I was in High School in a very small town of about 1300 mostly descended from German immigrants in the 1870s, all white (except for the one Korean who had been adopted by a local family when she was a toddler) in the early 70’s. All the surrounding communities in Central Kansas were essentially of the same make up with the possible exception of the European country of origin. Most of us had never encountered a person who wasn’t of European descent.
State High School Music festival was always held in a Wichita high school. As some of us were walking the hallways between our performances we approached a small group of Black girls walking towards us. I stared at them. As the groups passed, I felt a glob of moisture in my eye. By the time I figured out what had happened we were well past the other group. This is the first time I have told anyone, including the girls I was with.
Over the years the incident has occasionally returned to my mind. We were both being very typical of our cultures. My father was blatantly racist, I was trying not to be. The sight of the tall girl with a wide Afro mesmerized me. My only experience with such a sight was on television. Her experience with white people staring was likely always a challenge or threat.
The memory of the incident is a reminder that it’s easy to be racist without realizing what one is doing. I’m not justifying the girl’s response to me. It is NOT okay to spit in someone’s eye. Even so, her action helped me, and still helps me, to see who I am and who I really want to be.