My twin sister and I grew up on the roots of anti-segregation in rural Kansas. Our family was related to an abolitionist leader named John Brown. Heather and I learned in sixth grade Social Studies that he was an antislavery fanatic. We thought about our father, who hated slavery just as much. We thought back to our childhood years. As children, Daddy taught us and our brother, Wade, that segregation and slavery were unsuitable.
"You three must never look at our white race as superior," he would lecture, "or isolate any minorities, especially the black people. Treat them as if they were our blood. Lord Chesterfield said: 'No one is of one decided colour, but all people are shaded and blended.'" He may have said different things every lecture, but the message was still the same.
He would also take us to public lectures on anti-segregation. It was there that we learned its true meaning. They were the highlights of our childhood. We credited Daddy for being a wondrous influence on us.
In 1991, when Heather and I were eight, and Wade, eleven, our parents got sick and died. I remember when the lawyer read Daddy's will to the family. I pretty much expected what he wrote about us.
"'In the event that both my wife and I pass away, we leave custody of our children to my parents, Rutherford and Marge Brown, and my sister, Connie Brown," he read, "so they can continue our family tradition of anti-segregation crusades."
So we moved into Grandma and Grandpa's home. We lived with them and Aunt Connie in a small rural neighbourhood in a different town in Kansas. When my siblings and I weren't busy, we helped Aunt Connie work in women's shelters, and did generous things for minorities. They continued to preach anti-segregation to us. And when Wade turned thirteen, he started helping them with Heather and me.
When Heather and I started eighth grade, we made a new friend named Dana Kimball. Her family had moved from California that summer. We told her about our family background, and she replied, "Well, my parents brought me up to hate blacks. They told me to stay with the white race." She mentioned that segregation was in her family for generations. Her ancestors actually owned some black slaves in the 1700's and 1800's.
We were amazed to hear that. But we really wanted to be friends with her. She said she was an honour roll student in her old school. She was pretty, athletic, outgoing, and very talented. She was popular with many of the white students and staff at our school; her attitude turned off everyone else. But as we got close, Heather and I started forgetting our values, as Dana got us believing in segregation, too.
Our family first noticed our change two weeks after school started. At dinner, I suddenly said, "Blacks are so inferior to whites. They have no values," while Heather added, "Their morals and ethics corrupt society in a big way." We used lots of racial slurs aimed towards blacks. Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Connie were horrified. Wade was very displeased.
"Where did you pick that up?!" he demanded. "That's disgusting!" We then started talking about Dana.
"She's really awesome, guys," I said. I told them everything about her and her family. I said, "Her parents may be racist, but they're both very nice. You'd like her." They just gazed at us, looking unconvinced.
Grandpa glowered at us. "I want to meet this girl!" he said sharply. "I want to see what she's like! Then we'll see if you two should be her friends!"
"Me too," Wade agreed. "I think you can do much better than her. I just know Mom and Dad wouldn't approve of this, don't you?"
But Heather and I didn't care for those comments. How could they be so rash about her when they hadn't met her yet? It was like judging a book by its synopsis. We wanted our family to see her good side.
Later that week, I said to Dana, "You're invited to dinner at our house on Saturday." She accepted, and we gave her our address. On Saturday afternoon, we waited in the front hall for her. We saw her walk up our walkway and opened the door.
We took Dana to meet the family. Grandma and Aunt Connie said casual "hello's" to her as they shook hands. Grandpa and Wade shook her hand wordlessly.
At six o'clock, dinner was served. As we started eating, Grandma said to Dana, "We've heard a lot about you, Dana. We can't believe that you favour segregation. Heather and Jennifer certainly weren't raised like that. Why are you?"
"Segregation's been in my family since it existed," Dana answered. "My parents raised me that way. It's what we live by." She ate some pot roast. "Normally, I don't discuss this with new friends' families when I first meet them. But in your case…"
"But nothing, missy!" Grandpa gruffled at her. "We're an anti-segregation family, and we don't appreciate anything like that. So, you'd better watch what you say here." I looked at him as if to say, "Quit being rude."
