SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2005        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Kathryn Grow

Learning Equality

    On a cold February morning in 1993, in South Jordan, Utah, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, taught me one of the most influential lessons of my life.  It was near Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and we had been learning about segregation.  At that point segregation did not mean much to any of us.  Most of us had not even heard the word until we started learning about its occurrence in our country’s history.  In our minds it didn’t make sense:  getting different treatment based on how one looked.  Mrs. Davis must have sensed our struggle to get our minds around what she had been teaching us, because that morning, right before recess, she gave us a lesson that many of us would not soon forget.

    After we finished our spelling words and multiplication table drills, Mrs. Davis asked us to push our desks to the back of the room and all come and sit on the rug in the front of the room.  We thought it was going to be some sort of story time. With bright, shiny faces, we all looked to our teacher with anticipation of what was to come.  When Mrs. Davis came to stand in front of us, we noticed that she was carrying a rather large bag of Smarties.  As she approached the front of the group, she asked everyone with brown eyes to please raise their hands.  She then proceeded to give each raised hand a package of Smarties.  The rest of us waited anxiously for our turn to get a package of Smarties as we watched the brown-eyed students greedily eat theirs.  Mrs. Davis then informed us that no one else would get any Smarties because she thought that those who had brown eyes were the ones who were the smartest.

    I was crushed.  Everyone who got left out was crushed as well.  My sense of right and wrong rebelled against everything that Mrs. Davis and my brown-eyed friends were doing.  To say I was not smart because my eyes were blue!  I had just gotten a 100 percent on my spelling test last week!  It was not fair.  Even those who got the candy knew that it was unfair; that knowledge, however, did not bring them any closer to sharing that small packet of candy with their friends, even though they knew how rotten their friends felt.

    Mrs. Davis let her claim sink into our heads for a bit before she began to tell us that segregation was much like what we had just experienced.  Her previous lessons started to click inside our minds now.  She continued, saying that much like those of us who did not have brown eyes could not have Smarties, people who did not have white skin could not do a lot of the same things that the white people could. Our seven- and eight-year-old sense of justice revolted against anyone getting different treatment because they were “different.” 

    Mrs. Davis then told us that the way we felt about not getting a package of candy was much like the way people of different races felt all of the time.  They could not eat in the same restaurants, ride the same trains, drink out of the same drinking fountains, or even use the same bathrooms.  This all seemed very foreign to us.  For those of us who were white skinned, it never even dawned on us that our classmate from El Salvador might at one point in time be not allowed to do the same things as us.  It did not seem right, and it definitely did not seem fair. 

    That day, we learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a staunch advocate for the equal treatment of everybody, regardless of their appearances.  We liked that he wanted people to be judged by how they are on the inside, not how they look.  My class agreed that that was the way we wanted to live:  to treat everyone the same, regardless of what they may look like.  Up until that day, we had never even noticed that there was a difference; but now that we knew, we did not want that to change our friendships with our classmates. 

    Most of us had been raised in strictly color-blind families.  We had been raised with the Golden Rule, and it did not matter who you were dealing with, you were supposed to treat them the exact way you wanted them to treat you.  Race had never really been an issue.  That may have been because my neighborhood in South Jordan, Utah was primarily white, and primarily of the same religion.  I, however, would like to think that it was because everyone just wanted to live by the Golden Rule. 

    Up until that day, I never had any idea that someone could or would be treated differently just because they did not have the same skin color as I did.  I did not like the idea of it 12 years ago, and I still do not like the idea of it happening today.  The lesson that Mrs. Davis taught me that day was most definitely a powerful one.  I am fairly certain that I will not be forgetting that day anytime soon. 

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