Roosevelt High School senior Jabre White was doing what so many of us were taught to do, respectfully addressing authority figures, when his teacher responded in one of the least respectful, and most dehumanizing, ways of all.
In a recent interview with The Des Moines Register, White says that, when he politely told his economics teacher Shawn McCurtain “Yes, sir,” the latter corrected him, insisting he “say ‘Yes, master.’”
White stood up for himself, replying, “Who the f — — are you talking to? You’re nobody’s master, and this is not the slave days. If you thought it was funny, it’s not.” When he later reported the incident to Roosevelt High School’s white Vice Principal Joseph Blazevich, White claims that Blazevitch “didn’t seem surprised about what the teacher said.” Instead, White says, Blazevich “was more interested in about what I said. He was upset that I dropped the f-bomb.”
After White’s mother asked Blazevich to investigate the incident, however, he did say that it was “terrible” and “shameful,” and claimed that “the instructor was very remorseful.” Nevertheless, it is unclear whether McCurtain has been punished for the way he treated one of his African American students — though he did call White’s mother to apologize for the remark. According to a district spokesperson, McCurtain is still employed by the school district.
Next year, White will begin college at Iowa State, but the state’s schools frequently produce much worse outcomes for African American students. A 2012 national report found that 90 percent of white students graduate from Iowa high schools, while only 41 percent of black male Iowans achieve the same milestone.