A Terrible Privilege...
From second through fifth grade I attended a predominately white school, which felt all white because for all those years I was the only black girl in my class. Each grade only had one class; so each year I was the only black girl in second grade, third grade and so on.
Some of my classmates were mean girls. Some teachers were cold. One administrator was conniving. One teacher was wonderful.
I hate to recall that time in my childhood as the worst in my life, because as a parent I know it probably makes my parents feel bad to hear me say that. They were young parents trying to do the best for me by sending me to a private school, even when they couldn't afford it.
I never said much to them about my experiences there until I was older. For one memory I recalled, my mom said "I wish you had of told me that while you were still there." But I took things in stride. I rarely came home and cried about anything. I was really only hurt by most of what happened there after I was already gone and had something to compare it to.
I was treated special. You know how one may speak louder or slower to someone who speaks a different language? That was how it was when some teachers spoke to me, like I couldn't hear or understand, though I was just as American as any other child in my class.
I have more vivid memories of those years than any other. So it's no wonder that more than 35 years later, I still feel some kind of way about St. Patrick's Day.
One of my classmates with an Irish last name was tasked to do a special report for St. Patrick's Day. Planning and decorations went into this day and well the "red carpet" was rolled out in green! There was an elaborate "report", and stickers and hats for all of us. The icing on the cake was the icing on the cupcakes.
Mrs. Irish Mom came to the school with green cupcakes and made a big production about St. Patrick's Day being the most magnificient day ever.
I felt jealous, small, invisible and like the elephant in the room all at once. Weeks earlier I had given my special report without any fanfare.
For Black History Month, I had been singled out to do a special report. I have no recollection of what I did, but I can clearly remember when my teacher loudly and sing songy announced, "...and for Black History Month I know KENYA will be HAPPY to make a special presentation for us." I am certain that the suggested presentation was along the lines of African heritage.
Whatever I came up with, just as with my science project, I didn't involve my parents. Though we did know some REAL live Africans who wore dreads, dashiki's and could play bongos. I'd love to be writing the story about how well that went over. I digress.
So when it comes to St. Patrick's Day, I remember the mean girl whose mom brought green cupcakes to school.
I remember having to play a maid and an orphan in our school's small production of Annie.
I remember being volunteered to read more passages out loud for Black History Month and shrugging when asked how slavery made me feel.
I remember the conniving administrator who called me into the office and sat me down to tell me how lucky I was to be going to that school because my parents didn't pay the same tuition as other parents.
I think about how that was too young to experience predjuhateism.
I can loath green cupcakes.
I can love that the 2014 Annie was black, in a way that most people wouldn't understand.
I can hope that my classmates grew up to be better adults than they were kids.
But I can't regret any of my experiences, because I know I am better for them.
I love my parents for wanting the very best for me.
Even though it was a terrible privilege.
This story was unexpected and inspired by Finish the Sentence Friday (hosted by Kristi, Lisa, and Kelly). Today's prompt: “When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day…”
Almost a month ago I shared my story about that compassionate teacher with #1000Speak.
My daddy shared it on Facebook several times. One of his friends commented how he could relate to my story because he had attended an all white school before schools were desegregated.
His friend called it "a terrible privilege".
And I could relate.
Special thanks to Michelle Grewe for creating the pinned graphic for my #1000Speak post.