In light of all the divisive propaganda we have been forced to consume over the past week, I was led to think about this irony.
In the late 1980s in west Tampa I was enrolled at Robert E. Lee Elementary school. It was my sixth grade year, and the third public school I attended since immigrating from Trinidad.
Coming from a completely different culture (and being just nine years old) I thought nothing of the school’s name OR the bronze 12 foot horse statue with “some man” mounted on it.
To me it was just a dust collector in the hallway. It wasn’t long after the first day of school that we were all enthusiastically fed propaganda by the principal…”This is our mascot!”
Now, World and American History was never a topic I took particular interest in early on – not even in high school. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I developed a newfound passion for it. After all, I believe that in order to fully comprehend your present one must take full grasp of their past.
Here is the irony…
Not only was this school located in an impoverished and predominantly black and Latino community, but local government imposed integration on the student body. At the time the Hillsborough County School Board deemed it a great idea to force upper-middle class white and Asian students to attend. They somehow were “assigned” to this school district. Never mind the fact that these kids were bused in from suburban Brandon – a good 15 miles outside of Tampa.
Never mind the obvious reluctance those students and parents displayed to have ANY ties to “this school in the hood.” I can vividly recall myself (and others) getting ridiculed just because we didn’t live in the suburbs. If you’re familiar with the Tampa Bay area you will know that many moons ago Brandon was actually charming.
That part of west Tampa looks the same way it did in 1989. The zip code has ALWAYS been poor. I wonder whose idea it was to pin that name on a school…an elementary one at that. We even had a school song that alluded a little to what this Mr. Lee stood for. And we just sang along, not being conscious of the early brainwashing.
I recall seeing used syringes and condoms on the pavement while walking to/from school. I recall seeing overflowing and neglected dumpsters. I recall the mini-billboards promoting Old English malt liquor and Newports just yards from the campus.
What I do NOT recall is a resume of our mascot – yes, a Confederate War general. No part of the curriculum involved the teaching of this man’s agendas. But I’m guessing that it was okay to posthumously honor a man who stood for the oppression of a minority group. Even if it was in the center of an oppressed minority community. Hmmmnn..