Aunt Connie asked, "Dana, do you have any black families on your street?"
"Only one," Dana replied. "They live at 37 Grove Street. Those other white families can be their friends if they want, but mine ignores them as much as possible."
"Well," Aunt Connie said, "we have four black families on our street, and we're friends with all of them."
Dana started laughing. "No way! You? Making friends with black people?"
Heather and I studied Grandpa and Wade's reactions. They didn't look very pleased. We were scared at what they might do.
"Is that a problem?" Grandma asked.
"Maybe not to you, but it would be for me," Dana said. "Let's face it, black people are nothing like us whites. They commit crimes and cause all the trouble. Did you know that there are more blacks in jail than in college? And they don't know anything about love. They can't stay faithful to one another. The women whore themselves, and the men are sugar daddies. And that's not all–"
Wade pounded his fist on the table. "That is enough, bitch!" he barked.
Everyone except Heather and me glared at her. We looked at her reaction. Dana looked humiliated and unhappy. She wolfed down the rest of her dinner, then jumped from the table. She headed towards the front hall. Heather and I went after her.
We saw Dana putting on her shoes and jacket. "Where are you going?" Heather asked.
"Home!" she replied. "I'm sorry, but your grandfather and brother are real assholes. Looks like I'm not wanted here." She started for the door. "I'll see you either tomorrow at my house, or Monday at school, depending on what they say." She said goodbye and left.
We ran back to the dining room to see our family glaring at us. Grandpa barked, "Heather, Jennifer, why?! Why are you associating with that girl?! Do you know what you're doing to this family?! You're ruining it, that's what!"
"You are so rude, Grandpa!" I yelled. "You and Wade had no right to talk to her like that!"
"Who was being rude, making snide comments about blacks like that?" Wade shot back.
Grandpa pointed at both of us. "You're both grounded! Two months! After school, you come straight home, no visitors! And stay away from Dana! Now, come finish your dinner, then go to your room!" We obeyed without a word.
But Heather and I decided to keep seeing Dana against the family's wishes. We started lying about where we were going– the mall, the library, the park, even other friend's houses– just to go to her house. For a month, we managed to pull it off without them knowing. But one day, Wade caught on to it.
"We're just going to the movies," Heather said to him. "We'll be back in a few hours." He nodded, then we left for Dana's.
We were at Dana's house for three hours. We watched some television for a half-hour, then we played on her computer while listening to some music. Afterwards, we decided to go out for a walk. We'd just stepped outside when we noticed a familiar car driving up to the house. It looked like Wade's.
The car made a sudden stop outside the house, then the driver jumped out. It was definitely Wade. He ran up to us and pulled us away from Dana. Then, he shoved us in the car and drove off. I couldn't believe what he did. We were screaming at each other the whole way home.
A week later, Heather and I had the house to ourselves. We decided to call Dana just to chat. I dialled her number, and she answered after three rings.
We were chatting, gossiping and giggling– no talk about segregation– for an hour when Aunt Connie came home. She saw us at the phone and asked, "Who are you talking to?"
Heather was busy talking, so I said, "It's Dana, Auntie."
"Oh, I don't think so!" Aunt Connie rushed to the phone, snatched the receiver from Heather and hung up. She glowered at us, then gave us a lecture about Dana.
"But Dana's a good friend to us!" Heather protested, but Aunt Connie silenced her.
She kept lecturing us, and when she was through, she said, "You are not to make or receive any phone calls until further notice. In fact, don't ever answer the phone." We started protesting again, but Aunt Connie bellowed, "I don't want to hear another word!"
Soon afterwards, Dana started calling our house. I could tell it was Dana, because when our grandparents, Aunt Connie or Wade answered, they'd reply, "They're not home, Dana, now go away!" even when we were home. But she didn't stop calling. In fact, she called so often, they decided to get caller ID, just so they could screen her calls.
