I WENT TO THE MISSISSIPPI Delta with a specific project: to teach American history through black literature. I imagined teaching literature that had moved me. I envisioned my students galvanized, as I had been in eighth grade, by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and mesmerized, as I had been in high school, by Malcolm X’s autobiography. I wanted my students to read James Baldwin, who wrote about the heroic stoicism of children who walked to school through a jeering mob. Books had taught me to admire a person’s will to confront the world, to evaluate his experience honestly, as Ralph Ellison wrote. Books had changed me, charged me with responsibilities. And I believed books could change the lives of my students. It was unabashedly romantic. I was twenty-two.
我曾在密西西比三角洲参与一项特别的教学项目：用黑人文学来教授美国历史，将那些曾深深激励过我的文学作品向孩子们娓娓道来。我期待孩子们会像我八年级时一样，读到马丁·路德·金（Martin Luther King）的《来自伯明翰监狱的书简》时备受鼓舞；或是像高中时的我那样，被马尔科姆·艾克斯（Malcolm X）的自传深深打动。我希望学生们读些詹姆斯·鲍德温（James Baldwin）的书，了解他笔下的孩子们上学时如何无惧街头混混的嘲弄，勇敢而隐忍。正如拉尔夫·埃里森（Ralph Ellison）所写的那样，书籍教会我欣赏与钦佩一个人直面世界的意志，并且如实地评价其作为。读书彻彻底底地改变了我，让我学会了肩负责任。我相信书本也可以改变我的学生们的人生。诚然，这种想法过于天真烂漫。那一年，我22岁。
Letter from Birmingham Jail原文及翻译：
My own origins, I believed, were prosaic. I had grown up in western Michiganin the 1980s, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants. I walked to school, I played piano, I crushed on my brother’s friends. On the first days of snow, my brother and I took our cheap plastic saucers out for a whirl and, during the summer, our parents both at work, we dutifully advanced through booklets of practice SATs, one English and one math, each day.
In certain ways, my parents had acclimated very well to the United States. They stacked foot-high collections of Michael Jackson and Joan Baez records in the living room, voted dutifully, never missing an election, and brought home for dinner the occasional bucket of fried chicken. But in other ways, my parents seemed preoccupied by their status as outsiders. They told mecautionary tales about Asians in America being cowed, killed, and then forgotten. There was Vincent Chin, in Detroit, who in 1982 was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, a week before his wedding. Chin had worked in an auto industry dominated by anti-Japanese sentiment. “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work,” the killers, both white men, had said to him. (Vincent was not Japanese but Chinese American and grew up in the States.) The killers served no jail time. “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail,” the judge stated later. “You don’t make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal.”
在某些方面，我的父母已经在美国入乡随俗了。他们听迈克尔·杰克逊（Michael Jackson）和琼·贝兹（Joan Baez），唱片堆在客厅里，足有一尺高；他们从未错过任何一次选举，积极行使选民权利，认认真真投票，偶尔还会带回来一桶炸鸡作为晚饭。但是，从另一些方面来说，父母还是很在意他们异乡人的身份。他们告诉我在美国的亚裔被恐吓、被杀害却不了了之的种种事例，以此来警示我们。1982年，来自底特律的华裔陈果仁（Vincent Chin）曾在反日情绪高涨的汽车制造业工作，结婚前一星期被棒球棍打死。那些杀害他的白人说：“都怨你们这些狗娘养的混蛋，老子们才失业的。”（文森特不是日本人，而是在美国长大的华裔美国人。）但是他们不用坐牢。法官后来表示：“这两位不应该被送进监狱。” “我们惩罚的不是罪行，是罪犯。”
The other story my parents told me was about a sixteen-year-old kid in the Deep South, somewhere in Louisiana—this time, actually Japanese—whom were ferred to as “the Japanese exchange student.” Invited to a Halloween party inthe early nineties, he showed up at the wrong house, dressed in a white suit as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. He rang the doorbell and was shot dead at point-blank range. The shooter was charged with manslaughter. He claimed at court that the kid moved in a strange way; his lawyer told the jury that the killer was protecting his property and that he was an “average Joe,” “one of your neighbors,” someone who liked “sugar in his grits.” He was acquitted.
“Nobody will tell you these stories,” my parents told me. “We tell you because we want you to be careful.”
