The U.S. Marshals who escorted Ruby Bridges to school did so to protect her, the student, from anyone who might harm her. At a time of social turbulence, this little girl was just trying to get a proper education — the kind of education her parents never had. Ruby, who is known as the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school, needed to be protected from those who were against racial integration in the classroom.
I would think about Ruby each morning during high school when I stood in line for the metal detector. I think about those mornings at George Washington High School (G-Dubs) today when I’m waiting to be scanned and patted down at an airport, in court, or at a major sporting event. And those memories at Dubs eventually take me back again to how I would think about Ruby when I’d be standing in line.
However, it’s the brutal beatings I would receive from the wandering hands of winter in those years that I recall best. I’ve been all over the island of Manhattan and the winds are sharper up here in Washington Heights. Trust me. That icy bitterness bitchslapped me into humility. A multitude of chilly tremors would run across my body in a synchronized fashion. It was my body involuntarily playing the role of the submissive pet, succumbing to the dominance of Mother Nature in her global dungeon of dirt and water.
We’d be separated by gender each morning, then stand idly in the courtyard for 15 to 60 minutes. The girls had one line, while the boys had four. We all had to take our belts off. In fact, we were ordered to do so before we entered the building. This led me to spend the latter two years of my high school career walking the halls with my belt unbuckled, accompanied by an excessive sag in my pants. (I got tired of buckling my belt in the morning just to take it off to get scanned, then having to buckle it back up just to take it off for gym, and finally putting it back on to go home, just to take it off when I got home. Notice that I never mentioned visits to the bathroom.) Bags were scanned, shoes were taken off, and hats needed to be removed.
If you have ever complained about the extensive and exaggerated lengths the Homeland Security and TSA agents go to assure your safety from terrorists, please sit your ass down. I went through that for four years of my life, 10 months out of the year, five days a week. That’s not including the sample I received in middle school, when the school safety scanners would arrive once or twice a week (who says middle school doesn’t prepare you for high school?). After high school, it took me a few months not to walk into a building without stopping to remove everything from my pockets. Old habits do die hard.
I appreciate that the governing school board was looking out for my safety. They placed a policing authority at school to protect me, the student. At least that’s the logical reason that I’m expected to believe. But can I honestly believe that School Safety officers are preventing outsiders from harming me? I don’t think so. If someone is going to hurt me, they’ll do it — inside or outside of school. And if you’re thinking the police are going to protect me outside of school, I’d like to remind you that a kid named Tony Robinson was just killed by police in Wisconsin.
So who were they protecting me from? If Ruby Bridges needed protection from dangers lurking outside the walls of education, I’d postulate that we the students were, and continue to be, the danger lurking inside the walls. They were protecting us from ourselves.
If the schools are nurturing volatile commodities that are going to make them money, they’re going to make certain that they protect their investment. So when they gather up the cattle, they’re going to hire someone to make sure that they don’t kill each other. At the same time, they don’t want to empower these animals to believe in themselves. So they treat students like criminals under the guise of safety. The message being sent is that the students cannot protect themselves, and if they can’t protect themselves, they live in fear. And if you’re a student, that fear eats your self-confidence. Then you believe that you need that policing authority, so you give up a little freedom just to get a proper education. The kind of education your parents never had.