Jett Takes on the Man

In this excerpt Jett and her dad have dinner together as she tells him about how she and her friends challenged a guest speaker at her class that came to speak making some surprisingly racist claims about the the Civil War and Revisionist History.  The night before, she and her friends got together and printed out all of their research about the Civil War, the Constitution and segregation so they could refute what they heard the speaker was going to talk about.  Jett tells her dad how it went in class and they have a heart to heart about the importance, and the risks,  of challenging the status quo and standing up to injustice.  It’s an important moment that will affect how Jett views the challenges she will face in the future.

 

They got to the front of the line, picked up their food, and went to a table and sat down. Jett ordered a salad and a cup of yogurt and some fruit on the side. Her dad ordered a pastrami sandwich with Thousand Island dressing and cole slaw.
When they got to the table, he looked at her and asked, “So, how did that thing in school go today?”
“Oh my gosh dad, it was weird. This guy came in. An attorney. Said he knows you. He knew I was your daughter. I don’t think he likes you, or me either by the way, I’ll explain later. Anyway, he did this whole thing on slavery, and the reasons for the Civil War and then segregation that was supposed to make the South look like the good guys and the North the bad guys. It was so racist it made me want to vomit. He had this thing where he was saying that slaves actually had it good. He called slavery ‘alternatively compensated labor’ or something really stupid like that. He tried to make the case that segregation and slavery would somehow work for everyone if it was done right and done fairly. It was awful. He made no sense, yet I know lots of people really believe what he says. He knew we had a rebuttal because he saw our powerpoint that we handed out before class, so he was ready. Said we could go ahead and state our case so he can tell us how we’re wrong.
Then, it was awesome. We started presenting our research and talked about all the stuff we talked about last night when we were working on it. We matched him point for point, refuting everything with documented research. He was speechless. Then he got frustrated and started insulting us. That’s when he said he knew you from court. He said that I was just like you because, as he said, I ‘don’t know when to keep my mouth shut,’”
“I see that as a compliment,” her dad said.
“I know!! That’s exactly what I said, that my dad would take that as a compliment. Anyway, he then tried to convince us that black people are inferior intellectually and superior in terms of athletics and entertainment, so that’s what black people should do. He said Asians were good at math so they should be engineers and such but white men are smarter so they should be leaders and white women, like all women, he said, are really just good nurturers. It was so racist and misogynistic. We had a discussion about that and he said diversity doesn’t work and it was bad for me because I don’t really belong anywhere because I’m biracial. He tried to use bullying in school to make his point, saying that there was never a bullying problem before I came along and the bullying is just a symptom of what is wrong with diversity. Then the WHOLE CLASS turned against him and started talking about how there’s always been bullying and it’s just a small group of guys that bully literally everyone else, not just me. I said it’s because they are racist jerks, not because of any societal thing. Then the whole class took my side and talked about how I belong with them because I’m their friend and we hang out together. Melinda, who had been with me making points all along even googled a book he cited and found the statistical shortcomings of the book and refuted his use of that book as proof of what he was saying. Then he just got mad and started griping at all of us, especially me. He said it was all my fault that everyone has these ‘liberal’ ideas now. That’s when our teacher stepped in and told him that we’ve been nothing respectful to him while he has very rude to us and told him to leave the classroom. So he said that he was going to meet with the Superintendent about this. Then he left. It was crazy.”
