SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Siron Glover

A Fight, A Fight!

I went to a school that was culturally diverse, but the honors program that I participated in was not representative of the kids in my school.  The program was predominantly white, but very representative of who the society thought should be in an honors program.  Sometimes, being there made me feel lonely or like I didn’t belong.  Granted there was one other African American that went to Vanguard as well, but we didn’t really have anything in common.  I think that she enjoyed the fact that she was there; it meant something to her to be the only black female.  I always thought that I was misunderstood or somehow different than the others.  I think that misunderstandings from one culture to the next lead to many things such as violence or in my case a fight.  I am sure that many people didn’t think that I belonged there, but what they didn’t know that I really didn’t want to be there in the first place.  Possibly because I was associated with a group that I didn’t feel I belonged to, and he felt he had every right to be associated with.

Out of nowhere came a loud sound that only said stop.  It was the digital representation of something that was familiar to us all, and it shouted to us at the same time, every single day.  That green speaker box that looked nothing like a bell would pound out that same melody day after day.  How could something that brought us so much joy thirty minutes ago now make us feel so exhausted?
Starting the day after that bell on Tuesdays and Thursdays wasn’t always the best for me.  Those were the days that fifteen of my fellow sixth graders and I got out of our classes, onto a bus, and spent the rest of our day at another school.   I was one of a handful of kids that were in their third year of a school-sponsored honors program, following the same schedule two times a week.  I never liked the fact that I was the only one in my “regular” class that had to go; every other class had at least two or three of us.  I used to say that mine was the longest walk from the bus back to class.
For several hours, we would learn science, math, and social studies that I wouldn’t study again until I was a junior in high school.  After our classes, we were sent back into our “regular” classrooms to finish out the day.  We got no extra time to turn in homework or hints while we completed problems on the board like the other kids.   The teachers seemed to act as if we had been there all day.  I don’t remember the work ever being difficult, but that wasn’t the point.  My teacher sometimes ignored my return to class as so not to disturb the others that were busily working on some spelling problems that I had had to finish two days ago to keep on task with my schoolwork.  I used to think, the things that they did, had to be more exciting and fun than what I had just finished.  

The group used to talk during recess and hang out on the long walks home.  But I didn’t eat fast enough because my class was last in line for lunch, and I walked a different way home because I lived on the other side of the school.  I always got the feeling that I was on the outside looking in, looking in at some people that were different than me, people that weren’t really sure who I was, or why I was there. 

The hot summer sun could never stop the excitement that runs rampant on a school playground.  Basketballs thudding off the metallic rims, dribbling on sun baked grey concrete.  The swoosh of kids running by, cutting through the wind, as they chased and hide from one another.  Girls and boys laughed and played with each other enjoying the excitement of taking a break for a day of spelling and arithmetic.  These were the best sounds of the day. 

As I waited to play basketball one day, one of my “regular” classmates asked me an interesting question.  “How is it that your kind gets to go with them and I don’t?”  He pointed in the general direction of the other honors kids, standing only a couple of feet away.  Innocently I responded by saying, “I am sure that you could go if you really want to.”  Angered by my comment, he said, “You don’t deserve to go, and I have never met a black person that was smarter than a white one.”  Before I got a chance to figure out what he was really saying, we were sitting in the Assistant Principal’s office waiting to retell our accounts of why we were fighting on the playground.

For a moment on that warm day, among all of the chatter and confusion of the recess came an eerie silence.  A silence that could only be heard by myself and the person that I was fighting with. Hit him, beat him, they yelled as the huddled around us, but to me it all sounded like a jumbled murmur.  A mixture of adrenaline and anger helped drown out the sounds and increase my awareness of whom I was fighting with.  As quickly as my senses took over, they were then extinguished as I was snapped back into “reality” by the arms of a teacher diving in the breakup the fight.
We sat in the office and were each given a change to tell our stories prior to our parents’ coming down to the school.  He got the first opportunity to tell what happened.

