“Beep! Beep! Beep!” Where was that alarm clock again? I fumbled around my mattress until I found my bedside table. Angrily, I slammed on the yellow screaming menace. I wanted to go back to sleep, but my body sat itself up and got dressed. Absentmindedly I ate my eggs and toast.
“Come on, you’re going to be late to school!” my mother cried.
“I’m coming,” I replied as my toothbrush quickly moved up and down my mouth. I raced up the stairs and ran to the bus stop. Good, I had gotten there just in time. “Why isn’t the bus slowing down?” I thought. I flailed my arms in the air but the bus only accelerated. It sped past me, splashing a wave of dirty water on my clothes. I started to run after the bus knowing that Mrs. Hackett would not accept my being tardy on my first day going to my new school. As I rounded another bus stop I noticed another black person following me, and another. Soon, I was running at the head of a mob. I could see my school just around the corner. Quickly, I sprinted around the curb and to the door, but then the janitor saw me coming. He fore out his keys and made a beeline towards the door. The cold sound of metal hitting metal came before my hand hit the door handle. Furiously, I pounded against the door, screaming, kicking, and doing anything to let someone know that I was there. Soon, the other kids met me at the door. Thankfully, one kid knew how to pick a lock and I finally stepped into the school. I ran to my seat and sat down just as the bell rang.
“Class, today we will be taking a spelling test.” Mrs. Hackett announced. “There will be four words worth five points each for a total of twenty points possible. There will be no extra credit on the test. Take out a piece of paper and prepare to take the test.”
I noticed that one student forgot his notebook. He asked the people around him for a piece of paper, but they refused to give him any. I tore two pieces of paper out of my notebook, picked up my pencil, and walked to the pencil sharpener. I slipped the second piece of paper onto his desk as I returned to my seat.
“Is everybody ready?” Mrs. Hackett asked? After no reply was heard for five seconds, she began the spelling test. “The first word is gnat.” The silent applause of pencils hitting paper greeted each word. “The second word is phonics... The third word is aerobics…. The fourth word is geology.” One by one the pencils hit the tables. I was confident that I had gotten a perfect score. “Does anybody need any word to be repeated?” The boy whom I loaned my paper to raised his hand. “Good, no repetitions. Please remain quiet as I go around the room and grade your tests. Please remain seated and refrain from talking.” Each slash that she made with her red pen was met with the groan of the knowledge that the victim’s grade had dropped by 25%. Finally, she arrived at my desk. To my dismay three red slashes tore through my self-esteem. I had been sure that I had all of the words correctly spelled, but Mrs. Hackett only gave me credit for correctly spelling gnat. Frantically, I looked in all directions, seeking someone who had received a perfect score. Once I found someone I was shocked to discover that our answers were identical. Once the person with the perfect score noticed that I was looking at her paper she flipped it over. I politely raised my hand.
“What?!” Mrs. Hackett bawled.
“Can you please re-check my test?” With a groan Mrs. Hackett returned to my desk.
“Oh, my mistake.” she said as she put a slash through the word “gnat.”
“Why’d you do that? I have the same answers as the person in front of me. You gave her a perfect score.”
“So you were cheating?” Mrs. Hackett wrote -5/20 on my test and returned to grading the classes tests. I noticed that she gave many more slashes to the people in the back of the room than to the front of the room.
“I didn’t cheat!” I yelled loud enough to get her attention. “I waited until you had graded both of our papers before I checked.”
“Rebecca, is that true?” Mrs. Hackett asked. The girl in front of me shook her head no. “Brittany, I’ve heard quite enough out of you!” Mrs. Hackett screamed. “One more word and I’ll have you suspended!”
“But Rebecca’s lying!” I pleaded.
“Go to the office! Now!” Mrs. Hackett’s veins were bulging and her face was as red as a raspberry. I quickly gathered my belongings. Mrs. Hackett was pounding the number keys on the classroom telephone. By the time I had gotten out of the room, I had found out the reason that every room in my school was soundproofed. When I arrived at the main office I saw a few other people there, among them was the boy who picked the lock to the school. We could tell from each other’s faces that we were there for the same reasons. My name was called first. I slowly strode into the principal’s office. Looking at the nameplate on the principal’s desk, I could see that I was going to be in trouble.
