Letter to the editor: Racism in school

Letter to the editor: Racism in school

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"Nigger" was the first word I learned in second grade at my new school, Lincoln Elementary [in Exeter, California].

At our first recess, I was surrounded by five boys who kept calling me nigger. I was unfamiliar with that word, but realized by how it was said that it wasn’t a good word. By the end of the school day, it seemed everyone was calling me nigger instead of by my name, David.

After school, I ran home crying and in fear I was going to get beat up. I asked my Native American mom why were the kids calling me that name and threatening me, and then she explained to me why. I, of course, cried more and asked my mom to not send me back to that school. This was my first realization of color of skin and of it being an issue.

I never shared this experience with my father, who is Negro, according to my birth certificate. He and my mother had just separated and I was not in immediate contact with him. But my mother explained enough for me to comprehend what was taking place.

I returned to the same school the following day to the name-calling and threats. Over time, these same kids calling me a nigger now became my friends, but still continued to call me a nigger into my adulthood.

Every day of school, I had to get used to being called nigger. Why did I continue to take it? Because I wanted to be your friend and I didn’t want you to hate me and if calling me a nigger kept us friends then I would keep accepting you calling me that name, even though it hurt like a punch to the heart.

Fast forward to high school. Same town and it was now my senior year. My school has a tradition called ‘slave day.’ At the time, I am a varsity football player and was sold like the other players to the highest bidder(s)/student. I don’t remember the amount I was sold for, but I was told I was sold for the highest and a couple of kids put their money together to ‘buy’ me.

I was purchased by our starting quarterback on the team and I can’t recall the other person(s) but what they made me do as a slave I haven’t forgotten and maybe some of [them] remember.

I was made to dress up as a Ku Klux Klan member and walked the halls of the school and I did most of the day until one teacher visibly upset with this taking place, told me to take that off. And I did.

I thought parents/adults would know better, but racial jokes were made in my presence as well. On a little outing to Reedley Beach, my best friend’s dad asked if I wanted to stop and get some watermelons, and then he started laughing about it. I was in elementary school.

This is the same person who was my baseball coach as well. He kept me from going to the all-stars because his son was on the team. I had the highest batting average on the team. The other two players I should have gone with didn’t understand why I wasn’t selected either.

I still remained best friends with my friend, despite his dad’s obvious issue with me and I continued also to be respectful towards his father.

In our adulthood, I would learn that this very same father has a collection of black-faced dolls. Turns out, they’re racist golliwogs.

I’m grateful his son (my best friend) isn’t racist, he only called me a nigger once, that I am aware of.

Also, the very first and only girlfriend I had in school was my senior year and it was for a week. Then she came to school and told me we couldn’t be together anymore because her dad said, “no daughter of mine is dating a nigger.” She and I have remained friends, even to this day.

I am sharing this to give you an insight into how life initially was for me, not to vilify anyone. I have been able to overcome these experiences of systemic racism and grow stronger from them. It definitely helped me in the Marines and law enforcement to harden myself against verbal attacks. It’s easier to take from people who don’t know you, but very tough to take from those who you thought cared for you.

Some of [those] who have been life-long friends of mine have been the same ones calling me a nigger since day one. I don’t believe anyone is born racist. It’s a learned behavior. And like any behavior, it can be unlearned.

My hope is that those of you who have proclaimed to be my friend over these many years will continue to be so. My hope also is that you’ll stop referring to me, and others, as a nigger and perhaps see me/us as an equal - as a friend, instead of a color - or a word.

David Cole,

Formerly of Exeter

Cottonwood, Arizona

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