Friday, January 04, 2019

Highly Recommended! "Don't Pass Me By" by Eric Gansworth, in FRESH INK (edited by Lamar Giles)

Eric Gansworth's story in Fresh Ink: An Anthology, edited by Lamar Giles, is one of those that makes my heart ache for Native kids and what they experience in school.

The story is titled "Don't Pass Me By." Four words, packed with meaning. They're never used in the story itself, but they are very much a part of what we read in the story.

Don't pass me by, Doobie could say to Hayley. They are Native kids in the 7th grade. They're from the same reservation but Hayley's dad is white and she can pass for white. Doobie can't. He's the target of harassment that she doesn't get. She can--and does--walk right by Doobie. Though they know each other, she doesn't acknowledge him until they're on the bus back to the reservation.

Don't pass me by, Doobie pretty much says to Mr. Corker. He's the Health teacher. For this particular lesson, the boys stay with Mr. Corker and the girls go with Ms. D'Amore. The lesson? Parts of the body. The activity? Label the body parts on the first worksheet. For the second worksheet, Mr. Corker hands out two boxes of colored pencils. One box is flesh; the other is burnt sienna. He expects the boys to color the boy on the worksheet with the flesh pencil, and to use the burnt sienna pencil to draw underarm and pubic hair. Other Native boys in the class do as expected, but Doobie uses the burnt sienna pencil for the body and his regular pencil for the hair. He's added a long black sneh-wheh, like his own. When class is over he turns in his worksheet after everyone else has left. Mr. Corker looks at it and says (p. 52):
"I see. Hubert. But you know, the assignment wasn't a self-portrait."
"It was," if you're white," I said.
And, he continues (p. 52):
"Your pencils only allowed for one kind of boy," I said. 
As he's telling Mr. Corker all this, he thinks about older siblings and cousins who didn't make trouble with assignments like this. His stomach is in knots as he talks with Mr. Corker. He begins to understand why those siblings and cousins chose
"...to be silent, to think of yourself as a vanished Indian. Everywhere you looked, you weren't there."
Native kids are in that position every day in school... asked to complete assignments that don't look like them, by teachers who don't see them... Who refuse to see the whiteness that is everywhere.

See why this story makes my heart ache? Gansworth's story is one that will tell Native kids like Doobie that they are not alone. And it has a strong message for teachers, too: Don't be Mr. Corker.

And if you're not a Mr. Corker, I'm pretty sure you know plenty of teachers who are... and you can interrupt that. You can be like Doobie.

Get several copies of Fresh Ink. I reviewed Gansworth's story, but its got twelve others from terrific writers: Schuyler Bailar, Melissa de la Cruz, Sara Farizan, Sharon G. Flake, Malinda Lo, Walter Dean Myers, Daniel José Older, Thien Pham, Jason Reynolds, Aminah Mae Safi, Gene Luen Yang, and Nicola Yoon. I highly recommend it. Published in 2018 by Random House, it is one you'll come back to again and again.


3 comments:

Ava Jarvis said...

Yes. This, so much.

Lindsey said...

Question: I just read Don't Me Pass By, and I was trying to picture what a sneh-wheh is. Google turns up nothing.

Sam Jonson said...

Jennifer, I ween that "sneh-wheh" is the word for a braid or queue of hair in Onondaga. (That is Gansworth's nation's language.)