My Racist Elementary School Teacher Made Me See Black And White In A World of Color
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Politics and Activism

My Racist Elementary School Teacher Made Me See Black And White In A World of Color

I glanced down at my brown arm and somehow, my five-year-old mind knew what my color meant to Mrs. Craft.

My Racist Elementary School Teacher Made Me See Black And White In A World of Color

Her name was Mrs. Craft. It was the best name a teacher could ever have. So, of course, I couldn’t help but ask the most important question of my five-year-old life:

“Do you do arts and crafts, Mrs. Craft?” Her baby blue eyes lit up revealing crows feet. Her pink-lipstick smothered-mouth tilted into a polite smile.

“Of course I do honey, do you?” she asked, addressing the question to me but smiling up at my mom who stood by the door laughing. I nodded my head, the plastic blue butterfly bows in my hair slapping my face in the process.

“I love arts and crafts,” I said, my little chest puffed out, and my pink oversized Powerpuff Girls book bag sagged low on my back. It was my first day of elementary school, and I already felt invincible.

“You could go make something at that table over there,” she said while gesturing to the right of us. I followed her hand to an art table covered heaven. Orange, yellow, pink, green, red, purple and blue construction paper made big mountains on the surface of the table. Crayon boxes were filled with the colors of the rainbow and beyond. Hands grabbed scissors and attacked the mountain with great ferocity. Paper floated to the floor in spurts of colorful pieces. All I wanted to do was just lie in the middle of the table and make a snow angel out of all the vividness.

I sat at that table cutting and coloring, not realizing that Mommy was long gone, and it was just me, Mrs.Craft, and a bunch of other boys and girls I didn’t know. I felt someone behind me and I turned around to see it was Mrs. Craft herself looking over my artwork: a masterpiece of a bright spring day - the sun smiling with sunshades on. I reached to find a blue crayon but kept finding those stupid dark purple ones. Time passed and I had just about a pile of artwork laying beside me. All the other kids were on the alphabet carpet while Mrs. Craft read a book. I thought I was the special one; cutting and coloring and gluing things together while the other kids listened to her read. Day after day I sat there, coloring and cutting while the other kids learned.

“Mrs. Craft?” I called out one day from my lonely seat across the room, “Can I sit on the alphabet carpet?” Her baby blue eyes met my dark brown ones.

“No,” she said simply, “ You’re not done with your artwork yet.”

She saw the pouty look on my face and added, “Maybe tomorrow.”

She then picked up her book, old face scrunched up in annoyance.

Tomorrow came, and I was as lonely as ever. Sometimes my classmates would join me at my coloring fortress, but Mrs. Craft would always be there hovering over me like a steel-colored storm cloud. Mommy noticed something was wrong when I didn’t know how to do my homework. She talked to Mrs. Craft and Mrs. Craft said I wasn’t listening.

The next day, I was admitted onto the alphabet carpet. I got to sit on the bright orange “W” where I learned the alphabet song. By the time I learned how to count to ten, every time she looked at me, her eyes turned the iciest blue. She started calling me by a special name, but when I called Mommy that name and I felt the shocked silence at the dinner table, I didn’t think it was special anymore.

It was a blur from that moment on. A mix of colors, vague yelling, Mommy holding my hand as we walked into my school the next day, me coloring pictures in the empty cafeteria, holding hands with Mommy again as we walked out of the school, her hands shaking on the steering wheel, her eyes red. All I remember is what she said to me that day when I asked her why we left so early.

“You won’t be going back to that school anymore, sweetie," she told me, "Mrs. Craft called you a bad word that only people say to brown people. It’s a very bad word okay, baby? I don’t want you to say it anymore.” I glanced down at my brown arm and somehow, my five-year-old mind knew what my color meant to Mrs. Craft.

Crafty Mrs. Craft.

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