Things got worse by late November. Heather and I were shovelling snow from the driveway one cold Saturday afternoon. We were halfway done when we heard a familiar voice calling us. We turned to see Dana standing at our curb. She was carrying a large jar full of rocks.
"Dana, what's with that jar?" I asked.
"Come with me," Dana answered. She walked to Grove Street, and we followed her. We went to the house 37.
At the house, we saw a car and a truck in the driveway. "Good, somebody's home!" Dana said. She opened her jar to get some rocks, put it on the lawn, and started throwing them at the house.
"Uh, Dana, what if you break their windows?" Heather asked.
"Let them pay for it," Dana replied. She scooped out more rocks and hurled them at the house one by one. As she did this, I asked, "Do your parents know you're doing this?"
"Not exactly, Jennifer, but they do encourage it from time to time." Dana went for more rocks, then looked at us. She said, "Well, don't just stand there. Throw some rocks."
Heather and I scooped some rocks out of the jar and started throwing them at the front door.
Moments later, we saw an angry black woman run out to us. "Stop throwing those rocks here!" she ordered. "I mean it!"
"Make us!" Dana shot back, then she and Heather threw more rocks.
I started picking up snow from the lawn to make a snowball. I threw it right at the woman. She brushed it off herself and said, "Ooh, missy, you're gonna get it now."
This prompted Heather, Dana and me to make snowballs and throw them at the house. But the snow just stuck to the exterior and windows. I saw two boys across the street playing football on the front lawn. I went over and took it from them.
Dana took the ball from me and threw it at the living room window. It smashed right through.
The woman stared at the damage in distress. Meanwhile, Dana grabbed her jar, and we fled the property. As the woman turned to watch us run down the street, she screamed, "And don't you ever come back here!" We were laughing spitefully.
Three days later, at school, Dana, Heather and I were leaving study hall when we bumped into a few coloured students. Dana shoved them aside, saying, "You're in our way!"
"Hey, watch it!" one of the boys cried. "What did we do to you?"
Dana looked into the student's eyes and asked loudly, "You got a problem with me, boy?"
"Yeah," the student replied. "All we did was bump into you, and you're acting all crazy about it. Why don't you say, 'Excuse me' next time?" Some other students began crowding around us.
Dana made a fist and said, "Excuse this, nigger!" Then, she punched the student in the stomach. He took a few moments to recover, then asked, "Girl, what is your problem?"
But Dana continued acting rough. She body-slammed her confrontee into the wall and yelled racist things as she pinned him. Heather and I followed suit as we attacked the other students. The witnesses were hollering in fear. Dana opened one of her jacket pockets, retrieved a jack-knife and activated it. But before she could use it, the principal came, pulled us away and sent us to her office.
"I can't believe you girls!" the principal said in her office. "What were you thinking, attacking those students like that?"
No answers, so the principal continued, "I will not tolerate violence in our school. Or racial slurs! I heard what you said, Ms. Kimball! Your actions were simply inappropriate!"
Then, she revealed our punishments. To Heather and me, "You both are suspended for two weeks, starting tomorrow." To Dana, "And you, I have suspicions that you started this. You are expelled for the rest of the term, effective immediately." She dismissed us just then.
Our family couldn't believe what Heather and I did at school. Grandpa and Wade had had enough. They started to discipline us, but Aunt Connie stopped them.
"I think Dana is responsible for Heather and Jennifer's trouble," she said. "None of this would've happened if it weren't for her. Clearly, she's a bad influence on the girls, and must be dealt with accordingly."
"But what do we do?" Grandma asked.
Aunt Connie thought back to our dinner with Dana, when we talked about her family. She suggested, "Let's go visit with her parents. Let's see what they have to say about it."