Be careful: That was the central message. Like many immigrants, my parents were fearful people, and they seemed determined to remind me that tragedy might be right around the corner. It only took one ignorant guy with a gun or a baseball bat. In actual numbers, the likelihood an Asian would be murdered in the 1980s and 1990s was minimal. And yet, in a way, they were telling me something important. They were trying to tell me that we did not figure, at all, in the national imagination. Indeed, until my second year of college, I never learned about Asian Americans, alive or dead, in any class, from any teacher. As an immigrant group, we were convenient on the one hand but also, ultimately, disposable. When we did well, people would vaguely point to us as evidence of the American dream, but when we were killed for being Asian, the media wasn’t interested. Our dying did not betray any myth or ideal about America. Why? Because we weren’t American. Our faces gave us away.
Like many immigrants, my parents believed education was both a barricade against harm and a ladder to safety and prosperity. Math, in particular, comforted my parents: It was familiar, the same in their little island country of Taiwan as it was in America. You didn’t need to know English. You didn’t need to learn a secret set of social rules to do math. You put in the time, and you learned how to do it. Every single night when my brother and I were in elementary school, our father drilled us with math problems. He yelled when we got answers wrong; we cried; our mother guiltily brought us tea.
I spoke late and was shy. My pursuits were solitary. I could, for instance, play the piano with great feeling—once, in a fit of zeal over a Chopin cadenza, I banged my head against the stand. Like my mother, I disliked indolence, and, in my moderately competitive public schools, this quality got me far. I enjoyed pleasing my parents and, for Christmas in the sixth grade, gift-wrapped my report card. I read copious numbers of books, though in retrospect it couldn’t be said I was particularly good at it. I liked moral absolutes and was poor at grasping parody. I read Don Quixote and thought he was a hero. I read Middlemarch and wanted to be Dorothea, married to a man of knowledge.
But other readings rewarded my earnestness. I felt, for instance, personally summoned when Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. I read Malcolm X, also from Michigan, whose mother had been committed to a mental hospital in my hometown of Kalamazoo. He warned black readers not to trust white liberals: I don’t care how nice one is to you; the thing you must always remember is that almost never does he really see you as he sees himself, as he sees his own kind. He may stand with you through thin, but not thick. And I heard that same reprimand in James Baldwin, who said that liberals bought all the right books, have all the proper attitudes—but they have no real convictions. And when the chips are down and you expect them to deliver on what you thought they felt, they somehow are not there.
They somehow are not there. I took this allegation literally. Where should I put myself?
In suburban Michigan, in the quiet of my bedroom, these iconic readings of antiracist rhetoric cast a spell over me. They effected a clandestine evangelization of a kid primed to be a good disciple. It was not enough just to learn, just to read. Not enough to admire a black writer. Admiration was nothing. If your passions went unmatched by actions, you were just playing a role, demonstrating that you knew what to praise and what to reject. Education, for me, became laden with a meaning at once specific and spiritual. To be educated meant you read books and entertained ideas that made you feel uncomfortable. It meant looking in the mirror and asking, What have I done that has cost me anything? What authority have I earned to speak? What work have I put in? It meant collapsing your certainties and tearing down your self-fortifications. You should feel unprotected, unarmed, open to attack.
There was a problem, though: Baldwin, King, and Malcolm spoke only of black and white people, and I was neither. What had Asian Americans fought for, died for? What had we cared about? History textbooks and popular culture didn’t tell me. When an Asian-looking man appeared on television (a rare occurrence), my heart beat very fast. The question was never Will this be a joke? but rather What kind of joke will it be? If it turned out I was wrong and he was simply like any other minor character—no accent, no distinguishing characteristics, unmemorable—I felt satisfied and, even, grateful.
I found my role models in books. W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou—each of these people seemed as fearless to me as Asian Americans seemed afraid, as essential to American history as we were irrelevant. I went to Harvard for college and met activists for the first time; the ones I most wanted to emulate had parents who had fought for civil rights and against the Vietnam War in the sixties and seventies. They had been at the March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King, Jr.; they had taken part in the Black Power Movement. I imagined households steeped in conversation. What was it like to inherit a history of passions and resentments? I wondered. Did it make you stronger? Did it embolden you? Was this why I was weak, sweet, obedient?
I steeled myself. I would start from scratch. I would root out like weeds the effects of my parents, the tendency to choose safe options, to get ahead, to feel secure. I would embrace irrational measures. In college I worked at a homeless shelter, where I slept overnight on Fridays and signed up for extra shifts precisely when I had papers due. I dropped pre-med and majored in social studies and gender studies. I edited a small magazine about race and class and sexuality. And when I met other Asian Americans, those bound for consultant and hedge-fund jobs where they would make six figures, my judgment was harsh. Silently, through my narrowed eyes, I told them, I know you, and there’s not too much to know.