Hey Siron, what’s the deal with you going to that honors program, why do you get to go and I don’t?  He turned to me and said, “It’s not as great as you might think, and if you wanted to go, you should just ask someone, I am sure that they would let you go.”  With a slight smirk on his face, he turned and continued to wait for the next game of basketball.  He knew that I couldn’t just go if I wanted to.  I had already tried to test into the program, and they wouldn’t let me.  I always thought it was because they had no more room in the classes, but my mother said it was because they didn’t test the same for everyone.  But why did they make room for him?  Thinking about this just made me more and more angry.  I felt the urge to punch his lights out, just to punch him right in the back of the head, as he stood there so smug and smart. 

 I wasn’t expecting for him to fight back, but after I punched him, we were throwing wild punches at each other over and over again.  The crowds of kids around us were yelling, get him, punch him.  Were they telling him to punch me, or were they telling me to get him, I thought, who knows?  We went on for a while until we each went to the ground.  The teacher finally got to us and pulled us apart.  “You two are going to the office,” he said.

Today I decided to ask him, why you and not me?  If people like him can go to Vanguard, why can’t I?  He stopped pointing at me and turned his finger towards himself, I am white, he is black, and from what I have seen, not very smart.  I got good grades on my test and worked hard in school everyday.  He talked in class, doesn’t pay attention, and for some reason gets the special treatment.  Blacks don’t belong in honors classes; he doesn’t belong because I worked harder than he did. 

The Assistant Principal, who was also black, excused the other boy to wait outside for his mother.  I on the other hand got a long-winded speech that I didn’t pay to much attention to.  There was one thing I do remember him saying me that day.  “People are going to treat you a certain way because you are different from them or because of your skin color for the rest of your life.  You can’t fight them all, but don’t ever let them win.” 

The following day, we sat in detention, along with several other kids, and got handed the traditional detention assignment.  Write an essay about what your parents thought about what you did to get detention and share it with someone in class.  As I wrote mine, I thought about what had happened and how I could have avoided the situation, and how my mother grounded me and let me know that there will be no fighting in this household.

We exchanged papers after we were finished and I sat down to read what he had wrote:

When my mother arrived to the school, the assistant principal called us into the office.  I was so angry earlier that I didn’t even know what to say to him when he questioned us about what happened.  I explained myself by saying that Siron was taunting me, that he acted like he was smarter then me, that he thought that he was special.  All I saw was some dumb black kid that was taking something that belonged to me. 

My mother and the assistant principal continued the conversation.  She was very angry and told him that the honors system was flawed and that I was just as smart as any of “you”, as she put it.  They continued to discuss the matter and he filled out a yellow form at his desk.

My mother was not very happy about my first detention stay and how that black assistant principal handled things.  As we walked out the office, I saw Siron and his mother disappear into the assistant principal’s office and close the door.  We walked to the car and she asked me, “Why did you start that fight with that boy?  What did you think was going to happen?”  As I sat in the front seat, she turned and said, “ You have to be smarter than they are, you will never be better if you stoop to their level.

As the car drove off, I wondered what I had gained out of the whole exchange….Detention!

Looking back on how things were changing for our society at the time of my incident is very interesting.  African American influences were entering mainstream culture influencing a new generation of kids and young adults.  This was happening not just in music and television, but also in other forms such as clothing and language.  Some could say that a generation of people finally had a voice, or a presence in society that was allowing them to be recognized in way that blacks had not been recognized before.  As with all changing environments, some embrace the changes, and other strike out in protest, fighting to keep things status quo, so they can continue to benefit from things the way they are.

I can say that this incident was the first of many times that I have had that deal with racism both against myself or someone close to me.  But in the end, it works like that first wave of water that hits your body on the beach.  It’s always the coldest you have ever felt.  And even though you already know it’s going to be cold, you just can’t get the chill off your body.  Some try to jump out before they get wet again somehow hoping that the water will get warmer the longer that they stand there.  Others decide to continue and either stand in it, swim through it, or ride above it to get somewhere that they really want to be.  I hope that in my life I never let that cold-water rush over me and pull me down.  I hope that one day all the waters will be warm and we can play and splash without the feeling of being the only one getting wet.


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