Same As Us

“Just remember…they are the same as us on the inside.”  This was my mother’s feeble attempt at race relations in the early sixties.  When I started school in the first grade (we didn’t have kindergarten back then in those country schools) there was not a single person of color in the entire school. EVERY single kid in the school was white.  No blacks, no Native Americans, no Asians, no Latinos…. It was a veritable sea of all white all the time.  So, my mother tried to pave the way by telling me to treat this new little girl that was starting school with us the next day the same as I would anyone else because the only difference was our skin color.  She told me she was just like us.  There was no difference  underneath the surface of our skin.  I took that advice to heart and actually became somewhat intrigued by people who looked “different” than me.

At this time there was elementary school and there was high school.  There was no middle school or actually Jr. High as they called it back then. There was a High School and a “Colored” High School.  When they finally did “integrate” several years later they made the smaller “colored” high school the Jr. High.

But, for now, I was in the second grade and we were to have a new student the next day.  This was my mother’s way of attempting to “pave the way” for this little girl.  Darlene was the very first “colored” person I was ever around. Save for my brief encounter with a “colored” man once in the grocery store when I was probably 3 or 4 years old.  I had entered the town grocery store with my mother and at the far end of the aisle I spied my dad’s work pants and shirt and went sprinting as hard as I could for him.  I never looked up because I was not a particularly graceful child so I
was staring at the ground until I got right to my “dad’s” work pants covered legs at which point I threw myself around his legs yelling “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”  My mother, mortified, came running up, grabbed my arms and started pulling me away.  I was quite confused until I looked up and saw this huge “colored” man smiling down at me.  I had never seen a real lie “colored” person in real life before that I could remember.  I stammered out “You’re NOT my daddy!” as my mother, beet red, dragged me down the aisle, quite embarrassed.

I’m not sure why she was embarrassed.  Whether it was because I could mistake a colored man for my father or because of what the townspeople might say.  It’s not that there weren’t any people of color in our small town, there were, I just never had any occasion to run into them.  They went to different schools, and different churches, and different stores.

My mother was attempting to make me understand something she didn’t understand herself.  She, herself, didn’t believe what she was telling me but I am guessing that’s what the parents of all the elementary school students were told to tell us to assuage our fears and curiosity.  I wasn’t sure what all the hoopla was about.  Darlene was just another kid.  I’m sure it was very hard on her though.  She was the first child of color ever to attend our elementary school and for a couple of years she was the ONLY one.  I’m sure it had to be scary for her because there were other students and teachers who treated her differently.  They did NOT take to heart the fact that she was the “same” as us underneath her skin.

They didn’t want to use the bathroom after her so they always made her go last when we lined up.  At first I thought she was just slower getting in line because she was a little chubby but soon found out the teachers made her wait until the rest of us lined up before she was allowed to line up.  I never did understand why she did that.  As far as I knew she was the same as us she just looked different but didn’t we all “look different” unless we were related?  We all had different shades of skin and hair color.  She was always last to be called on sides for PE and at first I thought it was because she wasn’t particularly athletic but then again, neither was I!  She was never invited to any of the other kid’s parties or to their houses to play.

When I was in fifth grade they finally integrated the schools completely and “created” the Middle School/Jr. High.  So from the time I was in middle school it was “normal” to share our school with people of all “colors”.  We finally got a few kids that were Native American and once we even had a “foreign exchange” student from South America who spoke Spanglish but I really don’t think we ever  had kids who were Asian the entire time I was in school, or none that I remember anyway.

By the time I got to high school I’d “been around” people of different skin colors for a couple of years but still had never really gotten to KNOW any of them on a personal level.  I mean, I rode the bus with them and had the same classes but I never took the time to actually talk to them or listen to them.  Then one day I met this young boy who was a couple of years older than me who treated me differently than anyone ever had.  He actually acted interested in what I had to say.  He treated me with respect and we became fast friends and I actually developed quite a crush on him.  We (my best friend and I) would go and hang out at his house with him, his siblings and his parents.  They didn’t treat us any differently and that intrigued me.  I knew better than to tell my mother about my new “friend” because despite her protestations that they were the same, I knew I had never seen her ever interact with anyone of “color” nor had we EVER had a person of color at our house or to dine with us.  The only person of color I ever saw her “interact with” was the man who worked at the little country store down the road from us and though she was cordial with him, I wouldn’t have thought that she actually considered him her “equal”.

