Considering My Own Racism: My Junior High Years

Even though my two years of junior high (seventh and eighth grades) were my first two in racially-integrated schools, I have very few memories that have to do with race.

I do remember that our junior high was the former black high school. So it was in a black neighborhood. One that was just outside the city limits of our county seat (I think. I’m not sure where the city limits were. But that fits the alignment of many small Southern towns – with the city limit at the edge of the black community. So that the black community was not within the city limits).

Our junior high kept what I think was the mascot of the black high school.

We were the Panthers.

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My junior high yearbook, 8th grade.

I don’t even remember exactly how many black teachers I had. One or two?

Now it occurs to me that for the administrators who were deciding who would teach what in combining what had been a white junior high and a black junior high . . .  that might have been a challenge.

But I never even thought about that – until I started writing today!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my father was on the county school board during our county’s year of integration. But I have no recollections of any conversations about teacher assignments. Maybe he and my mother did discuss that – and I was uninterested?

Can it possibly be that the teacher assignment process went smoothly? Knowing human nature, I’d guess there were some teachers who weren’t happy with their assignments.

But I knew nothing of that.

Perhaps the reason I didn’t have many black teachers was that I was in the “upper” track (you know the one – even today in public schools that track tends to be the children of middle-class parents). Perhaps more black teachers were assigned to the “lower” tracks?

I do remember that there were more black students in the “lower” tracks. Because I played basketball, and we on the team had to have our physical education class together, my schedule didn’t exactly fit that of the “upper” track.

So for both of my junior high years I ended up in social studies classes with “lower” track students.

But I don’t have a memory of disliking these classes. I don’t remember that my black classmates were different from my white ones.

My black classmates didn’t “stink” (a typical white stereotype of black folks during my childhood).

My black classmates were “clean.” That broke the stereotype that black people were “dirty.” (Describing someone as “clean” is an implied put down because the assumption is that that person – or race – is “dirty.” Joe Biden made that mistake in describing Barak Obama several years ago).

The only difference I noticed was that my black classmates in the “lower” classes didn’t seem to be on grade level. (The reason why is a whole big topic – one that I won’t get into here).

One of my two black teachers was the teacher of my “upper” seventh grade science class. She was a very good teacher. I have memories of doing a couple of interesting projects for her. I don’t even remember my other science teacher, the eighth grade one.

I don’t think I remember my seventh grade science teacher’s class as much because she was black as because she was a good teacher.

Honestly, I didn’t have a lot of good teachers in junior high. My other black teacher fell into the “not good” category. I remember very little about her class.

I remember very little about most of my junior high classes.

If what I do remember is correct, of the 12 teachers I had in junior high, two (maybe three) were black – and the rest were white.

And of my two best teachers, one was black and one was white.

Were there racial challenges at our junior high?

Probably.

But I don’t remember them – or remember hearing about them.

Would my black classmates have similar memories?

I have no idea. We might have had very different experiences.

My guess is that we did.

 *     *     *

A vague memory I have from seventh grade involves an interchange between my white basketball coach and one of my black teammates.

He was kidding around with this teammate. They got to talking about fried chicken, and he told my teammate to bring him some of her mama’s fried chicken.

My racism comes in the thoughts that ran through my head. I would have been uncomfortable eating food I knew was cooked by a black person. And my white coach was asking a black girl to bring him food her mama had cooked!

Now I know that doesn’t fit the stereotype of the South, where “the help” was black and did the cooking for white people. For many white Southerners, the food preparers would be expected to be black.

But my family didn’t have “help.”

And I had the notion that black people weren’t “clean.” Did I think that in my interaction with my black playmate of one day, the interaction I wrote about in my previous post? I don’t think so. So this prejudice came later, apparently after I was five or six or seven years old.

I don’t know if anyone directly said that black people weren’t clean.

It was definitely implied.

And it was in me strong enough that I was surprised that my white coach wanted to eat food cooked by a black woman.

What a silly prejudice!

One that I’m really glad I’ve gotten over.

One that I don’t think lasted very long beyond that day in seventh grade.

My going to a school with black classmates helped shatter a lot of my racial prejudices. I’m very grateful that we finally integrated our school system.

That definitely helped me grow as a person.

 *     *     *

Next week: I consider my racism during my high school years.

 

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