Among the cast of characters in my kindergarten class – which included Jason Pater, who, I believe, put actual tacks on Ms. Petrie’s chair one day, and Jerricho Grahem, who was probably already 30% of the way through puberty – was one Jamaal Thomas.
Jamaal was black, which will only come as a shock if you have no familiarity with American names. Jamaal was also the only black kid in my class, which will only come as a shock if you have no familiarity with small-town Kansas.
On the first day of school, after what seemed like 6 hours but was probably 30 minutes, Ms. Petrie lined us up for our first-ever trip to the bathroom. We marched the eighteen steps necessary to get to that bathroom and then stood outside while our compatriots began doing their duties. (Or doodies, I suppose.)
When Jamaal hit the front of the line, a commotion broke out.
One of the holy terrors who, five years later, would become my best friend, shouted,
“That kid can’t come in here!”
Others joined in.
“Yeah, yeah, this ain’t right!”
Ms. Petrie raced to the front and grabbed my future best friend by the arm so she could wrest him bodily from the line.
“Hush your mouth! You don’t EVER say something like that!”
“But Ms. Petrie-“
“I told you! Quiet!”
“But Ms. Petrie…Ms. Petrie…her hair!…she can’t go into the boys’ bathroom!”
Because, you see, Jamaal Thomas had an Afro, and we’d never seen hair that long on a boy before.
Nobody cared that Jamaal Thomas was black. They cared that a girl was trying to go into the boys bathroom.
Five-year-olds don’t know to think of people as different because of the color of their skin.
They’re taught it.
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