known better than to wear blackface in the classroom?

And the answer, I submit for myself and no one else, with fear in my heart and great emotion in my soul, and with empathy for the teacher and his remarkable error…to say nothing of the Board and the decision they now face…

The answer is an absolute yes.




Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He is the author of six critically acclaimed fiction books, among them the novella "It's Only Temporary" (2005), which appeared on Nightmare Magazine's list of the Top 100 Horror Books, and numerous short stories published in anthologies alongside work by H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and many others. His nonfiction articles have been published on The Daily Dot, Ravishly, and The Good Men Project. His first feature film, "Rule of 3" (2010), won awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival and Shriekfest, and had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest. His second feature film, "Living Things" (2014), was endorsed by PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals) and distributed by Cinema Libre Studio. In 2015, he won the 19th Annual Fade In Award for Thriller Screenplays. He was a founding partner of Ghostwriters Central, a writing and editing firm which received positive notices from The Wall Street Journal, Consumers Digest, and the TV program "Intelligence For Your Life." Eric has edited works published on The Huffington Post and Forbes, as well as two Bram Stoker Award-nominated novels.
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