Out of the mouth of babes March 21 2015, 0 Comments
It was 1965 and I was seven. The same year of the protest marches in Selma, Alabama fighting for voting rights. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, and hundreds of others risking their lives for suffrage and Jimmy Lee Jackson; a protester shot and killed by an Alabama state trooper.
My family was living in Springfield, Massachusetts where my father was stationed in the Army. We were living off of the military base in a racially mixed neighborhood. I was in first grade and walking home from school with my best friend Yvonne who was also a little brown girl.
We were hopping and skipping along the sidewalk. “Don’t step on a crack or you break your mother’s back”, we sang. Across the street we saw some boys from our class. They were white. All of a sudden I heard the word “Nigger!” yelled out. I completely froze. Even at that age I knew that was a word meant to cause harm.
My friend Yvonne looked over at them, threw her arms in the air and yelled back “Cracker!” Then the boys called back nigger laughing and she laughed and yelled back cracker. And so I joined in and we’re running now and yelling and laughing and so are they. Blacky! Whitey! Nigger! Cracker! Our limited knowledge of racial slurs exhausted in four words. Seven years old and spitting out such hatred. Children absorb the energy in their environment. I recall not feeling good and not really understanding why.
I don’t remember how it ended. I think they turned a corner and we kept on walking home.
I don’t even remember if we said anything to them the next day. Yvonne and I never talked about it. I never told my mom or my dad or my sister. I never told anyone this story until now.