“Okay. Well, we have a meeting with the Superintendent at 3:00pm Monday. You, me, that guy, Mr Hitchens, and Melinda and her parents, along with that Greg kid that was over and his parents too.”
Jett looked defeated all of a sudden, “oh,” she simply said, “ I guess we’re in trouble now?”
“Don’t worry about it kid. You did good. I’m proud of you. Every act of civil disobedience, no matter how well intentioned and how dignified in its execution, has a consequence. Blowback, it’s called. We’ll manage it. Ashley already spoke to Melinda’s mom. She understands, and she feels you kids did the right thing too. We can invite Diana, if necessary. She’s chomping at the bit to get involved. Especially since she has generally destroyed that attorney in court many times. That’s why he hates me. He has tried to break me down on the stand more than once and it just backfires on him each time. Now you broke him down in the classroom. I guess he just feels our family is out to get him or something.”
“It would help if he wasn’t such a racist,” Jett said.
“Yea. It would. But people are what they are. He probably doesn’t think he is a racist. He longs for a status quo that’s been disappearing for decades. Now his generation is trying one last time to make a huge, coordinated push to bring it back; and they are having some success because they’ve focused on the areas where they’ll get the least resistance. Creating that school district/zone, having this guy going to those classes. But then he runs into you, the daughter of someone he sees as a nemesis, and you unite at least one class and they call him out, publicly. He’s not mad at you. He’s mad at what you represent. You represent a future that he fears. A future in which he doesn’t get to dictate what people say and think; a future in which people know he’s wrong. And he knows he’s wrong, but wrong is all he’s ever known how to be, so he can’t change.
“Jett, you’re gonna find that people fear two things: Change and not fitting in. You are change. And they fear you because you won’t conform to fit in. And you shouldn’t. You should be yourself and keep doing what you’re doing. Because that’s way people will accept change. Your friends see it. It’s always the kids that see it first, because they have fresh eyes, that aren’t clouded by the stupidity of bigotry and fear. They’re changing. Even Principle Preston is changing. Your teachers have always seen it. But a lot of people will cling to a status quo even if they don’t like it. And they will conform to something they don’t like if it seems like everyone else is doing it. These guys are using that to change the world back to a status quo they were comfortable with; where they had the privilege and all the advantages, and everyone just quietly accepted it. You are what’s standing in the way of that. Sure, you’re just a kid. A girl in school. But you represent something greater. You’re proof that the bad guys are wrong, and they always have been. You force them to confront that. Just by being yourself. I didn’t plan for that. I’d rather you not have to deal with that, but I’m not going to let you deny it or succumb to it either. You are in the situation you are in and I’m proud of how you’re handling it.”
Jett smiled and a tear ran down her cheek and then put her head down. She picked at her salad and looked up at her dad again. “Thanks dad. But how do I do it?”
“Just keep being yourself. That’s all you have to do. It’s all you’ve ever had to do. You’re smart, you’re strong and you have a good heart. That’s what’s always guided you. Just listen to yourself. And if you get stuck and don’t know what to do, we’re always here for you. Me, Ashley, Diana. We want to make the world a better place too. We’ve seen how bad it can be, but with you, we see how good it can be too. In that way you’ve kind of rescued us from being jaded and cynical about everything.”
Jett teared up again. “I didn’t think I was that important. I’m just a girl,” she said.

