Learning People
April 23, 2006

Quite a while back I wrote the first part of this story. I said I'd continue it, and began writing this post back in June ... it's still an unfinished piece, but I thought I'd share it today anyway. Make sure to read the beginning first, though.

So, after the trip to Disney World and watching Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents, I was ready to go back to school just a few months later. I was starting second grade and I was a little nervous my first day. Our school handed each teacher about 30 students at random levels of learning and development and this year I had been moved to another class different from most of the kids I'd had in my class the year before. And after my Disney World experience, that was much more scary to me than the fact that I also had a black teacher for the first time.

One of the first days of school, my mom walked me into the building. Now, we lived several miles away from the school on the far north side of Austin out by the quarries. Most of the kids in my neighborhood rode to school in a carpool and the parents complained all the time about the inconvenience of having to gather a bunch of crazy elementary school kids and deliver them to school -- although I think picking us up was probably worse.

When we walked in one day, there was a folding table set up just inside the building with a posterboard hanging from it. It said "Stop the Busing."

"But I thought we wanted a bus!" I exclaimed to my mom.

She frantically tried to get me to shutup.

"But why? I thought you were tired of taking me to school." I was trying to whisper -- you know, the kind of whisper actors use to reach the back of the theatre, but still feels like a whisper? That type of whisper that seems to be the specialty of every little kid.

Well, my response relaxed the tense parent behind the table. And despite Mom's promise to explain it all to me later, it wasn't until years later that I figured out what busing these parents wanted to stop. And it made me sick. Every student at that elementary school that I can remember was white. We had some latino kids, and we had a couple of kids who got to sit down during the Pledge of Allegience (the whole Under God thing -- don't start, that'll be another post later and you can scream about it then). Of course, we lived in Texas, so there were lots of latinos everywhere. Enough so that I didn't realize that Mexicans (like my best friend who lived down the street from me) were another "race." I didn't realize that some white folk didn't like Mexicans or latinos of any flavor. I thought my friend would be extra-popular because she had a great tan. Unfortunately, I said that in front of Mom and she was horrified and had to explain the whole Mexican "issue" to me.

Two weeks into the school year I was told that there was an opening at the Catholic school and was shuttled off to "shop" for my uniform.

Was it because busing appeared to be imminent? Was it because my teacher was black? Was there really a "sudden" opening at the private school?

And what I didn't understand then or now was this: if we were so religious as to send me to a Catholic school, how Christian was it to be that way to other people? to be so scared of them and for no reason at all?

I don't remember any black kids at the Catholic school. I had a latino teacher, but didn't see any black teachers there.

I asked my Mom once why she didn't want me to be part of busing - either bused to another school or a school where others were bused in.

"Because I knew that someone would tease a kid - a black kid call a white kid something or a white kid call a black kid something - and you would be right there in the middle of it, defending someone. I didn't want you to get hurt."

Well, she probably had a point. I would have been. I didn't understand that type of "teasing" and I always tried to make friends with the underdogs and the kids that no one else would take to. And I never knew when to back down, so I probably would have gotten the heck whupped out of me.

But you know, the deal is that none of this stuff changed how I felt after that smile at Disney World.

Those two events ... the trip to the Hall of Presidents and the sudden turnaround about busing us to school ... shaped my life more than I could have imagined at that age. The two events together solidified something that I had been struggling with for ages ...

I learned that I could not trust my parents.

Now, before someone screams, let me explain that a little bit further. It wasn't just because I realized prejudice was wrong ... it was because I was finally starting to see through some of the mixed messages I was getting from them. Mom would tell me that black people were the same as white, but she'd also lock her car doors if she saw a black person walking along the street. She'd tell me "you can be anything you want to be" and then tell me I couldn't be a cub scout or an indian guide. She'd poke me in church during the scripture on obeying your parents, but then she'd give me direct orders to disobey my father. And, honestly, Dad was giving me the same mixed messages.

At that point, I came to the conclusion that there are good people and bad people in the world and a lot of shades in between ... but you could not figure out which people were to be avoided by how they looked. My father looked like a great businessman in his fancy suits. He looked like Gerald Ford, enough so that in the late seventies, women in the grocery store wouldn't believe him when he said he was not the ex-president. It didn't really matter that he was white or that someone else was black or tan or kind of yellow.

You learned more about people by comparing what they said with what they did ... and, of course, by watching their eyes. And Dad's eyes scared me. Mom's eyes seemed somewhat blank and empty. I began to distance myself from them.

That wound up saving my life.

Well, that and the bookmobile.

Posted by Red Monkey at April 23, 2006 10:36 AM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Red said:

I remember when I was young, back in the dark ages when dirt was just getting its start, I did not see color. I don't believe that children do until they are taught. I grew up in Texas as well and had friends of all races. It was devastating to me when I started school and overheard children calling others names based on the color of their skin. I got angry and ended up being sent home the first day.
During my lifetime I have know good and bad people of all colors. I learn, luckily, to view the actions of a person first. Get to know their heart before seeing the skin they were warring. That was thanks to my dad and grandmother, my mom, well that�s a whole other story�

April 24, 2006 3:29 PM
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