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High School Student Complains After Being Told to Read Poem 'Blacker' in Class

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"'Blacker, Jordan — c’mon, blacker. I thought you were black.'"

Jordan Shumate (Image source: WJLA-TV)

Jordan Shumate

School officials in Virginia are investigating after a ninth-grader said his English teacher singled him out in class and told him to read a poem "blacker."

Jordan Shumate, who is black, told the Washington Post he was reading aloud the poem "Ballad of the Landlord" by Langston Hughes when his teacher directed him to give a "blacker" delivery.

"She told me, ‘Blacker, Jordan — c’mon, blacker. I thought you were black,’" said Shumate, a student at George C. Marhsall High School in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Fairfax, Va.

Shumate is the only black student in class, D.C. ABC affiliate WJLA-TV reported, and said the fact that he was singled out shows racial insensitivity from the teacher, whom he identified as Marilyn Bart.

He told the Post that when he refused to continue reading the poem, Bart read it aloud herself to demonstrate what she meant. The poem begins: "Landlord, landlord/My roof has sprung a leak./Don't you 'member I told you about it/Way last week?"

“She sounded like a maid in the 1960s,” Shumate said. “She read the poem like a slave, basically.”

He complained to his mother, he said, after his teacher used him again in a lesson about stereotypes to explain why black people like grape soda and rap music.

“We're in 2012 with the first African American president,” Shumate's mother, Nicole Cober Page, told WJLA. “In this era how could such a statement be made, particularly by an English teacher.”

In a statement to WJLA, Fairfax County Public Schools said it was taking the allegations seriously.

"Marshall High School administrators are taking these allegations seriously and school officials are vigorously pursuing an investigation of these incidents," the school district said.

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