Chose Your Words Wisely

Carol RoachStarred Page By Carol Roach, 6th Feb 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

I grew up going to a ghetto school, the choice of teachers were not always the best. This is a story from my childhood about a very young teacher who had made a serious mistake. The story can be found in my book, Picking Up The Pieces: A Woman's journey

Introduction

The year was 1962, and grade I was finally over for the summer. I was no longer in the clutches of the evil Mrs. Appelaize. I was so excited. When we walked into the classroom that last day of school, there was going to be an end-of-year party and we would get our report cards. It was only then that I would know whose class I would be in next year.

Leaving Room 10

Though I was happy to be away from Room 10 and Mrs. Appelaize, I didn't want it to be in Room 9 either. Mrs. Moffat was worse than Mrs. Appelaize, even though that was hard to believe. She was younger and even meaner. Every child was afraid of her;even the ones who had never entered her classroom.

I whined to my grandmother constantly that final month of school about how I didn't want to be in Mrs. Moffat's class. I wanted to be in the other teacher's class. My grandmother hardly sympathized with me and said,

"Your father and your aunt had Mrs. Moffat and they lived through it. As long as you behave yourself and do your work like you are supposed to, it will be just fine."

Well, those words of wisdom did not convince me one bit. Even Renate, who had the nice grade one teacher, was apprehensive.

Expecting another mean teacher

That last day of class we both were afraid of the outcome. We were far less concerned about how we did on our report cards in terms of our academic standing than we were about which teacher we would be assigned to for the upcoming school year.

Finally the infamous moment arrived; the bomb dropped. I opened up my report card and guess what? I was assigned to Room 9. I waited for Renate at her classroom door once we were dismissed. She too looked forlorn because she was also assigned to Room 9 for the following year as well.

All summer Renate and I played together and now and then the topic of the dreaded Mrs. Moffat would come up. However, Renate was less concerned about it than I was and she said to me,

"Let's not talk about this now. I want to enjoy my summer."


Before we knew it, the summer was over and we marched to school like two brave little souls, ready to take what life would dish out for us. Up the stairs and into Room 9 we went, holding hands all the way.

I wondered what we two little girls had done to deserve such punishment. My only consolation was that at least this time Renate was not going to get the nice teacher. Actually, I have to thank my grandmother for reminding me about that. I had forgotten all about the fact that I would be in the same classroom with my only friend.

I loved my new teacher

To our surprise, Mrs. Moffat was no longer there. In her place was a beautiful young teacher named Miss Lovett. Miss Lovett told us that she would be our new teacher for the year. She told us that she was 17 years old and this was her first teaching assignment.

We did not find out what happened to Mrs. Moffat but I can tell you we were 33 happy campers that day. Miss Lovett was young, she was beautiful, she was kind, she was fun, and she was intelligent. I guess it is obvious by now that I idolized her. She made learning fun. Renate and I both enjoyed being in her classroom.

A simple childhood game

However something happened in that classroom one day that changed everything forever for two little seven year olds-one being black, and the other one white.

You see, Renate was the black girl, and I, didn't realize that being black was a totally different experience from being white. Heck, at seven years old I did not understand what racism or prejudice was all about. All I knew was that Renate was my friend, and I didn't think of her any differently from anybody else.

The incident in question that changed both our lives forever occurred when Miss Lovett chose a game to play requiring a team leader. She would decide who the team leader would be by playing the childhood game that we all know and remember as eeny meeny, miney, moe.
Thus she commenced, "Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, catch a N.. by the toe, if he hollers let him go, eeny, meeny, miney, moe." For those of you who remember the rhyme, you will remember that everyone stretches out their fist and when the last word is called, the person whose fist was touched last would be eliminated from the game.

We all gathered around waiting for Miss Lovett to finish the rhyme, but as soon as Miss Lovett said the end word, Renate quickly pulled her fist back and just stood there. Miss Lovett was surprised; even I was surprised. Renate, who was never disobedient in her life, and now she refused to play the game. I could not understand why, nor could Miss Lovett when she questioned her about it. All Renate would say was that she didn't want to play the game anymore.

Renate sat back down and was sullen the rest of the afternoon. She did not say a word then, nor would she speak to me as we walked home from school. I really did not understand what was happening.

Being questioned

The incident in question that changed both our lives forever occurred when Miss Lovett chose a game to play requiring a team leader. She would decide who the team leader would be by playing the childhood game that we all know and remember as eeny meeny, miney, moe.
Thus she commenced, "Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, catch a N.. by the toe, if he hollers let him go, eeny, meeny, miney, moe." For those of you who remember the rhyme, you will remember that everyone stretches out their fist and when the last word is called, the person whose fist was touched last would be eliminated from the game.

We all gathered around waiting for Miss Lovett to finish the rhyme, but as soon as Miss Lovett said the end word, Renate quickly pulled her fist back and just stood there. Miss Lovett was surprised; even I was surprised. Renate, who was never disobedient in her life, and now she refused to play the game. I could not understand why, nor could Miss Lovett when she questioned her about it. All Renate would say was that she didn't want to play the game anymore.