Several months into our friendship the assistant principal apparently informed my mother of my newly formed “friendship” since he didn’t think it was healthy.  My mother informed me that I was never to talk to this person again nor any other males of color since it wasn’t “respectful” for a “white girl” to talk to a “colored boy”.  I was embarrassed and quite bewildered by her total reversal of her previous stance to “treat them just like you would anyone else” as she had so haltingly told me in second grade.  Why was this any different?  Why had she changed her mind?  Why couldn’t I choose who I wanted to be friends with?  What difference did it make that he looked different.

One day after a particularly heated argument about why I couldn’t be friends with him anymore I summoned all my courage and looked her straight in the eye and said “Just remember …they are the same as us on the inside.”

This post was brought to you by way of Mama’s Losin’ It and Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop and prompt #3)Write a post that  begins and ends with the same sentence.

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About pegbur7

South of the Mason/Dixon Line
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16 Responses to Same As Us

  1. Mike T says:

    I saw Darlene several years after high school graduation and she was a very friendly and happy lady. We had a nice talk about “the old days.” I was happy to see that she seemed to be doing well.

  2. Fantastic post and what a story. My town has always been a mixture of everybody so nothing like this happens but I can really feel the confusion you must have felt. 🙂 xx

  3. Ron says:

    AWESOME post, Peg!

    Three cheers!

    Philadelphia, being extremely multi-race and cultures, I grew up in integrated schools. However, there was still that feeling of ‘segregation’ Even today. Which I find incredibly unbelievable and sad.

    I love what you shared here….

    “Just remember …they are the same as us on the inside.”

    Amen!

    Thank you for sharing this post, dear friend. It needed to be shared.

    Have a wonderful day!

    X

    • pegbur7 says:

      You know how I feel about everybody being equal and one thing I can’t stand is prejudice…. I am afirm believer you should gie everyone a chance regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, etc. Our county was I think WAY behind the times in stepping out of the dark ages!

  4. Wow, what a change this world has gone through. By the time I got to school in the late 70’s, all ethnicities were enrolled and I couldn’t believe, when learning about segregation, that it had even happened. It just seemed so crazy. Unfortunately, I still see instances of prejudice from time to time.
    Great way to write it though!

  5. Adrienne says:

    Great post ~ I know my parents ‘educated’ me with some very ‘for the day’ liberal, open and accepting principles. When I ended up a theatre student with “interesting” friends and a black boyfriend…it shocked me how shocked they were! I mean, ahem, they were the ones who taught me acceptance. Turns out both my brother and I took them very seriously ~ I think we both still baffle them a little! Thanks for visiting my very profound post about bacon!!

  6. Kate says:

    Wow, that’s so powerful. Thanks for sharing! I love the poem by Shel Silverstein that goes something like…we’re all the same color on the inside. I started out being impressed with how forward thinking your mom was, especially for that time and by the end I had turned on her. Which isn’t really fair because we all do the best we can and she took steps 50 years ago that not many were taking and it resulted in YOU! which is fantastic…so I can’t say she did a bad job at all!

    I was best friends with a Cambodian girl in first and second grade. We would hold hands wherever we went and considering that our town wasn’t that diverse, I guess it wasn’t “normal,” but I just never knew any different. 15 years later, her daughter was in my 2nd grade classroom. Life is funny that way!

    • pegbur7 says:

      I don’t “fault” my parents because that is how they were raised and how everyone in the area and in that era was. They didn’t know any better and did the best with what they were dealt.

    • pegbur7 says:

      That’s why I don’t fault” them. They did the best they could with the situations they were given and with how they were raised.

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