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Then I did not understand the sheer effect to be called a ‘monkey’ but, inward, I still felt it was something really abominable because it drove mother into a hellish…
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Capstone Project When I was growing up in Mississippi in the early forties, my father told me that I could become anything I wanted in spite of being black (Abellmann et al 123).
‘Work hard and don’t care about what white people will think,’ he would say.
I was ten or twelve then and the climate of racism constantly hung over Mississippi like a bad dream (Bloom 189). White people still treated us like slaves and mother did not like it.
She would erupt into thunder if she heard that a white neighbour had called me a monkey (Zach & Pallua 161). Then I did not understand the sheer effect to be called a ‘monkey’ but, inward, I still felt it was something really abominable because it drove mother into a hellish rage.
I started school when I was eleven or twelve years old and my father bought me two books, a pencil, and pair of shoes and later escorted me to school. It was about 10 kilometres away, fairly multiracial, but headed by a burly white headmaster with squinting eyes that it made me shiver (Lusane & Desmond 120). In our class, we were about 10 black students out of the total 70 students. Three girls and six boys.
‘Tell us your name,’ I remember that was the first question our history teacher asked when I was introduced as a new pupil (Manning 109). She was white, buxom, and motherly, but wearing horn-rimmed glasses that she would tilt in such an intimidating way if one did not answer her questions in class.
‘James. James Brigg,’ I answered. The entire class was staring at me as if I had come from an alien world.
‘James Brigg,’ she repeated ‘welcome to our class.’
I sat down and breathed hard forcing by desk mate, a black girl, tiny and wearing a torn uniform to sigh even harder.
That was my first class. History class. Mrs. Stewart, for that was her name, told us during that lesson blacks had no history.
‘The black race as you know it came from monkeys. So they have no culture, customs, or tradition, she said (Levine & Pataki 67).
‘It is the white man who has made the black person who he is today.’ I remember I felt bad. It was an awkward moment. My father, a cotton picker, had affirmed in me that my race had an exciting history because we African Americans came from a placed he called Africa (Hamlett 167).
He also told me of a person called Abraham Lincoln, who had emancipated the slaves from slavery and had believed in an ideal he called the American Dream (Powell 177).
‘It is something collective, son,’ my father would tell me.
‘Lincoln said we should remain a community irrespective of our colour: black, white, yellow, everyone.’
‘But you see what the white man is doing,’ he would choke in resignation and bitterness, ‘he does not want us to integrate and do our thing (D’Souza 111).’
The following lesson, I decided to ask questions if the teacher talked about the black people again (Caldwell 156). Encouraged by the rage I had seen in my mother last night, when Mrs. Stewart came and abused black people again, I said:
‘African Americans are sons and daughters of royalty from Africa.’
The whole class gasped in horror. Mrs. Steward, too. It was my end in that school.
Works Cited
Abellmann, Nancy et al. Blue Dreams: Korean Americans and the Los Angeles Riots. Mason, OH: SAGE. 2009. Print.
Bloom, Harold. The American Dream. Mason, OH: SAGE. 2009. Print.
Caldwell, Wilber. Cynicism and the Evolution of the American Dream. New York, NY: Routledge. 2006. Print.
D’Souza, Dinesh. Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream. Mason, OH. 2012. Print.
Hamlett, Robert. What Happened to the American Dream? New York, NY: Springer. 2012. Print.
Levine, Michael & Pataki, Tamas. Racism in Mind. New York, NY: Routledge. 2004. Print.
Lusane, Clarence & Desmond, Dennis. Pipe Dream Blues: Racism and the War on Drugs. Chicago, IL: Springer. 2013. Print.
Manning, Sherman. American Dream, a Search for Justice. Mason, OH: SAGE. 2003. Print.
Powell, Thomas. The Persistence of Racism in America. Mason, OH: Springer. 2012. Print.
Zach, Wolfgang & Pallua, Ulrich. Racism, Slavery, and Literature. Belmont, MA: SAGE. 2010. Print. Read More
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