Burnett Elementary School had been three quarters black when we moved to El Monte. When we returned, there were only five white children in my class. One of them, the only child smaller than i was, was named Rita.

I no longer remember her face, but I will always remember her hair. It was a curly, orangey blonde. Not quite a carrot top, but bordering on it. She always wore those stretchy hair bands.

Prejudice comes in all colors. It is not politically correct to say that, but for all the prejudice that whites are accused of having against blacks, blacks have it in equal measure against whites. The tribal mind is far more evident in children than in adults. Adults learn to cover it up and pretend that it is not there. Children are more straightforward.

There were many episodes of blacks ganging up on the white children there. That included me. Sometimes the white children would play stalking horse for a black clique to go after another white child as a way of gaining the blacks protection.

The blacks cliques learned early that I would rush to the aid of another child being battered on the playground. Teachers and playground monitors tended to turn a blind eye to it. I had a huge sense of justice. I still do, but it is now stained by experience.

One day four black girls jumped Rita. I thought it was the usual thing and I rushed in. Actually Rita was playing bait. She stood and laughed while the four girls administered a beating to me. Later, I caught each one of them off the playground, including Rita, and administered my own brand of justice with a stick.

I was also, at times, overly naive and trusting. One day Mama had given me a fifty cent piece to grab a treat at Switzee’s hamburger shop.

One of the black girls, i think her name was Orita, asked to look at my little purse. It was a pretty purse and i was rather proud to have it. It had a long shoulder strap that I wore across my chest so I did not lose it. When the purse came back, my fifty cents was gone. I threw a fit. The teacher searched Orita. She even had her take her socks and shoes off, since that was a common spot to hide things. Orita took the same sock off twice. Then even though the entire classroom was yelling about what she had done, my money remained gone.

I have a black woman in my ancestry. It showed in Mama’s hair and skin. She was a throwback. But i was a blue-eyed blonde and therefor the enemy on the playground. Mama always tried to mitigate the pain and anger I experienced when I was mistreated by blacks, explaining about prejudice and civil rights and all that contributed to their mistreatment of me. I was forbidden to make racial generalizations or to use racial slurs.

I tended to daydream in class because I was not learning anything new there. I was a self-motivated learner and always ahead of the rest of them as a result. The class was dismissed by rows. Everyone sat up straight and neat, and the best looking rows got dismissed first at the end of the day. On your birthday you got to dismiss the rows. I had no idea which row was which number. That’s how little attention I paid to school. On my birthday I randomly called out numbers and just happened to dismiss the rows that contained a white child first. As a result of that I was surrounded by accusations of “whitie is a bigot” by the black children as soon as we were out of the building. I talked my way through it and escaped without getting more than shoved.

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