May or May not Be a True Story
the student as nigger… is the title of a non-fiction 142 page paperback book, first published in August 1969; followed by a second printing September 1970; then, never again. Once upon a time, this was a Banned Book in the USA. Whatever that means… You don’t hear much about this book. As if it never existed.
Originally a single essay, the student as nigger · Stories and Essays · by Jerry Farber critically analyzes the American Education System. Until yesterday, I had never in my life, seen a single copy of this book, much less read it; nor had I read OF or heard OF this book anywhere; nor have I spoken with a single person in my life who has read this book, or has known of this book; except for one (1) high school student, whom I once knew long ago. 26 years ago to be exact.
Here’s the story of how I came to know this individual called Harriet; and subsequently, this book unforgettably entitled: the student as nigger by Jerry Farber.
By 1985, when I was a robust, not too tall, 17 year old Catholic High school student, I had already fully developed a passion for literature; the big three for me: Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemmingway, Ayn Rand – starting around age 15, I set out to read every novel, short story, essay or play each author had penned. As a teen, I didn’t care much for genre or poetry or non-fiction. I liked specific authors. That conscious pursuit of devouring the works of my Big Three, and others, lasted through college. I’ve twice read, cover to cover, The Sun also Rises – first time age 15, then again age 30. I feel a re-read coming on. I feel the line: “the sun Also rises!” to be an apt explanatory quip describing my deliberate celibacy for the last 17 months, since I’ve returned to LA from Asia. I’ve read Slaughterhouse Five three times, at different times in my life. I’ve visited Kilgore Trout on the planet of Tralfamadore. I’ve asked in wonder, “Who is John Galt?”
Point is, when I was 17, I had a friend called Sleeve, who also loved the same authors as me and we’d trade books and introduce each other to new authors, imbibe the horticulture; dabble with psychedelics. Sleeve had long hair. We went to a LOT of big name rock concerts in the mid 1980’s with my older brother and other 1980’s high school friends. Sleeve’s my older brother’s age, a year older than me; which doesn’t mean much when you are in your 40’s – like we are now – but when you are 12 and 13, it makes a big difference. Sleeve has been my older brother’s best friend since 7th grade Beverly Hills Catholic School, now called Good Shepherd. I haven’t met Sleeve without my brother, or called him socially since 1986, but I did see him on the 4th of July 2011 at my brother’s house. Sleeve visits my brother regularly, to this day.
When I was 17 and Sleeve was 18, he had a friend that, looking back, was the first Out of the Closet lesbian I’d ever meet in my life. Her name was Harriet and she was an American girl, a big mix of ethnicities, taut brown skin; thin dreads. Harriet was really cool. She reminded me of the song Karma Chameleon personified, even though I wasn’t a fan of Culture Club; or ANY – of what they then called – New Wave music, now widely known as 80’s Music. I was a rocker, like my older brother and Sleeve. I remember the first time I saw Harriet; that song, which was right popular at the time, popped into my head. Not the music, just the title, Karma Chameleon.
Harriet, too, was an avid reader for an 18 year old high school student, who was planning to take her Girlfriend to her prom. We talked books. It was during one of these conversation regarding books and authors that Harriet mentioned the student as nigger, a book I’d never heard of and have never heard of since. I remember the first time I met Harriet with Sleeve, at the house of Girlfriend, another Fairfax student and avid reader.
Girlfriend’s Dad was a professional musician: singer/guitarist bandleader. He was there in the house with us. “He’s popular in Arizona,” Harriet’s blonde, blue eyed girlfriend said with a laugh. I never really got a good look at the Dad; but apparently, Girlfriend told us as we discussed books, “My dad read me Cat’s Cradle when I was 11!” and that had got her started on her path to reading; kind of like me with Slaughterhouse 5, I remember thinking at the time. I never got a look at the father’s face. Hi ho.
I’d thought that was odd: MY Father would demand to meet any person, friend or whoever came over to visit. My Dad would get hopping mad if he ever came to my bedroom and a friend was over that hadn’t greeted him. It was a well known fact among all our high school friends. In my Dad’s words, “If You Come to my House, Say HELLO!” – Like Jerry Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, but MUCH louder. All my life, visitors were obliged to say Hi to my Dad. It was Your (my) responsibility to seek out my father in the house and greet him; cuz if he saw you First, he’d admonish you loudly for your supreme rudeness. “Have Some Respect!” He’d shout in my friends faces’ till they apologized or cried. He’d later ask. “Edeek, why are your friends so rude?”
Harriet’s girlfriend’s Dad had no problem ignoring Sleeve and I. He had no reason to meet us or greet us. He also seemed cool with his daughter and Harriet’s ‘Partnership’ arrangement. Harriet was responding to Dad’s query as he walked down the hall, “What if the school won’t let you take my daughter to the prom?”
