No One Is Better Than You…

Kim Skillern Samuels,
Cleveland Heights, OH.

I lived in a neighborhood of black people, and went to an inner city public school. When friends found that I’d be moving to the suburbs they teased me, and said “Those honkeys are gonna chase you home from school.” At the age of six I thought a “honkey” was a dog. I was a little scared but, I really didn’t make an issue of it..

My parents bought their second home in an all white suburb in 1965. The first black family on the street, I grew up in a predominantly white/jewish neighborhood. I started class in a public elementary school. Other than myself, there was one other male student that was black in my grade. We were the only students of color for at least 3 years before other students that were black started to attend schools in the suburbs.

My first day in my new second grade class, I remember my teacher introducing me to my new classmates. She said something like this, ‘… her skin is brown and she is different from the rest of you.” I swear, at seven years old I didn’t know what she meant by that. I went home, looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Hmmm. My skin is brown. Really?” As time went by, I noticed that my hair was not quite like any of the other little girls’ hair in my school. My style of speak was different from every one else’s., and I played games, sang songs, and listened to music that no one in my new neighborhood ever heard of. Although I assimilated, it was no secret that on the surface, I was different from the rest.

I got along pretty good with the other kids that were white and/or jewish. But when I got to the third grade, there were little 8 year old boys calling me “N*****” and “Stinky” like it was my name. Imagine that! I’d never heard the word n***** before. Not in my house. Not no where! So I went home one day, and asked my mother, “Mommy, why are they calling me N*****?” This is when my mother taught me about slavery in the United States, and she taught me never feel inferior to any one because “no one is better than you.” That’s what she said! I was only eight years old. I had a hard time making sense out of what she told me. But, over time education, knowledge of self, and life in general helped me to understand.

When I started school in the suburb, I was waaay behind in math. The school I went to down the way, we were learning adding and subtraction of whole numbers. But at the suburban school I struggled in math trying to learn multiplication and division of fractions. The teacher suggested that I go to summer school for math. Somehow I ended up enrolled into the Hebrew school around the corner from my house. Although I didn’t learn much about math at Hebrew school that summer, I learned a lot of yiddish terms, about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah, praying to the torah, latkes and matzo ball soup. I should have been the one that wrote that book, “White, Black and Jewish” by Rebecca Walker. (-; One thing I remember though… No one, not once, ever called me a n***** while at Hebrew school.

Something else that sticks in my mind… I had friends. My best friend was a white/jewish girl as most of the girls that I hung around in elementary school were.. Sometime. I’d visit their homes. Most of the time these girls came from families that were not rich by any means but, they had a cleaning lady that of course was a woman who happened to be black. When these cleaning ladies would see me come in the house, they’d wait until no one was around and ask me, “Hey! Where did you come from?” and “What are you doing over here?” Heh-heh!… I should have written that book, “The Help”.

A lot of the kids in the neighborhood that were white would come to my house. They came to a home that was clean, calm, with a warm, welcoming environment. Many of those kids told me and my family members that our household was nothing like the one described by their parents of what a Black household would be. Not too long ago I received letters from girls who were white and I was friends with decades ago. Expressing how their parents were uncomfortable when ever I came to their home. I always wondered why as long as we were on the phone having a good time, it was okay. But I was always the one left out of being invited to the little white girls’ week end outings at the put-put range, swimming pool, or amusement parks. I was frustrated by that. I didn’t understand why… Until I got older.

One day after school some white boys followed me home. We were in the fourth grade. They kept calling me “N*****” as they followed me. They crept up on me, and I took off! Ran across the street thinking if I ran into the neighborhood synagogue they’d leave me alone. The boys were shouting racial slurs at me. When I reached for the door to enter the synagogue, the door was locked. Aw rats! I was cornered! The boys came at me, yelling “N*****”, “Dirty”, “Darky”. There was four of them, and only one of me. Two of the boys grabbed each of my arms while one other boy watched. The fourth boy walked up to me, opened the fly of his pant, pulled his penis out, and shook it at me. Then, they all took off running. Boy, was I mad, and humiliated! They ended up getting their’s in the end though. I’d catch them one by one, and would scratch them up until my nails was filled with their skin and blood. Word got around. Many of those kids stopped calling me “N*****”.

By time I got to the sixth grade, a number of families that were black moved into this suburb of white and jewish neighborhoods. When time came for graduating to Junior High, all of the students that were black went to the school that was more racial and culturally diverse. Most of the white and/or jewish kids went to the Junior High that had very few sprinkles of students that were black. This included all of the white girls I was friends with, and the white boys that called me “N*****”. I never saw them again. Not even in high school. That was all right by me.

This was my experience as a young girl who happened to be black in a predominantly white/jewish neighborhood. It wasn’t always pretty. I had some good times too though! I learned a lot of things about a lot of different people growing up in a predominantly white/jewish neighborhood. Through it all I hate no one. I embrace diversity, and no one is better than me.


Tweets by Michele Norris