My initial, knee jerk reaction to this book? Despair.
Cross-X is subtitled “The Amazing True Story`of How the Most Unlikely Team from the Most Unlikely of Places Overcame Staggering Obstacles at Home and at School to Challenge the Debate Community on Race, Power, and Education.” It’s about the debate program at Kansas City’s Central High School and about how the author himself, a journalist, became a part of the story he was chronicling. Mr. Miller starts out observing and following the debating adventures of these black, inner city high school debaters, and by the end of the book he’s an assistant coach and an advocate for ending what he sees as institutional racism within the debate community and inside the education system as a whole.
The problem that I see is that these kids are being trained to see racism in everything that happens to them, and their teachers are so biased and despairing that the kids come (are lead) to the conclusion that the overthrow of the government and the education system is just about the only thing that will get them their “rights” as human beings. Their argument against any and all comers is that the system is racist and oppressive and until that fact is acknowledged and changed (how?) they won’t discuss anything else. Period. This argument is their response to problems in mental health care, foreign policy questions, and nuclear war, to name just a few of the debate questions that Central High debaters answer with their all-purpose “end racism first” response.
My near-despair comes from reading that we have students in inner city high schools who are being taught that making up a rhymed rap about how racist everything and everybody is will get them into the upper echelons of power and change the world for the better. In other words, if black young people can be trained to see themselves as victims and to articulate that vision, then eventually the white oppressors will see the light and —what? Reading this book reminds me of the OJ Simpson trial and what a gulf that trial revealed between the perspectives of white people and black people in this country. Are we really so far apart? And are we moving farther apart? I pray not, but I am discouraged by the stories in this book.