“You’re more important to us than you’ll ever truly understand. We’re family and you’re the kid. Everything I do, I think about you and your future and what it means. Ashley too.”
“Ok. You’re being all sentimental. Ashley said you used to be a tough guy. What happened?”
“You kid. You happened,” he said, smiling at his daughter, “and Monday we’re going to walk in there with our heads up and we’re going to stand our ground. We’re going to be polite and respectful but we’re going to be clear that we don’t get pushed around by some two-bit retired attorney who passed his prime decades ago and is now reduced to peddling half rate bogus propaganda to a bunch of high school kids. Ok?”

“OK. Thanks dad. I’m worried about this meeting though.”
“I understand. But try not to worry. We’ll get through it together. We always do.”

Jett’s Short Pulp Story – Excerpt from Jett

NOTE:  This short story is from the larger story of Jett.  This excerpt is  a short story written by the protagonist, Jett, for her Literature class.  She tells a more light hearted story of an incident which happened over the summer.  The incident itself was much more dangerous than Jett makes it out to be in her story.  Enjoy:

It started out a boring day of summer, but not for long. I was on my bike, riding my usual route from my summer karate class to my job when a group of boys confronted me. I say boys, but there were girls too. Girlfriends, sheep, or sycophants. It’s all the same. Me? I don’t have boyfriends. I ain’t nobody’s sheep and I do what I want. That’s how I live and it ain’t changing for no boy.
The boys were your typical popular kids who somehow parlayed their popularity into being bullies. Most of them were followers, looking for a brave leader to show them the path to glory on the gridiron, or diamond, or whatever other patch of grass they throw a ball around on in a vain attempt to prove their manhood. But these poor souls were misguided. They didn’t have a brave leader to show them the path to glory; they had Bob.
Bob wasn’t the strongest guy. He wasn’t the fastest guy. He surely wasn’t the smartest guy. He wasn’t the anythingest guy. He could throw a ball far, all kinds of balls, and apparently that earns a boy some status in this town. He could throw it far, but he wasn’t very good at getting it exactly where was supposed to go. But, the bar was low in this town and Bob’s ability to throw a ball far, combined with his dad’s bloated bank account and political ambitions, apparently buys a football team a quarterback in this town, or a baseball team a pitcher. I’m not sure what the going rate is for a quarterback, but there wasn’t much of a market by my estimate. Zero wins and Ten losses last year. Again, the bar is low in this town. Pep rallies were more like group therapy and cheerleaders weren’t cheering as much as they were pleading.
Anyway, I digress. These gridiron hapless heroes were blocking my path to get where I was going and they weren’t moving. “What’s up guys?” I asked as I came to a stop. There was no point in trying to run this blockade. I figured I could outsmart them instead.
“What’s up? We’re what’s up. We don’t like your attitude,” one of the boys said. It wasn’t Bob, but it was Joseph. He often spoke for Bob. I say that because Joseph isn’t smart enough to speak for himself. He couldn’t put two words together to form a coherent sentence if he was spotted the noun and given his choice of verbs. Joseph was the muscle, Bob was the brains. Did I mention the bar was low?
“I’m sorry guys. Did I do something that hurt your feelings?” I asked.
“No, you pissed us off though. And we’re gonna kick your ass now.” Joseph replied.
“Kick my ass? Didn’t you get your ass kicked enough on Friday nights last year?” I retorted. I knew it was a mistake, and I wanted to regret saying it, but it felt pretty good coming out. I smiled and said, “I’m just kidding. Sorta.” Oops I did it again.
“See, that’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. Your attitude. We represent your school on Friday nights.”
“I didn’t vote for you. In fact, I demand a recount.” I retorted again.
“You have no respect for this team or us players,” Bob said, getting into my space.
“Neither do your opponents.” I said, without hesitating. This was too easy. Bob, though, was getting madder and clenched his fists in anger. Something was different about Bob. He was more intense than I remembered him from last semester. Nevertheless, even his girlfriend laughed at that one.
“And you. The karate kid,” Bob said, “Are we supposed to be afraid?”
“Of what?” I asked.
“That’s what I thought. Right now, you and I. You’re going to learn who the boss is here at this school.”
“I don’t want to fight you Bob. I was just riding to my job when you guys stopped me. You started it.”
“Yea. And we’re going to finish it.”
From my left one of the other kids, Rick, a grabbed me by the arm as Bob and Joseph started swinging at me. I managed to get out of Rick’s grasp and moved to my left, away from the other two boys and positioned Rick between us. I stepped forward when Rick lunged at me and then sidestepped, putting my arm up for protection. Rick missed me entirely and lost his balance, falling to the ground. Bob made his move before Rick could get up. I got into my defensive position and simply avoided Bob’s wild, erratic punches while moving away from the other boys, effectively isolating myself with Bob. It wasn’t hard. Bob was strong enough to do damage, and angry enough to lose control, but he was so angry that his punches were random with no focus. He simply flailed away at me with no coherent strategy. It wasn’t hard to maintain a position just to his left and simply block or stay out of his reach while he flailed away. It also made it easier to use Bob as a buffer to keep the other two boys from attacking me. I never threw punch. Didn’t need to. Eventually Bob ran out of breath and was bent over. His friends had given too up by then. We all stood there awkwardly for a moment and I said, “Are we done? I need to go to work.”
Before I could respond Joseph and Rick jumped me at the same time. I let my guard down, I got cocky, and now I was on the ground with two large, stupid oafs beating on me relentlessly. Bob caught his second wind and started kicking at me. That’s when something strange happened.
The girlfriend grabbed Bob and pulled him away. Then she pulled the other boys away with the help of her two friends. “You’re not supposed to fight girls!” she yelled at him, clearly angry. For that moment we were sisters united and there wasn’t anything the boys could do. They just stood there staring as I got up off the ground, with the help of the other girls. The girls then walked me to my job and told my boss what happened. She called my dad, and he came and picked me up.
I never talked to those girls about this when school started. I knew the score. We had our moment of triumph, but we weren’t going to be singing songs around a campfire or marching in any women’s rights marches together anytime soon. They made up with their boyfriends and life went on. They despised me, I tolerated them. Their boyfriends still wanted to beat me up but are a little more hesitant now. I learned two things that day:
Sometimes you can win a fight without throwing a single punch;
And I hate a bully.

Then End.
Jett Landry.