The morning bell rang at Republican High (“Home of the Fightin’ Pachyderms”) as students shuffled in. Gretchen Niedermeyer dry swallowed a couple of pre-emptive aspirins and reminded herself as she did every morning that she was just 16 months and — a glance at the calendar — seven days from her pension.
“Good morning, class,” she said. “As you know, oral reports on African-American history are due this morning.” She ignored a chorus of groans. “Tommy, you go first.”
Tommy Weissmuller stood. “My report is on slavery,” he said. “Slavery is when they made the black people work really hard. Like, they even had to work on weekends. And the Founding Fathers were surprised when they heard about this. They thought it was unfair, so they had a war with the South to make them stop. Then the South realized the Founding Fathers were right and together, they ended slavery. The end.”
Mrs. Niedermeyer willed herself to stop grinding her teeth and marked a B+ in her grade book. In the old days, she’d have given him an F. But that was before 2021, when Republicans banned Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project, museums, history books, Spike Lee movies, Spike Lee, dreadlocks, Black Panther comic books and anything else that made white people uncomfortable.
Mrs. Niedermeyer sighed. Sixteen months and seven days.
Chad Bennett went next. “Martin Luther King brought everybody together,” he said.
Mrs. Niedermeyer rolled her eyes. Sixteen months and seven days.
Kirsten Benson rose. “My report is on Booker T. Washington, inventor of the peanut,” she said.
Mrs. Niedermeyer thought wistfully of the flask hidden in her bag. Sixteen long months, seven endless days.
Then Stevie Parker stood. He was the only Black child in the whole school. “Nobody knows why Black people get shot more often by police,” he began. “Nobody knows why Blacks have lower income and poorer health. Nobody knows ...”
And that was too much. Mrs. Niedermeyer plunged her hands into her bag — not for a flask, but for books. “No!” she cried. “No! Don’t you understand? It’s systemic! Inequality is not a bug, it’s a feature! It’s how America is designed to work!”
She held up the books. “Here! Read Carol Anderson! Read Isabel Wilkerson! Read Michelle Alexander and Douglas Blackmon! Kirsten, Booker T. Washington didn’t invent the peanut. He became our greatest agricultural scientist, despite being born enslaved! Chad, when he died, Martin Luther King was the most hated man in America! Ask yourself why. And Tommy ...” She shook her head. “That was the stupidest damn thing I’ve ever heard!”
“Are you saying we’re ... racist?” Kirsten’s lip trembled. Her eyes were dewy. “That makes me feel so uncomfortable,” she said.
Whereupon the windows exploded, men in black tactical gear crashing through on rappelling ropes. It was the State Task Force on Racial Education. “Ma’am,” said the leader, “I need you to step away from the books.”
“But they need to know,” pleaded Mrs. Niedermeyer. The next second, a Taser was embedded in her skin and she was flopping about like a fish on the floor.
The principal walked in. “Children,” he said, as the task force gathered up the twitching Mrs. Niedermeyer, “I’m so sorry you had to see that. What say we forget history and start our science lessons? Everyone, please take out your Bibles.”
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. firstname.lastname@example.org