It was the beginning of the school year, and I was in first grade. I lived in an almost entirely white rural town in Connecticut, and it was three months before I would move close to a city. Even though I was in a large classroom, my only memory is of the bubble of space around my desk. “Don’t talk to her. She’s dirty,” a white boy said to me. I turned to my right and saw a girl sitting at the desk adjacent to mine. She was looking straight ahead at the front of the room, and her skin was slightly darker than mine. Was she dirty? I wondered. Was he right? Should I heed his warning and stay away from her? I was confused and afraid.
This is my only memory of that classroom. As I think back on this brief interaction, I am incensed. My insides wrench, and I feel hot tears in my eyes. My heart breaks for that girl as I imagine the ways in which her sense of self-worth, confidence, and belonging were undoubtedly and unrelentingly assaulted at that school. Yet my heart also breaks for my child self. I remember that scene the way one often remembers trauma: in vivid detail...Read more