“Brittany,” Mr. Hackett began, “Can you explain to me why you disrupted Mrs. Hackett’s class, defied her wishes, and called one of your fellow students a liar?”
“I was taking a spelling test and I spelled all of the words correctly.” I began.
“How did you know that?”
“ I checked my paper with Rebecca’s…”
“So, in other words, you were cheating?”
“No, I was going to say that I had waited until Mrs. Hackett graded both of our tests before I looked at Rebecca’s paper.”
“So why did Rebecca then say that you were lying about that?”
“I don’t know why. All I know is that she was the liar.”
“Rebecca is a very respectable student…”
“ How would you know that? It’s the first day of school and my class is entirely made up of first-year students.”
“Are you now defying my judgment? Not only is Rebecca a more responsible person than you are, but she is better than you. Don’t you forget that.”
“Why is she better than me?”
“You can answer that question while you’re on suspension. Take a look in any mirror. Your kind is inferior to my kind and until you learn your place in society I suggest that you don’t come back here again. The details of your suspension will be sent to your mother through the mail. She is coming to pick you up now. Go wait for her in the main lobby.”
I stormed out of the principal’s office and into the main lobby. On my way there the janitor knocked me over and spat on me. I didn’t understand why these things were happening. I hoped that my mother could give me some insight; however my optimism quickly transformed into pessimism when I saw Mom’s face. We drove back to the house in silence. The silence was broken once we were inside.
“Brittany,” Mom began, “I’m very disappointed in you.”
“Why, what did I do that was wrong?” I asked.
“What did you do that was wrong?! You cheat on a test, you contradict and disrespect your teacher, you try to protect yourself by calling another student a liar, you get suspended and you ask me ‘What did I do that was wrong?”
“I didn’t do any of that. You’re just going to take Mr. Hackett’s word for what happened and ignore my side of the story?”
“Fine, tell me your side of the argument.” I gave Mom a vivid account of my day. “I’m sorry.” she said after I had finished. “ I forgot about that part of this society.”
“Racism! Treating someone like trash because of their skin color.”
“Why do they do that?”
“ There’s no one answer to that. Some people are afraid, some think that the people of color aren’t worthy to live, others are just plain bitter. I know that this is tough to hear, but this is how society works in the South. You don’t have to like the way others treat you, but you’ll have to learn to live with it.”
“What if I don’t want to live with it? What if I want to be treated fairly? What I went through today was wrong, and if that’s the way things work around here, then that’s wrong too. Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s right.”
“Don’t you dare say that outside of this house or when we have company. If you say that or do anything dad to a white person you could get whipped, tortured, or killed. Most people would say that you got off easy this time. I know how different it is from Chicago here, but you need to adapt.”
“Thanks for this talk, Mom. It was very helpful.” With that I stormed into my room. I searched my dictionary for a word that would accurately describe Alabaman society. Then, I got out a pencil and marked a deep “x” on my calendar. “May 21, 1969. My first day of school in Alabama.” it read. I put a wide slash through the word “Alabama” and replaced it with “a dystopia.”
