I was born in the south in a small rural community. We still have a ‘Main Street’ and big cities don’t have these. My parents weren’t poor. We were never hungry, cold or homeless. We went to good schools and my mother was extremely protective of us. Growing up, we did all the things that children back then loved to do and of course, that was to swim, ride our bikes, walk to the store and get candy, play with our friends, go to school, come home, get homework done and then we were given the okay to go outside. We knew to be in before dark and we were.
I can still remember my kindergarten teacher’s name, Ms. Patrick. She was Black and such a sweet lady. I remember learning my colors and I remember nap time on little cots we had. Then came elementary school and I remember the water fountains in the hallways with the step because some of us were too short to reach it. I hated boys back then and would stand up to them if they were picking on my friends. I remember my first friend, she was white. In fact, now that I think about it, the majority of my friends were white. I’ll never forget that I became angry with one of my friends and by this time I’ve forgotten what it was about, but my teacher came and got me out of class. She told me that ‘Teresa’ was extremely upset that I was not speaking to her. She produced a letter that ‘Teresa’ had asked her to give to me. I remember reading the letter and was moved to tears. It was so heartfelt. It made me see that I could really be a nasty little bitch when I wanted to be and that I had actually hurt someone who really cared about our friendship. I resolved then and there to become a better person or at least to try and become a better person. I did not see ‘Teresa’ anymore that day, but after I had gone home and had done my homework, I called her and apologized profusely. The next day, I have never seen a more radiant expression on anyone’s face. We were friends for years, right up until her parents moved out of the state.
I must say that at the time, I did not see black or white, I just saw friends. We weren’t really white and black, we were just children doing what children love to do. We didn’t know about racism, bigotry and that many thought that we should hate one another over a mere complexion difference. When we were outside, we didn’t ‘segregate’ ourselves into black over here and white over there. We all came together. It was girls against the boys, but it was all in fun. When we became older, we had to get on teams during PhysEd and there were no blacks over here and whites over there. When the teacher appointed me, a ‘captain’, I didn’t pick my team because of the color of their skin, I picked a teammate because we were all human beings and we all laughed and played together.
In high school is when I first got a taste of ‘something not quite right’. And I still didn’t know what it was, but my mother took care of it. I was in History Class and we had been reading about Egypt. The teacher was white and one day, he told me to stand up and turn and face the class, I did. He then told the class that I was what an Egyptian person looked like. I turned around and said, “my parents are not from Egypt, they are American. I am an American, if you want an Egyptian, go to Egypt.” I sat down. Now, I had been a straight ‘A’ student, but when I got my report card, I had an ‘F’ in his class. My mother was having none of that and even another teacher told me that that just wasn’t me. That couldn’t possibly be my grade. Mother made an appointment and I attended the conference and I must say, ‘hell hath no fury’ because after my mother finished with him, I’m sure he needed to clean himself. I was taken out of his class.
The next time I experienced what was not what it should be was when I was in the 10th grade, again, I was a straight ‘A’ student and I had missed a week of school because I had the flu. When I returned, I went to each of my teachers and asked to receive anything that I had missed so that I could make up the work. At the end of the semester, I received an ‘F’ from another teacher. Now, my English teacher, he was really cool. When report cards came out, he would have us come up to him and he’d look at them and comment only to us and when he saw that ‘F’, again, I got the, “something is wrong here.” My mother wasn’t having it. Bless her heart! If she didn’t lay down the law, nobody did. I’ll just say that she got it all straightened out.
Meanwhile, I was still having fun with my friends. On Halloween, we went to a sort of Halloween Spooky House and my best friend’s brother drove us there, again, both were white and I remember being so scared that I fell on top of my friend’s brother and when I fell, she was behind me and she fell on top of me. So, there we all lay on the floor screaming while her brother is telling us to “get it together and get off me!” We did! But only long enough to go into another room where there were fake snakes all over the floor and I promptly grabbed my friend’s brother who stumbled and fell on the worker at the Spooky House and I fell on him and my best friend fell on me. We all lay there on the floor, rolling around to keep from getting on the snakes, just screaming our heads off, me and my bestfriend. It’s hilarious now, but it wasn’t then. Weeks after that night, I was on the bus going to school when my bestfriend’s brother actually put his arm around me. Wow, was I shocked. I guess that was my first interracial hug.
When I told my mother, she went to pieces about how no white person was going to date her daughter and for me to get that thought out of my head. I didn’t know what the big deal was. I still wasn’t really into boys at that time anyway.
I guess the point that I am trying to make is that some people say that we are born racist. Some people say that we are taught racism. Regardless of whether or not you think either one is true, think about this. When we were all allowed to play together, go to school together, we did not see black or white or any ethnicity. We just saw a friend, someone we cared about, someone we looked forward to seeing the next day and the next. We got along. So to all the grownups who insist on butting in and telling their children who they should hang around with or play with, “butt out!” Your children are often smarter than you give them credit for and could probably teach you a thing or two. Take a look around at a playground the next time you’re out and do what you see children of all hues, complexions, gender and so forth doing. And play it forward, I dare ya!