A Strange and Racist Fourth Grader

5 08 2010

As many of you know, I spent my formative years in the Charlotte suburb Matthews, North Carolina.  From Kindergarten through Sixth grade I attended Matthews Elementary. During those seven years I had the privilege of knowing a young man who seemed to take pride in defying social convention.  We’ll call him “Adam.”

Possibly Adam and his Father in the year 2010

Adam was a child of the Redneck persuasion.  He was the loudest and most abrasive elementary school student I have ever met.  Adam said what was on his mind and he meant it.  Of course, Adam’s behavior was probably a result of how he saw his parents behave so we should not judge him too harshly.  Instead, let us bask in his unfiltered thoughts and actions.  I’ll preface my “strange and racist” story with two shorter incidents that took place in Third grade.  These stories aren’t racist, but certainly strange.

In the spring of 1994 my Mother was pregnant with my youngest sibling.  My Mom also volunteered at our school store, which sold neon green pencils and highly coveted gummy erasers.  (I think children liked the gummy erasers because you could blow eraser dust off you papers thus indicating that you were a serious student or a very bored one.) Apparently, Adam had seen my Mom at the school store one morning because when I saw him in class he came up and said, “I know your Momma’s pregnant.”  Thanks, Adam.  In my mind Adam had a lot of experience with pregnant mothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, and possibly grandmothers.  Maybe he was like a home pregnancy test, but free.  His family would be eating breakfast and Adam would look over at his oldest sister and announce to the entire family that she was pregnant.  Adam just knew.

That same year I was invited to a sleep over birthday party at a classmate named Julian’s house.  Sadly, Adam was not, but this didn’t stop him.  He hitched a ride with an invited guest, came into the house as if nothing happened, and slipped a five dollar bill into Julian’s pocket.  Though extremely bad ass this was simply not done in suburban Charlotte.  If you were invited to the party you came and if you were not the only retaliation was a snub for your laser tag party.  Adam flaunted the rules of normal society when he slipped that Lincoln in Julian’s pocket.  I like to think Adam got this idea from his father who, when not invited, showed up to a wedding, placed a 20 dollar bill on the bride’s table, and headed for the open bar.  With rednecks, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Finally, we arrive in Fourth grade where our greatest most racist incident occurred.  We were assigned reading partners for a chapter in Social Studies.  Naturally, I was assigned Adam.  The class separated off and Adam and I found a nice spot in the back corner.  This particular chapter concerned African-American history in North Carolina.  I believe its focus was the Jim Crow years.  We read aloud to each other and Adam commented that we were repeating the phrase “African-Americans” a lot and that our task would be expedited if we just used the word “negroes” instead.  Wow.  A fourth grader who’d rather use the term “negroes” instead of “African-Americans” to shave thirty seconds off his reading time has some real issues.  I was a very PC young fellow and simply refused to go along with his plan.  (We were all riding high on a wave of Political Correctness back in 1994.  Clinton was in his first term and health care reform loomed on the horizon.)  We continued to read and every time I read “African-Americans” Adam rolled his eyes and brought up the merits of his “negroes” plan.  Even though Adam wasn’t a large child he was still intimidating.  Please note that this was the same kid who had no qualms about showing up to a sleepover uninvited.  So after five or ten minutes of Adam’s insistence I finally capitulated and agreed with Adam’s second suggestion that we could say “blacks” instead of “negroes.”  Adam knew that saying “negroes” made me wildly uncomfortable so he graciously offered the use of the word “blacks.”  In my mind that was slightly less racist, but I still felt terrible.  I was now one of the bad guys, a bad kid.  I think Adam was proud that day.  Maybe he saw this is as a minor victory in the war to turn me racist.  Maybe Adam went home and had this conversation with his father…

Adam: I think I turned Jeff today.

Mr. Adam: Jeff the kid’s whose Mom is pregnant?

Adam: The same.

Mr. Adam: Well done, boy. Well done.  Have a Miller High Life.

I guess we’ll never know.

That’s it for my Adam story.  Hopefully, no one thinks any worse of me.  I’m not racist, just a coward.




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