Five minutes later, our family arrived at Dana's house. Aunt Connie rang the doorbell. Moments later, Mr. Kimball answered the door. He smiled as he greeted Heather and me.
"Dana's upstairs," he said to us. "Why don't you go on up?" We stepped inside and upstairs.
"You must be Dana's father," we could hear Grandma say. She introduced herself and the family and said, "We want to talk about your daughter." Mr. Kimball led them to the living room. There, they met Mrs. Kimball, and the six of them sat down. Dana, Heather and I heard everything from the computer room.
Grandma started telling them about our family's background, how they raised us, and how concerned they were for our behaviour.
"We think Dana's being a negative influence on the girls," she said. "Heather and Jennifer never acted this way before her."
"Well, we taught Dana to stay with her race," Mr. Kimball said. "In our family, segregation against blacks is the right way."
Grandma started to say something, but Grandpa interjected. "It is not the right way!" he blasted. "In our eyes, all races are one– black, white, Hispanic, Asian! I can't believe you raise your child to be racist!"
Mr. Kimball was taken aback. "Are you saying my wife and I are bad parents?" he asked.
"You're teaching Dana closed-mindedness. What does that tell you?"
"Don't you talk about my daughter that way! Or my parenting!"
"Why? Only a bad father would raise a racist troublemaker!"
We could hear Mrs. Kimball and Grandma try to control their husbands. But Mr. Kimball was vengeful. We heard Grandpa fall on the couch, and poked our heads out of the computer room. We saw him having a brawl with Mr. Kimball. Soon, nobody could control them.
Heather, Dana and I rushed to the living room to witness the fight. We saw Mr. Kimball knock Grandpa down, and Heather and I ran to help him. "Are you okay, Gramps?" Heather asked.
Then, we looked at Dana, who just stood there watching. We were both appalled at her. "How could you not help us?!" I shouted.
"I think Daddy was right to beat that nigger-lover, Jenny dear!" Dana spat.
Heather and I went to Dana and struck her. "Well, we don't!" Heather said. "We draw the line when racists beat up our family members."
We engaged in our own fight, defending our families. Dana fluently insulted our family.
"How you girls can grow up in a family of nigger-lovers is beyond me!" she said snobbily. "Your family is obviously stupid; you don't know what the other races are doing to us whites. If you had any sense whatsoever, you'd help us keep blacks from dominating this country. If this keeps up, the United States might become another Africa, you know."
I folded my arms and said, "Uh, Dana, in case you've forgotten, we're related to John Brown, one of our country's famed abolitionist leaders!"
"Oh, that faggot?" Dana sneered. "You shouldn't be bragging about that, girls. People like him don't understand families like us. They're much too ignorant."
We started to protest, but Dana kept talking. "If we dare try and say something, they dismiss it immediately! They don't care about the niggers in prisons with rap sheets, who are rude and crude and just plain uncaring, who pimp innocent girls! I could go on forever! Why, if it weren't for blacks, this country wouldn't be declining so much right now! I know all about John Brown and those other bastards! Believe me, being related to him is nothing to be proud of!"
We were horrified. We started yelling some things at her.
"Listen, you little brat!" Heather yelled. "Don't blame our nation's problems on black people! You're the reason why America's declining right now! You and others like you! You just can't seem to get along with certain people!"
"Yeah, what's your problem?!" I added. "So there are some bad apples out there. That doesn't mean every black in America is bad! Why don't you get your head out of the damn gutter and go meet some nice blacks?! You might like them!" I turned to her parents. "And you, you should be ashamed of yourselves, teaching her this ignorance!"
We paused to catch our breath, then Heather gazed at Dana. "Some friend you are!" she said. "Just stay away from us."
"And screw your philosophy," I added. We helped Grandpa up, then Heather and I left the house quickly, slamming the front door.
Moments later, our family met us outside. We apologised for our behaviour and vowed to never act that way again. It took some time, but they forgave us.
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