Renate sat back down and was sullen the rest of the afternoon. She did not say a word then, nor would she speak to me as we walked home from school. I really did not understand what was happening.

Later that evening, Renate and her mother came over to our house. Renate's mother came over specifically to ask me my version of what Miss Lovett said during the game that day. Renate's mother then asked me if I found anything wrong with what Miss Lovett said. I admitted that I didn't. She then asked me if I knew what an N... was.

"I don't know," I said. I was feeling very uncomfortable being on the hot
seat.

"What do you think it means?" she queried.

I responded, "I don't know, maybe it means monkey or something like that."
After all, I reasoned to myself, that is what Renate and I always say when we play that game.

Renate's mother quit interrogating me and concluded that I was far too young to understand the implications of what had gone on that day.

This year was 1962 and the United States was at the height of the civil rights movement. Though Canadian, one of Renate's mother's favourite civil rights activists was Malcolm X. She followed his political career and she felt strongly that this movement should come to Canada as well.

Briefly, Renate's mother explained to me that calling somebody the N word was a very bad thing to do. It meant that you hated the person you were calling it to.

"Am I an N?" I asked, because I felt that all the kids at school hated me too.

"No," she said to me, "you are white. People only call black people that nasty word." (At this point in time, she refused to be called coloured anymore.)
She told Renate and me to go play and she spoke with my grandmother in private. After that she and Renate went home.

Her last day at school

That was the last day that Renate went to our school. Renate's mother pulled her out of the school and sent her elsewhere. When I asked my grandmother why, she said that my teacher had said a very bad thing that hurt Renate deeply and she could never go back to that school again.
I was left with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I loved Miss Lovett and thought the world of her, but on the other hand I loved Renate too, and thought the world of her as well. How could the teacher I love do something so bad to my best friend? How do I come to terms with that?

I never really resolved the issue. How could any seven years old do that? I still liked Miss Lovett yet, I didn't look at her in quite the same way. That year I learned a valuable lesson not taught in our classrooms. I learned what racism was all about and how its ugly head could surface even when simply playing a game at school.

Pictures by Wikimedia Commons

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School, School Days, School Life, School Stories

Meet the author

author avatar Carol Roach
Retired therapist and author of two books, freelance writer, newsletter editor, and blogger. I write, health, mental health, women's issues, animal , celebrity, history, and SEO articles.

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Comments

author avatar viewgreen
6th Feb 2015 (#)

Awesome article. I think you have a lot of interesting story which you have been ever write in your book. Thank you for sharing this madam.

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author avatar Utah Jay
7th Feb 2015 (#)

You know what Carol, I still do not know what racism it is all about. I once refused to let a barber cut my hair because he wouldn’t cut a black kids hair. That was in 1958 and we were friends until I went to Vietnam. While I was gone he died in a drug overdose. We are all brothers and sisters…But shhh, don’t talk about it on wikinut…Everyone seems so afraid here.

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author avatar Carol Roach
7th Feb 2015 (#)

racism is crazy and I cannot understand why some people feel they are superior. It reminds me of the old star trek with captain kirk, and the guys who had black on the opposite sides of their face.

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author avatar Retired
7th Feb 2015 (#)

I have never understood why some people regard others as being inferior because of their skin colour. In my local city (Leicester) we have people from all over the world, with all the world's religions, living side by side and getting along just fine. The "white British" are almost a minority here. OK - there are a few stupid people who try to make an issue of race, but they don't get much of a hearing.

I was always horrified by what went on in South Africa under Apartheid, but it strikes me that the situation in the US was every bit as bad in some places, if not worse.

To my mind, differences are there to be celebrated, not feared or condemned.

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author avatar Carol Roach
7th Feb 2015 (#)

I feel exactly the same way. It is ridiculous. After all that history has taught us, humanity is still not that much better than savages.

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author avatar Retired
7th Feb 2015 (#)

Incidentally, I wonder if white racists appreciate that they are descended from black people? Black is the natural skin tone of humanity - it was only when homo sapiens left Africa and inhabited Europe during the Ice Ages that he evolved white skin. It is the whites who are the freaks and oddballs!

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author avatar spirited
7th Feb 2015 (#)

if nigger is only a variant of negro, maybe that word is bad too, nut I think nigger was far more of a derogatory term than just than. Maybe the 17 year old teacher was not thinking too much about it, as you said, she was just thinking of the old rime and game.

But we do need to think more about what we say, and your article has highlighted that to us once again, thanks Carol

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author avatar Retired
7th Feb 2015 (#)

Agatha Christie wrote a detective story called "Ten Little N*****s" based on the old rhyme about how ten young black children are whittled down to one. It was a very clever plot, with each death in the story being related to what happens in the rhyme.

However, you won't find the story on the bookshelves today! What you might find is the sanitised title "Ten Little Indians" - which was also the title of the stage play based on the book. I imagine that the original change had "native Americans" in mind - so no offence caused there, apparently!

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author avatar Carol Roach
7th Feb 2015 (#)

fascinating, John, I didn't know Agatha wrote that nor that it changed to another offensive term today

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