Just under 60 years ago, being slightly darker was enough to get you called a N***o. It hurt and it was unjust, but the people did it anyway; this is one such story
We all die at some point; willingly, happily, naturally, or not. It’s all bound to happen at some point or another.
The year is 1960.
Today is my first day at H.M. Hale High School; I have to be escorted in by a group of securities to protect me from the mob of students and parents following me, appalled at the fact that a coloured person is going to be attending their high school.
‘Stupid Negro!’ I heard someone shout from the crowd. Heart beating fast with a lowered gaze and my books clutched tightly to my chest.
‘Monkeys belong in the zoo!’ There were thousands of other profanities thrown at me. I was used to it by now; always the same old insults and I knew the procedures: look down, don’t say a word and nod when talked to.
One however stood out this once,
‘Go back to Africa; you don’t deserve to be here!’ I scoffed at the ignorance; if I recall correctly, they were the ones that abducted my grandmother from Africa and bought her here in the first place. I didn’t say this out loud; God knows what they’ll do to me.
When I was inside the school, they quickly walked me to a nearby classroom and silently gave me my timetable. They explained where all the classrooms were and which teachers I should go to if anyone was bothering me.
‘You don’t have to worry though, after all, you are half white’ the headmistress jokingly announced. The frown on my face refusing to leave as I was yet again reminded of my privileges because I was a ‘half-caste’. It’s like I’m black enough to be considered a ‘negro’ but white enough to be a good one, my complexion makes even the most racist people around me comfortable. They didn’t understand that I was not made up of fractions; but layers. The fact that two skin colours merged together to make mine was a beautiful thing and it took me a long time to realise this. People were afraid because they weren’t used to my golden skin, they didn’t understand my colour so they brushed it off.
As a young child I was always confused as to why I was different, why did everyone stare at my mother and I? When I realised it was my skin that was the problem I was still confused. What was the problem with the skin I was wearing? Did the melanin on my skin bother them? As I grew up I realised; they thought that people like me are a different kind of species, like we were diseases that they should avoid. As far as they were concerned they were superior to us because our skin reminded them of the dirt on the floor and they associated us with the Devil. Anything to do with black was evil. You hear about blackmail and chocolate cake being the Devil’s food but then angel cake was the white cake and the President’s house was the White House.
I’d always ask mother, ‘Why are all the angels white mother? Aren’t there any black angels mother? Does this mean black people won’t go to heaven mother?’ She’d always shake her head and tell me that when the time was right, I would know.
It was when I was 11. I was looking in the mirror, finding it hard because I’ve always wanted to be as pretty as the girls with skin that looked like snow, eyes that resembled the ocean and golden hair that was lustrously long and wavy. However, looking at my reflection all I saw was dirty skin, short kinky hair and dull brown eyes that blankly stared right back at me. This is when I realised why everything good was white and everything bad was black. The white men stole the Native Americans’ land and because they were so unfamiliar with everything they decided to make everything their own by white-washing it so they could feel comfortable. They wanted me to believe that my skin was dirty and abnormal because it didn’t look like theirs. Theirs was white and so was perceived as ‘normal’, and because my hair was also different to theirs it was considered horrendous and ugly.
I looked down at the timetable that was given to me and read that I had mathematics first. When I arrived to the lesson, the teacher didn’t even spare me a glance; she pointed to the back of the classroom and mentioned something about not disturbing her class. Soon everyone started piling in. I made sure my head was low and I didn’t gaze at anyone; my palms sweaty and heart beating fast again. The nerves were slowly breaking in and all of a sudden I felt something hit my shoulder blade, I didn’t dare look up, trying to avoid any altercation. For a few seconds the class was silent then a few other things were thrown at me while I was trying not to give them the satisfaction of flinching. I still did not look up, I tried to count to ten in my head with my eyes shut tightly, seemed like the only way the time would go faster and this lesson will finally end even though I knew it just started; I felt someone pull on my hair. I looked up ready to address whoever it was but the girl standing tall in front of me with her pale white face and her long golden locks beat me to it.
‘Just because your mother’s white doesn’t mean we will treat you any differently than the other Negroes, the only place people like you and your father belong is in the plantation’ she sneered. I could feel the anger bubbling up inside me, my head and my chest felt like they were on flames when she addressed my father. I reminded myself of the procedures mother taught me; look down, don’t say a word and nod when talked to.
I tried to breathe in and out; looking down at the desk again I ignored the small crowd standing around my table, wondering when the teacher would tell them to sit down in their seats. She never did, instead she told me I should probably visit the headmistress for harassing her students. The only thing flowing through my head was how horrible it would’ve been if I had more melanin in my skin and quickly thanked God.
Lunch time was the worst. I tried to walk down the hallway to go to the cafeteria, trying to ignore the curses being yelled at me and the few spits I received. No one dared to come near me though; as though I was a plague they were trying not to catch.
I was so close to breaking down but I kept reminding myself why I was doing this in the first place. I hoped my father was looking down at me from heaven and smiling. The lady serving the food refused to hand me anything, she didn’t want to serve a Negro I guess; so I grabbed an apple and water then went to sit down. Soon after a teacher came up to me ‘politely’ asking me to eat my food outside as I was disturbing the students trying to enjoy their lunch. I can clearly hear the laughter of the students—taunting me. In a way, this was a reminder that no matter how hard my people tried or worked to make us equal with the rest, we’ll never succeed because old habits always die hard.
Kings and Queens, that’s what we were before they bought us here and enslaved us. They chained us away and called us inferior.
I stood up making sure this time my head was held up, staring directly into the teacher’s eyes and I made sure that my books were to my side so she could see that my chest was raised high with pride.
I finally spoke,
‘Perhaps, I shall’. I smiled at the teacher, the startled look she gave me made happiness bubble up inside of me which gave me more confidence to turn around and walk out of the cafeteria. I walked down the hallway again smiling when I heard the insults being thrown at me because I knew that even though they denied showing it; they were intimidated.
My name is Imani, and I remember my father vividly telling me that my name means faith and that education was one of the most important components of an African-American child’s life. So I went to school, hoping to fulfil his dream of having his daughter go to university. Hopefully, he will be watching from heaven; sitting amongst all the angels and filled with the sense of pride.
The year is 1960; and even though slavery was over, and segregation was over, interracial marriage was still illegal.
My mother is white and my father was black.
He was murdered for marrying the one he loved.