“Fairfax High!?!” Harriet called out loudly cuz girlfriend’s Dad was now in the other room. “Who are THEY to tell me who I can and can not take to MY prom? What are THEY going to do?” This is what Harriet was saying, the day I first met her. Harriet planned to wear a tux to her prom. I never found out what became of all that. Or what Girlfriend’s dad really thought of his daughter’s love interest.
I don’t know what it was about Harriet. She had the chiseled face of a model. Harriet was old in her mind, all mellow and mature and knowledgeable and still in high school. It wasn’t just that Harriet was the way she was; you got the impression that she’d been like that for many years already. Harriet spoke in a way that made you say, “Okay!” and feel good about yourself.
Harriet told me about the book, the student as nigger, the first time I met her at her girlfriend’s house, or the night of the Grateful Dead show at Irvine Meadows Ampitheater, the second time I met Harriet. I can’t remember which time it was; there were only two times in my life I’d ever see Harriet. Harriet has been the only person in my life ever to speak of this book in my presence. She HIGHLY recommended it, “If you can find it,” I remember her saying. It’s funny what the human brain remembers.
Buenos Aires 2007
In all the bookshops in all the world, that I’ve browsed, I’ve never seen Jerry Farber’s book in any. Since the age of 17 I have sought this book out. I’ve worked in bookstores. I’ve visited Used Bookstores in cities around the world, from Buenos Aires to Fukuoka, from SF to Brooklyn. I lived in Berkeley. We had Moe’s, Shakespeare’s, Cody’s and even more bookstores like Crown and B Dalton and Doubleday, now deceased like so many others. I’ve spent my entire life regularly visiting new and used bookstores, since the age of 17: the age I had my first steady girl; had my first had non-familial responsibilities, the Dawn of my leaving for College…Adult Education!
I have none of these things now in 2011. I’m 43 years of age. I’m unemployed, no girlfriend and I live at home with my mother. I drive my mother’s Cadillac Car. Last September, I got a speeding ticket. I took the case to court; but unfortunately…I fought the law and the law won. The fine amounted to $371 or 33 hours Community Service. I chose Door Number Two; a.k.a., the blue pill.
I’m currently doing Community Service, as a result, working at Out of the Closet Thrift Store on Pico Blvd, here in West LA, run largely by homosexuals; and which donates 90% of its revenue to AIDS Research and other AIDS related causes. We give out free condoms. It’s been a wonderful week working here. I love the people and the vibe and the freedom to just not be trying to make money all the time, like over at Goodwill, where I was originally placed. I got sacked after 8 hours for insubordination. They transferred me here! Here at Out of the Closet, the music has been great, and as an unemployed writer, I forgot how good it feels to work every day, be on my feet, having constant contact with laid back people.
It was HERE at Out of the Closet thrift store, in their book section, that I found this 40 year old copy of a long forgotten book entitled, the student as nigger by Jerry Farber: a book I’d never before seen; a thin paperback, slightly brittle and discolored, but still fully readable. The price was 50 cents, but Leo the long hair Latino heavy metal guitar playing cashier let me have it free. I guess that is the way it should be. Thanks Leo. Thank you, Harriet, for the introduction. And a big Thank You to Out of the Closet.
Jerry Farber, the author, thanks the Grateful Dead in his book’s Acknowledgements, along with many other individuals. None of whose names I recognize, except for Timothy Leary, who is famous for quitting his Professorship job at Harvard to preach the message: LSD is the only hope for human happiness.
If you’ve ever believed that modern American society were somehow like the movie, The Matrix, where people’s lives were really just a Fantasy construct implanted in people’s brains; while in reality, they were lying dormant, having their life sucked out of them by some dominant species (or in our case class) then I recommend reading studentasnigger. My last 3 Acid Trips all led me to believe that this “Fantasy Land Matrix” does, in fact, exist in the minds of most everyone – “Do Americans really believe we still have democratic elections? This book tells how this is done, in regard to American Education: The subjects and the teachers may change, but the methodologies for ALL classes are essentially the same. I quote Jerry Farber:
What is most likely to emerge from this 16-year molding and screening process?
Thoroughly schooled and ready for GM or IBM or the State Department, the graduate is a skilled, neat, disciplined worker with just enough initiative to carry out fairly complicated assignments, but not so much initiative that he will seriously question the assignment itself. He is affably but fiercely competitive with his peers and he is submissive to his superiors. In fact, as long as he has some respect from his peers and subordinates, he is willing to be almost naked of dignity in the eyes of his superiors; there is very little shit he will not eat if there is something to be gained by it. In asserting himself, he is moderate, even timid – except when he exercises the power of a great institution, when he himself is the superior, when he puts on some kind of real or figurative uniform. At that point he is likely to assume the sacerdotal mask that his teachers wore. At that point – when he becomes official – his jaw hardens.
These days, if you go on the INTERWEB, you can find the original essay at http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0303critic/030301studentasnigger.html
Both Esquire Magazine and, subsequently, Wikipedia, call the student as nigger,
“The underground’s first classic.” Whatever that means…
You be the judge! Time to take our control of our resources!