As graduation approached, I wondered what I wanted to do. I consider edactivism; I admired activists the most. But I wasn’t good at it. I’d tried working at a feminist nonprofit, where I had to lobby congressional staffers, and discovered I had a tendency to apologize for intruding on their time. More broadly, I thought it was too difficult to change the minds of the powerfully self-interested. What I wanted to do was straightforward, immediate work in places that needed people. Then I met a recruiter from Teach for America, an Asian American woman who told me that schools in the Mississippi Delta, among the poorest places in the country, faced a drastic teacher shortage.
This was the first time anyone had described to me the state of the present-day Delta. This land of cotton and extreme poverty had served as the stomping grounds of the early Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Bobby Kennedy had toured the Delta as part of a war against poverty. Stokely Carmichael had coined the term Black Power there. The Delta was a place where heroic people had been maimed, shot, arrested, and killed for their belief in change. King himself was killed in Memphis, the Delta’s northern most tip, while rallying for sanitation workers; James Meredith commenced a legendary solo walk across Mississippi but was shot by a sniper on his second day; and Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper, had been arrested and beaten for organizing people to vote.
这是第一次有人向我描述三角洲的现状。这里是棉花之乡，饱受极端贫困之苦，曾孕育出许多早期民权运动和黑人权力运动。鲍比·肯尼迪（Bobby Kennedy）曾在三角洲地区进行过消除贫困的战争；在这里，斯托克利·卡迈克尔（Stokely Carmichael）创造了“黑人权力”一词；在这里，英勇的人民因相信改变的力量而遭遇残害、逮捕、枪击和杀害。马丁·路德·金在三角洲最北端的孟菲斯市为联合清洁人员（非裔美国人垃圾收集员）抗议时被杀；詹姆斯·梅瑞迪斯（James Meredith）在开始穿越密西西比州的传奇徒步之旅的第二天中弹受伤；佃农芬妮·露·哈默（Fannie Lou Hamer）因组织民众投票而被捕并殴打。
注：James Meredith （詹姆斯·梅瑞迪斯）:
Why hadn’t I heard about how people in the Delta lived now? I wondered. Was it because few progressives and members of the educated middle class—the disappointing liberals of Baldwin’s day— wanted to visit, much less live there? I couldn’t help but wonder if this place had vanished from the national consciousness when the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements ended. Was rural black poverty, unattached to white violence, too unglamorous to attract celebrated leaders willing to speak for its cause?
The fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education was approaching, yet on a recent national reading test for fourth graders, 45 percent of white students had passed, as opposed to 13 percent of black students. Considering the Teach for America job, I began to think I could pick up where the Civil Rights Movement had left off. “This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with,” Martin Luther King had said. “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”
注：Brown v. Board of Education（布朗诉教育局案）：
I wanted to touch that heroism or at least work in its shadows. I believed in James Baldwin’s injunction: If we…like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others, …we may be able…to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. And I felt I knew what Baldwin asked from me: reparation that required my whole body, my whole being. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime, Baldwin wrote of whites in 1963. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, ineffect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. Yes, I told myself, I would prove that I was no innocent—Baldwin’s softer, and more damning, term for ignorance Teaching in Helena, Arkansas, a rural town located in the heart of the Delta, might help acquit me of Baldwin’s charge.
注：原文选自James Baldwin的Down at the Cross: Letter From a Letter in My Mind，首次发表于1962年的《纽约客》，当时正值亚拉巴马州发动的针对黑人的暴力事件。文中鲍德温认为“肤色不是人类或个人现实，而是政治现实”，“白人对黑人的无知正暴露了他们对自己的无知”，并在文章结尾借黑人奴隶改编自圣经的歌词发出警示：
God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!
其振聋发聩的结尾成为了后来收录该文的书名The Fire Next Time （《下一次将是烈火》）（1963）。
Nearly a thousand miles from my parents, I easily made the decision to go to the Delta. When I told them, over the phone, they were befuddled, then angry. “You’re going to get killed down there,” my mother said.
At this I chortled loudly. This made my father stern.
“It’s not funny, mei mei,” he said, using the Chinese word for little sister. “It’s dangerous down there.”
Growing up, I’d attributed to my mother and father a particular hysteria, a sad misapprehension of America, where I—unlike them— was born, and belonged. This feeling had persisted through college.
I started to tell them the literacy statistics and, detecting my pious tone, my parents cut me off.
“Are you even going to get paid?”
I replied that the local district gave a salary.
“It won’t be much,” my dad said. “You want to throw away your Harvard degree?”
I was hurt. But within a day I was joking about their disapproval with myfriends.
