A person would have to be hiding in a cocoon to not see the racial issues that have been going on in our world today. Some things are hard to watch, others endearing, and some inspiring. As I think about racial events taking place in our country, I am reminded of a saying coined by an old black slave preacher as told by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.” Dr King was almost magical in how he passionately spoke.
My story from back in the 70’s during school integration and busing is a bit different than the ones we hear and see on television today. I really was not sure I wanted to write about it, but how could I not? In the early 1970’s I was in Junior High School. Some call it “Middle School”. For the most part my memories are good ones. School integration and busing children back and forth, on the other hand, was not an easy issue in those days. The idea was to place black children in primarily white schools and the other way around. The concept was a good one. I know the intention was to promote equality in education and experience.
In my area, Oakland, California, it was often an angry situation on both ends, white and black. I believe children are socially taught ether by society or parents. Children are not born with a sense of prejudice. It is a learned behavior. During the integration days the parents were ticked off, outraged and down right nasty about it all. Not everyone agreed that integration was a good idea. Since the parents were so angry, the kids were as well. According to my experience, what we had was a whole load of angry black teens getting off buses met with a lot of angry white teens who felt they were invaded. A mess is what we had. That leads me to my personal experience.
Let me give you some background. I was a shy little girl who evolved into a shy teen with light blonde hair and obviously white. I had my small group of friends and that was the extent of my social interaction. I was not really even allowed to date at the ages of 14 and 15 but that did not mean I did not try! In fact, a lot of black boys were very attracted to me, and probably more outgoing than most of the white teen boys I went to school with. The problem with that was it made the black girls extremely angry at me. So, what usually occurred is a lot of prejudice and anger slung in my face; and I mean right in my face. There was one girl who made it her personal goal to say something racially angry at me every single school day of my life. It usually consisted of “There she is, that pretty little white girl with her nails, and make up and cute little self thinking she is all that”. It was followed by angry looks, sneers, threats of violence, and some comments by her group of friends that all seemed to back her up whatever she did. If a teacher saw it they usually just told her to get to class.
I never said a thing to her. In fact, usually my friends would just ask her to knock it off, mentioning I never did anything to her, or any of them. I only went into my locker, exchanged my books, got to class, dressed for gym, tried my best, and kept myself quiet. I was not afraid, but I felt very very hurt. I never let it show but when I was at home in my bed at night I cried constantly. I could not stand the thought of facing it one more day, but I did. I faced it for two years of my life, all the way to graduation from Junior High.
Then we came to the day where yearbooks came out and we were all anxious to get that week over so summer can start. After summer a whole new world of High School was in front of us. I was walking down the hall with my friends as usual only this time I was carrying my new yearbook. Of course, here they came, my little group of mean girls and their ring leader. The meanest one looked at my yearbook and asked if she could sign it. I think my friends mouths must have dropped to the floor. I had no idea because I never turned my back unless I had a destination. Onlookers were probably even more astounded because I handed it to her and said yes. She did sign it. Before I could read it one of her friends asked to sign it to. I agreed. She read what the other wrote and immediately turned to her and said, “We are all graduating. Now why do you want to go and say something like that in her yearbook?” I just stood there while the other girl began to write in my book. Her name was Pam. I will never forget it. You see, she used to say mean things to me as well, but I never returned a sound to her. I expected to read things I really did not want to read from either of them. Yet, when I went off to get my ride on the bus I read them both. The first mouthy girl wrote something mean and hurtful, but not Pam. Pam wrote the most kind expression of good will to me that I had heard or even read since the whole school issue began. I really don’t remember the name of the other girl or her other group of friends. It was a long time ago.
You see, we might not remember names but we certainly remember actions; especially ones that hurt us. We also remember the actions of those who are the most kind. Sometimes we remember their names too. Pam had written, “it was great going to school with me and she wished the best for me in my future”, then she walked off. I went my own way as well.
During those angry days of integration, I don’t think any of us younger people really knew why anyone was so angry to be mixed together. As for me; all I wanted to do was to be kind to everyone and have them all get along. I remember wondering why it was so hard. You see, I really did not mind having diverse people bused into the same school. I just did not want the heartache. Here it is 2020 and I still remember those days like they were yesterday. I refused to have anger or hatred for anyone because of their ethnicity. I certainly don’t want to come off like I was some sort of saint. I know I have never been that. Honestly I did not know what to say because it felt like it would not matter. Then there were the angry faces all bigger than me and more intimidating.
I will say this though, “Wherever you are Pam, I love you. You healed my heart that day”. Writing this is not about blame. I’m a little more bold now, as you might tell. I guess writing this is to say that racial issues and prejudice go both ways. The hurt is the same because we are all people. I wonder why we have such a hard time seeing when one person is affected, we are all affected. I suppose had I provoked some of it, I would feel I should be sorry, but I didn’t. I was judged by the color of my skin and my obvious light blonde hair. I was not someone of extreme privilege at that time. I came from a broken home. I was broken at home and broken at school.
I’m crying now. I’m sorry our country is struggling so much with this and has for so long. I am an empath; I feel literally everything. I’m sorry people judge one another by the color of their skin. I’m sorry slavery happened. I’m sorry we never seemed to understand. I don’t want to generalize but I will say that there are more of us who just want peace than those who don’t. There are more of us who pray for understanding than those who don’t. There are more of us who just want what is right than those who don’t. We just need to be more like Pam and be peace makers and heal. It takes way too much more energy to hate than it does to heal.
Loving you all from here,
Dr Jenine Marie Howry, PhD
Citation: King, Martin Luther, (2014). “A Promise Unfulfilled: 1962 MLK Speech Recording is Discovered”. https://www.npr.org/2014/01/20/264226759/a-promise-unfulfilled-1962-mlk-speech-recording-is-discovered