The skinny blond girl in her late twenties is tutoring an older black woman in her mid- to late- forties. The blond is using an affected voice, one I’ve gotten used to in graduate school when the speaker feels like her words are made of exploding fireflies and everyone should clap their hands in glee at her originality. They’re talking about Malcolm X. The teacher is telling the student that, “You have a great voice. You just need to use it.” Skinny white hands turning pages in a book. Thin white lips imparting knowledge of something the owner of those lips will never experience.
I’m set up in the corner of the room, sipping diet Pepsi and eating jelly beans. Wearing pants I’ve worn three days in a row because I haven’t decided to live entirely like an adult.
The horror of the situation arises from this: I’m a young white female teacher at a mostly black school. The girl teaching the older woman is my age, though skinnier and blonder. Her voice is deeper, the notes of her words more assured than mine could be. I don’t believe so solidly in my own authority that I can preach to people or believe deep down that my knowledge of the English language requires a condescending voice. Assuming the voice is in fact condescending. Assuming I have a grasp on the situation.
A mechanic wouldn’t use an affected voice and to tell a customer how her carburetor needs “fixin.”
A dentist wouldn’t sip tea with his pinky extended and tell a patient he needs to drill into a molar and suck out the filth. So why does knowledge of the English language involve being an elitist? Why does the image of a young white person explaining Malcolm X to an older black person give me the Eeeby Jeebies? Why do I feel like I’m in the middle of a spin cycle that was started before I was born and that will end after I die? I hate it.
I can’t tell if the jellybeans taste good. They’re all mixed together, the sour with the sweet, the buttery popcorn beans with the bitter coffee-flavored ones. I can’t tell if there is a rhyme or reason, or if I should try to discern a rhyme or reason, or if shoving a handful down my gullet indiscriminately gets the job done just as well as refined, jellybean-organizing snobbery.
It’s possible the differences between the two teachers in the room are merely superficial variances of eye color and BMI. And that’s the scariest thing of all.