SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2007        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Michele Swann

We Are Ever So Different

    It was a school day in the mist of Columbus, Ohio‘s below zero winter season. White snow every where, which was always exciting as it either implied schools were closed due to the weather or that we would have to bundle up and prepare to be really cold. On this day unfortunately for us, my mother took my little brother to day care and then took my big sister and me to elementary school. I remember most school days just as if they were the same day, simply on repeat. This one particular day, however, I’ll never forget. My mom left me and my sister Syan in the car as she walked my little bother Tike to his day care class. All the other parents who were white and high class, I noticed did the same with their own children, but in several different ways I never saw my mother do.

    Each morning the teacher greeted the children and their parents at the door. She had to notice the diversity in her class and must have observed the different ways in which the children were treated. As a teacher of 4 year olds I suspect her idea of my mom should have been in a positive view. Since the concept of a mother creating a loving environment simply for the journey from the car down the sidewalk to the class indicates an established and secure relationship. This teacher must have had an opinion on how her students were treated, because to someone looking in, the difference was so apparent.

    I remember being surrounded by newer, shinier cars and kids who wore designer clothes and shoes. Those things never did put into perspective for me that my family was truly different until the oddest thing stood out to me, as I continued to explore the scenery.

    One mom yelled at her little girl. She demanded the child hurry up because they were late. The girl forgot her lunch box in the car and I remember her trying to tell her mom, but her mom simply kept pulling her along. No matter what happened in the morning, my mom always held Tike’s hand from the time he stepped out of the car until the time he arrived at his class’ door and even then, every time, Tike would raise his head so mom could kiss his forehead. The yelling mother defined a tremendous difference between the treatment my siblings and I received versus that of some of the children going to my little brother’s day care.

    As a child the main things I could explain and comprehend was that the other mothers were different in appearance, like the texture of their hair; my eyes were normally drawn to the color of the other kid’s cheeks. They were close to a fiery, hot to touch type red. This was odd to me since it was intensely cold outside. Also, I noticed then a difference in what they wore, and what they drove. Now as I’m older I know that those things are what actually defined the incident. The class and race of these mothers bordered my world and in the middle of my world there are differences in parenting at least according to my situation.

    Taking into consideration the two different classes, high and low, in conjunction with race, white and black, I never would have imagined the parents treat their children so differently. The upper class women never really noticed my mother. They dismissed her similarly to how they dismissed their own children at least in a way my mother did not see fit for her children.

    During that time, my reflection of a memory that took place, several laws were created and actions were taken to promote equality among black and white people. In 1961 President John Kennedy created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which is also when affirmative action started to become incorporated in businesses. Following affirmative action, other laws were put into place in order to enforce guidelines for equal opportunities among the different races in society.    

    My mother worked as a counselor in a primarily all black school for “troubled teens.” She made $28,000 a year and according to the Joint Economic Committee ( the median household income between 1999 and 2000 was $49,031 for the state of Ohio. Taking into consideration my family consisted of my mom and 3 children and that earlier than 1999 the median household income was lower, we were considered lower class or “poor” while living in Ohio.

    I am not sure how much my mom noticed, or if she even cared. Her head was always held high holding Tike’s hand as they walked. I know Tike’s teacher, if any one saw the amount of focus in her eyes with regards to acknowledging the other mothers’ behavior with their children, and not allowing their behavior to determine her own. I think my mom was well aware of the ethnic, racial and class difference, yet she behaved in a manner that provided support to her son. In a sense she created equality for Tike by bearing the stares from the other mothers and really treated him in her mind “better” than the way the other kids were treated.

    I do not think the other mothers noticed any difference between their behavior and my mother’s behavior, let alone a reason for any difference. They did not have anything to prove nor did they have to treat their children “better” as they were already a part of the upper class. My family noticed it mainly because they were the only minority and may have felt as if everyone were making note of their class especially, but also their race and ethnicity.

    There was such disparity among the different races. There were highlights of black women and men becoming the first to be in U.S government positions. That these men and women making history simply by being the first to do something is in itself is an indication of inequality in America at the time. The U.S. Census created further racial classifications for the races in America. This allowed people to identify among other races and social classes who they were and furthered social segregation.

    My personal memory reflected all of the above intertwined and possibly it was below the surface of what everyone at that time wanted to acknowledge. Here we were poor and black, but yet entering into a rich neighborhood and my little brother was attending “their” school. Mothers hurried their children off so they could escape reality and get back in their Mercedes SUV or better yet ignored my mother and brother as they walked to the classroom. There was a difference between us and them that society created inadvertently affecting me today as forever it seems there will remain that difference we all seek eagerly to comprehend perhaps in order to surpass the difference altogether.

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