TEACH FOR AMERICA assigned me to an alternative school in congruously named “Stars,” which the local administration used as a dumping ground for the so-called bad kids. These were the truants and the druggies, the troublemakers and the fighters who had been expelled from the mainstream schools. Stars was a kid’s last shot at staying in the system before being banished, entirely, from public education.
This is where I met Patrick, who was fifteen and in the eighth grade.
Mild-mannered, he walked with more hunch than swagger. In class, he preferred listening to speaking. Patrick never bullied anybody. He never cussed anybody out. He appeared to abide by a self-imposed code: Keep to yourself, don’t mess around, don’t get involved with other people’s trouble. But he was willing to break his own code for a cause: Once, he leapt between two girls to stop a fight, and, in the process, got slammed to the ground.
Other students rushed and jostled to get to the front of the lunch line. Patrick hung back. His mind always seemed to be somewhere else: Frequently, while he was working, he would hum to himself, often not realizing it until someone poked him. He left papers strewn about his desk or unfolded them from his pockets. His grin was a half grin, as if he’d once trained himself to smile fully but had since abandoned the project.
More than anything else, Patrick seemed lost, as if he’d gotten on the school bus by accident. And indeed, just a month after he arrived at school, he stopped attending.
IT WASN’T HARD to imagine why Patrick had stopped coming to school. Maybe it was just depressing. It could be violent, and when students got into fights, the school sometimes called the police. Shoved into a police car with the rest of the school watching, some pair of kids, freshly scratched and bruised, would spend the weekend in county jail—where, as one teacher put it, they could“think about where they’re going in life.” And we, the teachers, were also violent: For more minor incursions, like cussing out a classmate or teacher, students were paddled. Corporal punishment was legal in Arkansas and widely practiced in these parts. Stamped with ARKANSAS BOARD OF EDUCATION, an updated paddle had been engineered with holes to make it swing faster. I did not personally paddle, but like most teachers who have sent kids to the principal’s office, I was complicit. Still, by far our most common method of disciplining a student was simply to send him home. Since all the students qualified for a free lunch, they liked to joke that if you wanted to mess around, you should do it in the afternoon.
In spite of everything, many of my students, including Patrick, remained optimistic about their futures. Patrick said he wanted to graduate and become amechanic. He said he’d like to visit New York. Other students wanted good jobs so that they could take care of their grandparents. And when I looked for the source of this hope, most kids told me it came from God. This belief in God, this idea that because human beings were made in God’s image their value was inherent, was foreign to me, but the longer I lived in the Delta, the more sense it made.
I often thought of the words Baldwin had written to his nephew: This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Except in the Delta, the ghetto was not a corner of a city but an entire region of the country. This ghetto is all my students knew, and it occurred to me that if you live in a place that you cannot leave, where you can’t travel or work if you can’t afford a car, where land is endless space that’s been denied you, where people burn down their houses because the insurance money is worth more than the sale price, where the yards of shuttered homes are dumping grounds for pedestrian litter, where water is possibly polluted by a fertilizer company that skipped town, you want to believe that you do not at all resemble what you see. You want to believe that your town’s decay is not a mirror of your own prospects, that its dirtiness cannot dirty your inner life, that its emptiness does not contradict your own ambitions—that in fact you were born linked to beauty, to the joyous power of resurrection.
Yet for all the hours I spent thinking about my students’ fundamental beliefs, I fretted mainly about the tasks in front of me. How to get them to read and write and talk. How to get students like Patrick to show up at school. I generally tried not to think too hard about the perils that lay ahead of them, after they finished school. I didn’t entirely acknowledge everything they were up against. In other words, had an oracle knocked on my door and told me what the future held for Patrick, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have shut the door. And maybe that would not have been wrong of me: There are just certain kids for whom you bring all your hope.
Born a Crime
脱口秀The Daily Show主持人崔娃的自传。在种族隔离背景下的南非，他的母亲就像是他人生中的一道光，照亮了他周遭的黑暗，带他走出了暴力、贫困、封闭的恶性循环。当时南非大多数黑人脑中已经形成了根深蒂固的种族隔离思维模式，许多邻居和亲戚常常询问崔娃的母亲，为什么要教黑人小孩白人的事？他一辈子都无法离开贫民窟，为什么要给他看外面的世界？但是崔娃的母亲回答道：“哪怕他一辈子都无法离开贫民窟，他也知道，贫民窟不是整个世界。”她让崔娃多去大学里找找他堂兄，告诉他where you are can determine who you are. 可以说，他勇敢、智慧的母亲，以个人的力量让他跳出了大社会的枷锁。