Calling someone a nigger isn’t subtle. But prejudice since the ending of the Civil Rights Movement has become more subtle each year since.
Growing up in post Civil Rights Movement New York was my reality. I didn’t know what should or shouldn’t be, or even how things had been. For me it just simply was.
We didn’t know busing was new. It just was. We didn’t know we weren’t wanted in white neighborhoods . . . until we experienced the riots. Elementary school was relatively uneventful. I had never been called a nigger, and if I was discriminated against, I was oblivious to it.
I know my mother came often to the school to fight for this or that, but I just thought it was because she was a strong black woman. I didn’t learn until later that it was because she was ensuring we weren’t left out, looked over or pushed aside.
By the time I was in 6th grade I started hearing talk of “the riots” from my brother who was 5 years older. I only half-way believed him, choosing instead to believe school officials would never allow children to be harmed on school grounds.
Once in junior high, I realized my brothers’ accounts were understatements. Every day after school, we boarded city buses provided by the school board. Minutes after boarding the buses, white students brandishing sticks, bottles, bricks and whatever else they could lay their hands on, rushed the buses. Banging on the windows and walls of the buses, they’d try to pry open the back doors.
Once inside, the fighting took on a terrifying momentum and blood was usually drawn. What was the bus driver doing? Often sitting in his seat waiting to drive away from the school.
Many times I yelled “Go! Go!” but he would sit there idly, as calmly as if reading his evening paper. Prejudice had become subtle. I quickly learned to sit as close to the driver as possible since he was never harmed.
The riots were so loud and violent, anyone within a couple blocks of the school could hear it. It was impossible to NOT know what was going on. Yet we had some teachers who, as punishment, would keep their classes in after school – just long enough for the buses to leave. (Prejudice is subtle and sometimes silent.) That left white students to walk home, as always, unguarded and unharmed. But for black students left behind, it was a terrifying walk (or run) to the public bus stop. The few stragglers were an easy target for rioters who hadn’t had their fill with the captive students on the buses.
The riots would haunt my dreams my entire 7th grade year.
The school system appeared to be helpless to do anything about it. Would they have been as helpless had white students been bused into a black neighborhood? The subtleness of prejudice . . . hard to detect.
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