When I was in second grade in Haven, Kansas -- a town so small it had no traffic lights -- each day when we ran out to recess, Sharon and Ricky took off for the playground, shouting, Eenie Meenie Minie Mo, Catch a tiger by the toe . . . .
Except they didn't say tiger. Although I had never seen a black person face to face, I knew Sharon and Ricky were bad.
One day after recess, I raised my hand and said, Mrs. Snyder, Sharon and Ricky say nigger out on the playground.
Sharon raised her hand and countered with, Lola is a tattle tale.
Mrs. Snyder said, Yes. Lola is a tattle tale.
What? I was only in second grade but I already had a sense of justice. If someone is doing something really wrong, then aren't you supposed to tell an adult?
Sharon and Ricky kept on meenie, minie, moing every day on the playground.
Fast forward a few months and my dad was now stationed in Topeka, Kansas. Soon after we arrived we drove down the main drag in downtown Topeka.
It was the first time I saw real, live black people. And I
saw that they were, indeed, people. Just
people. Walking along, smiling and talking and laughing.
But my mom said, Look at the niggers walking up the street in their short pants.
I felt sick and embarrassed. This word was wrong and bad, but there was no adult to tell except the offender, and besides, I'd already been labeled tattle tale.
I am a bit ashamed to tell you this story about my mother, but fortunately, she changed for the better.
After I married and my parents moved into a townhouse community with a pool, my children and I visited during the summer. A black woman was sitting in the shade, watching her grandsons play. When we arrived, she called them out of the pool.
After they left, my mom said, They're the only black people who live here and they always get the kids out of the pool when white people get in. I wish they wouldn't. I don't think anyone would be crude enough to say anything.
It was nice to hear that evidence of my mother's change, but perhaps it never occurred to hear that the grandmother did not get her grandsons out of the pool to avoid offending her white neighbors.
Maybe she didn't want her grandsons in a pool contaminated by white people.
Infinities of love,