My life went on like this for several more months. After Mom pleaded with Mr. Hackett, my suspension was set for one week. During my suspension, Mrs. Hackett gave all of the black students a test that was worth 50% of their final grade. Since any test or assignment given during a suspension was an automatic zero, I had a guaranteed failing grade. By the end of the semester, I not only had the lowest score in my class, but, according to Mr. Hackett, the lowest score in the district. Finally, Mom’s job was relocated to New York. We were given ten days to pack our belongings and leave. Somebody from Mom’s job would come to pick up the car later. On my last day of school I planned something special for my dearest teacher. I only had to survive two hours of school before Mom picked me up at noon. As the time neared for the bus to pick me up I snatched Mom’s spare house keys and put them into my back pocket. Once the bus passed my house, I ran to the end of the block and hid behind a building. I saw Mom get into her car and drive to her job. When she was out of sight, I went back to the house and opened the door. I took one extra large and two medium sized water balloons and filled them with ketchup. I emptied the contents of my binder and my lunchbox into my backpack. Carefully, I fitted the extra large balloon into my binder and the two medium balloons into my lunchbox. I placed the spare house key in its suitcase and exited my house. When I arrived at school, the janitor was sweeping the halls at the far end of the door. Quietly I entered the school and went into Mrs. Hackett’s classroom. The bell rang two minutes later, but Mrs. Hackett still marked me absent. She started teaching about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“The Civil Rights Movement was started by Martin Luther King Jr.” she began. “Mr. King was a violent man who spoke of hatred towards white people. He led a largely violent march through Washington D.C. in which the police were brutally attacked by the participants of the march. He then made his infamous I Have a Dream speech in which he called for overthrowing the US government and replacing every white person in power with a black person. Finally, when Mr. King was 39, James Earl Ray shot and killed Mr. King, thus silencing his hate speech.” Mrs. Hackett showed us a video about Dr. King that was one hour in length. In it, Dr. King was painted as a racist bigot who despised all white people. Afterwards, Mrs. Hackett gave us a short quiz on the video. All of the questions were open ended.
“Question 1.” It said. “Describe Mr. King’s ideas about race.” Mom had taught me about Dr. King before this test, so I knew the correct answer to the question. I wrote, “Dr. King’s ideas about race were that racism should cease to exist.” the next question asked about the method that Dr. King used to accomplish his goals about race. I answered, “Dr. King preached a message of peace to his people. He led peaceful protests in which the protestors were attacked and arrested for speaking out for racial equality.” The third and final question asked me to describe the I Had a Dream speech. I responded, “ It was a speech about equality for all human beings, regardless of race. Dr. King expressed that he wished to see people of all races living in harmony. He did not at any time call for violence, but for peaceful protest, for violence would only lead to further hatred of African-Americans. Peaceful protests, however, would show the world that African-Americans were not savages by nature, but that they were human beings.” I put my name on the quiz and handed it to Mrs. Hackett. She skimmed through my answers and slapped me. She proceeded to shove me to the ground, but her anger had afterwards left her. “Your kind isn’t worth the effort.” she stated. She put a zero on my quiz and threw it onto the ground next to me. She went to her desk and resumed reading her copy of Mein Kampf. I got to my feet and went to my desk. It was 11:50. I got my backpack and prepared to unfold my plan. I opened my lunchbox and my binder. Carefully, I concealed the balloons in my backpack. Eight minutes later, I struck. I reached for a medium balloon and hurled it at Mrs. Hackett. It splashed all over Hitler’s face. Angrily, Mrs. Hackett arose. I threw the second medium balloon. It smacked her on the dress. Mrs. Hackett’s face was turning redder than the ketchup and her glasses looked as if they were being tempered by her eyes as she stormed towards me. I took out the extra large balloon. Mrs. Hackett stopped dead in her tracks.
“Brittany, you put that down!” she yelled. “Now!” I flung the balloon at her face and ducked. The balloon hit her on her nose, spreading the color of her temper throughout the room. The white students gasped in astonishment, the black students cheered my name, but I knew that I didn’t have the time to enjoy it. While Mrs. Hackett was blinded by the ketchup on her eyes, I closed my backpack and dashed through the door. Mrs. Hackett attempted to collect her glasses, but shortly thereafter heard the sound of glass breaking under her feet.
As I passed through the door, I realized that I should give Mrs. Hackett some words to remember me by. I turned towards her and said, "Just because my skin is dark doesn't mean that your heart must be so also." I resumed sprinting.
“Brittany!” she screamed loud enough to wake the dead. “Come back here you-” The door shut behind me, silencing her tirade. Quickly, I boarded the waiting car.
“How was your last day of school?” Mom asked.
“Oh, you know; the usual.” I replied.
As Mom and I boarded the train, I found that I had a silly grin on my face. Though the Alabaman school district was harsh, it taught me more about racism than I would have ever learned in a Northern school. Goodbye Alabama, and good riddance.