The first time I saw a black person I was in kindergarten. Chucky Newell entered the classroom wearing a bright yellow Charlie Brown shirt, the one with the bold black zig- zag skirting the bottom seam. I was assigned to be his buddy.
We sat upon our sit-upons, cloth mats we “stitched” with seaming tape and fabric glue. I was tan from a summer at the Cape. “Where did you go this summer?” I asked Chucky. “I played at the park,” he replied. “But how did you get so tan if you weren’t at the beach?” “I’m not tan dumb head, I’m an Afro-American.”
I was aware of Martin Luther King, Jr. (he preferred Negro to Afro-American), Arthur Ashe and Diahann Carroll, who starred in one of my favorite TV shows, Julia. Julia was a nurse who had a little boy about kindergarten age. I knew Afro-Americans, just not in real-life.
Chucky and I shared a love for books. During the course of the year, we “read” picture books, knowing the stories so well we could recite them by heart. Policeman Small, Pretzel, The Snowy Day, The Little Farm, Blueberries for Sal and more Golden Books than I can list here.
We pledged allegiance to the flag (“with liberty and justice for all”), drank milk from little wax-lined containers, played Red Rover on the playground, sang Bingo, This Old Man and Frere Jacques (in the round!) while Mrs. Banks accompanied us on the upright piano in the corner of the room.
We were silly, curious and sometimes naughty (I talked to much; Chucky fidgeted). Our desires were simple. We wanted to play, have friends, be heard and be loved. We were like every other kid in the classroom and for that matter, the world. Different colored shell on the outside perhaps but the same yolk on the inside.
It's a verity that begs the question: who would teach their kids to hate? What parent would build a soapbox of entitlement for his or her child? Why would anybody sit around a dinner table and spout heinous opinions about people who look different/speak another language/pray in a temple rather than beneath a steeple? I’m guessing the parents’ parents did the same. This is neither nurture nor nature. As my grandmother used to say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – whether it’s rotten or pure.
Can we be honest with each other? Is there a teeny, weeny part of you way down deep that dismisses another? I’ll admit to it. I malign the group who comprises the largest segment of the student body in the University of California system. I also know that this reproach stems from envy that my kid, while academically successful, did not put academics at the top of his priority list and the culture of our family did not either. So my son did not earn the GPA that would grant him entry to a UC school and my husband and I did not attain the pure, unadulterated wonderfulness of UC tuition.
While I am not pretending to make light of prejudice (it’s revolting), here’s one that is so comical it defines the stupidity and ignorance of bias. Prius owners cannot drive. They cut me off, drive slowly in the fast lane, and tail gate. There are approximately 4 million Prii (yes, that is the plural of Prius) on the road. See, I told you. Proof of a generalization that is so ridiculous it’s ludicrous. Mea culpa to the land of the Prii.
And let me say this, too. What goes around comes around. How many times in corporate reviews have I heard the words, "You're emotional but of course, you are a creative." "Executive leadership demands gravitas. You might want to modulate your passion." "She's Italian. What do you expect?" Don't even get me started on the pin pricks of discrmination based on my sex which trumped (Oh, God, did I really use that word?) my intelligence, talent, and experience. Bias stings. It makes us question our worth and our purpose. It makes me sad.
Chucky moved away in third grade. Here and there as life has passed, I’ve wondered what became of him. A few years ago, a childhood friend told me that Chucky lives in Florida. He’s an elementary school principal. If the child is the father of the man, his charges are fortunate. I’m sure he is as fair and fun as he was when were friends too many years ago.
America is the melting pot, people. Everybody knows that a pot of something tastes better when the ingredients meld harmoniously. Choose your recipe. Celebrate the deliciousness of diversity.