By: Adam Sutton
“Has anyone figured out why I assigned these books for your reading project?” Mrs. Snell asks the class. Several hands pop up immediately.
“Because the stories all have kids in them. Kids like our age kinda,” says LaToya.
Sharon pipes up saying, “They are about history, and you teach us history.”
Melvin is next, and he guesses that, “The history in them is going to be what we learn about next.”
“No, no, no,” Ben shakes his head, “The stuff in these books is all stuff we already learned you dummy. The Revolutionary War, hello! That was like a month ago.”
Before chaos takes hold, Mrs. Snell interjects, “What energetic responses you all have this morning. And,” she pauses for effect, “They are all wrong.” A lot of grumbling ensues, and after a moment Mrs. Snell reassures the class, “Well, not all wrong, but you are missing something really important that led me to these books. I’m going to list the authors: Noni Carter, Nancy Martz, Gloria Delgado, Elizabeth Franklin. Does anyone notice anything?”
It’s hard to tell who says it first, but several students point out the fact they are all women.
“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Snell continues as she inquires about whether or not it matters that the authors are men or women. After discussing the matter, she moves on to a new question, “Now, there are some differences among these women still. Now, almost all of the stories you have read about involve slaves and/or slavery. Noni Carter and Gloria Delgado are different than Nancy Martz and Elizabeth Franklin. Anyone know why?”
LaToya wastes no time blurting out, “Nancy and Elizabeth sound like old people names. The others are young!” She is very proud.
“Not it.” It’s quiet now. Mrs. Snell is rubbing her chin looking around the room for some one to try again. Ja’Quan in the back slowly raises his hand.
“I think they’re black,” he says just above a whisper.
“Ja’Quan, you are right! Now, do you think it matters that the author is white or black when you read a book about slavery?” Mrs. Snell asks.
Slowly this time, LaToya raises her hand and begins to share, “I know it’s gotta matter. I mean black people just gotta understand slavery different. It happened to us. I’m reading Jefferson’s Sons and a slave gets whipped super bad. Like, slavery is really bad in the book. The author’s gotta be black.”
“Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is white,” Mrs. Snell clarifies.
Lunch is over. The rush is on. Students flood the hall hurrying to classes they will tell you they hate. To avoid the rush, students leaving the cafeteria will scurry up the ramp—instead of the stairs—that is for traffic coming to lunch. At the top of the ramp, Mr. George is turning kids around who have snuck up the ramp. “Go back!” he shouts. “You know the drill. Stairs when you leave. Ramp when you’re coming to lunch! Go back!” LaToya squeezes by despite his warnings. “LaToya, turn around,” Mr. George insists. LaToya turns around. She takes two steps walking backwards and raises her hands middle fingers extended.
Out on bus duty, Mrs. Snell sees LaToya. “LaToya!” She motions for Latoya to come over to her. As LaToya gets to her, Mrs. Snell asks, “How was your day?”
“Really. Nothing interesting or strange happened today?”
“Not that I remember.”
“Like, say, at the end of lunch?” Mrs. Snell starts to pry.
Sucking her teeth and realizing she was caught she starts with, “But he be all irky! Who cares if we take the ramp? I get to class faster!”
“This isn’t about taking the ramp though is it. Wasn’t there something else?”
“Ok. Yea. I gave Mr. George the finger.”
“Why did you do that?”
“He didn’t make all the white kids in front of me turn around.”