I keep thinking …that in this country, black and white people grow up so differently.
I remember when I was in elementary school. The black kids were quiet, withdrawn, eager, it seemed, just to stay out of trouble. Our teachers were white. We had better not “embarrass” our parents, many of us were told.
But the white kids …were so free! They talked out loud. They talked to each other. They talked with the teacher, and the teacher, to them. I remember sitting and noticing it, and being perplexed.
Even as students, young students at that, we knew to “stay in our place.” Once, I had to go to the bathroom. Really badly. I raised my hand. My white teacher ignored me. I had seen other kids – white kids – get up if their hands-up had been ignored, and they had not suffered from the wrath of an angry teacher. But I wasn’t white, and I wasn’t about to “get in trouble.”
I kept my hand up. The teacher saw it. Mrs. Kofender was her name. Mrs. Kofender looked at me and ignored me. She began a math lesson, getting up from her desk where she had been sitting. When she began to talk, I called out, waving my hand feverishly, “Miss Kofender! Miss Kofender!”
Her face turned red and she glared at me and screamed, “If YOU DON’T WAIT…” I was mortified. Not just because she had yelled at me for nothing …but because by now I had lost the capacity and ability to hold my urine.
I was in the fourth grade.
It went on my seat, on the floor, on my socks. In my shoes. I was soaked in urine and my own embarrassment.
The other children giggled. Some laughed out loud. I tried not to cry, but the tears rolled down my face.
“Miss Kofender” looked at me, disgusted. She walked toward my desk and muttered,”you may go to the bathroom,” as she knelt with paper towels, cleaning up the evidence of my disgrace. As the other kids giggled, she admonished them to be quiet, not on account of me but on account of the fact that she “was not having any fun.”
It was too late. Going to the bathroom now would not make a difference. I sat in her classroom for the rest of the afternoon, wet, smelling, miserable …and demoralized. When the last bell of the day rang, I waited until everyone else left the room so that I wouldn’t have to walk past anyone, stinking.
The only two people left in the room were me and “Miss Kofender.”
I did not look at her. When all of the kids were gone, I left. She said “good-bye, Susan.” I said nothing.
In fact, I never said anything else in her class. I never raised my hand to answer a question, although I always knew the answers. I never said hi to her, or bye. I had to erase her presence from my spirit.
Except she was never erased. Here it is, 60 years later, and I can still feel the pain of that day.
But I can also recall that the white kids never seemed to suffer from that kind of …reluctance …to speak up and speak out and demand to be heard.
Black kids too often are socialized and trained – or at least they were in my days as a kid – to be quiet and be as inconspicuous as possible.
Black and white kids still grow up differently, though. The intrusion of materialism has changed some of the spirit-input of black kids, but for the most part, black kids still seem to peek around the corners and curtains of life, rather than from the center.
Black kids still have to “be careful.” White people still regard black kids as threats, or …whatever else they think.
They love black kids when they are still in utero, but as soon as they come out, they are aliens. Treated as aliens. Ignored like aliens. Given the worst of everything.
Yet, black kids rise from the ashes. Not enough, to be sure, but it is a miracle that any rise at all. Every time I see a commercial with kids on vacations with parents, I think about the fact that so many black kids never leave their neighborhoods, their blocks …So many have never been to a baseball game, or gone to a beach or even been to “the next town over.”
We grow up so differently.
A candid observation …