SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2004        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Brian Wohrle

The Awakening Tap

Although David‘s intentions had been to politely gain the attention of Brian,  the tap felt on Brian’s shoulder was reminiscent of an axe head hurtling down upon an old oak log.  David was awestruck that Brian, whom he had considered a friend, would make such a comment; therefore, he had to inquire as to Brian’s thinking.  In an effort to seek out the reason of his beckoning, Brian had swiftly turned to his rear and was met by David’s bewildered stare. Even in the darkened classroom, Brian could clearly make out the confused, hurt, and disbelieving facial expression that David exhibited.  Immediately Brian felt as if he had been placed in a vacuum where his actions were in slow-motion.  To him, his voice had seemed exceptionally loud and enduringly drawn out as he had attempted to issue David an apology for his comment.   The slow zombie like nod that David issued had been Brian’s confirmation that his apology had been accepted.  Immediately thereafter the minds of both boys began to reason with what had just occurred and strangely enough, they both somehow felt as if the innocence tied to their six-grade youth had just been revoked by the realities of society. 

Brian’s thoughts tailored back to the early 1980’s during his upbringing in his small rural town.  The town was located in the northeastern part of Washington and was inhabited by around 6,000 residents.  Brian remembered his childhood being filled with an immense amount of community activities.  It seemed as if this tiny community, supported primarily off of the farming and forestry industries, had been in a cheerful state of brotherly love.  Had this perception been a reality or had it actually been a civic gratuity extended graciously to members of the community who met the “brotherly” status?  Brian’s thoughts were then interrupted as the lights of the classroom were abruptly turned on signaling the end of the movie and thus an end to the lunch period.  His unsettled stomach had directed his attention to the half eaten lunch before him and the need to quickly place everything back into his crumpled brown lunch bag so he would be able to return to his next class. 

For David it had been, oddly enough, the whiteness of the lights rather than their brightness that drew his attention back to the classroom setting.  The movie of the week that had been playing, Ice Pirates, had come to an end and the loud shrill of the hallway bell signaled the importance of hustling on to his next class.  In a hurried effort to return his lunch tray to the cafeteria he could not help the impulsive desire to return to his previous thought.   David had been thinking about his first days of arrival at his current foster-care family.  He had also thought about how, that as an African American boy, he had been raised in an all white home and had all white friends and classmates. Perhaps most importantly David pondered as to why, up until Brian’s comment, had he never really felt any different from his friends or family.  David surely felt that Brian had opened Pandora’s Box relative to the way that he would perceive how others would both see and treat him in the future.  He also had to question the validity of their actions toward him and wondered if they were actually sincere.  Perhaps, he had thought, their actions had just been done with good intentions, in hopes that their “white blinders” would not fall from their eyes like Brian’s had.

To Brian, David had always been David.  That was however, up until that last lunch period.  While walking to his next class, Brian had reflected on how excited everybody had been to have been given an opportunity to eat lunch in a classroom and watch the movie of the week - Ice Pirates.  Along with ten to twelve other classmates, Brian had taken the faculty up on the special offer.  A television, placed on a tall old green rolling stand, was centered between rows of three desks that were slid together. The room had been filled with close to seven or eight rows of desks most of which were filled with Brian’s friends eating their lunches and enjoying the movie.  Brian could not recall much about the movie, he only could remember that there was a scene where an African American male does something weird.  Brian loudly made the comment “Oh, what a dumb nigger!”  To Brian, David had always been on common ground with all the other classmates.  That was until Brian felt the pounding tap on his shoulder and turned his head to see DavidDavid had been glaring at him and at first Brian had no clue what he wanted, and then like a thundering herd of clansmen out for a lynching, it struck him hard.  For the first time Brian suddenly realized that David was black!  Please know this – Brian had always known the obvious, but his comment had made him begin to think about what it really meant to be from a different race.  Why had he made that comment?  Comments of that magnitude do not just occur, they have to have originating influences.

Up until that last lunch period Brian had been unknowingly searching for the meaning of whiteness.  There in a dark 6th grade classroom in rural America Brian and David had the blindfold of normality cruelly torn away from their eyes.  But why, Brian had wondered, had whiteness been such the unrecognized normality?  Even more oddly, when this normality became recognizable, why was it concentrated in the context of someone being from the “other” race?  For example, thereafter the incident Brian had taken notice that his friends normally spoke of David as one of “us”; however, if the issue of race had been interjected David became one of the “others”.   Therein lies no easy underlying answers; however, Brian would think that a look into the history of the region’s development would provide useful insight as to the utter lack of cultural understanding, that like an ever present white noise had colored his world before David tapped him on the shoulder.

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