Today I was remembering an exchange I had with my students in June, during Pride Month. I shared a video with my homeroom class which told the story of the Stonewall Riots which occurred in NYC in 1969. Afterwards, I commented that I did not know this story. I honestly admitted that I am learning this with them.
“Really? How come?” a 6th grader asked innocently.
“How come?” I wonder.
Maybe because in 1969, I was 5 years old.
I lived on Primrose Drive in Falls Church, VA.
I wore my grey plaid jumper each school day to attend St. James, the local Catholic school.
I played in the little log cabiin playhouse my paretns purchased from the Sears catalog.
I swung on the backyard swingset.
I swam every day at High Point Pool in the summer.
I was a kid, enjoying my childhood.
I was friends with D who than was my swimteam buddy.
I see now on facebook D is married to a woman.
I wonder now if she was ever treated unfairly because of who she chose to love.
Back then, people being treated unfairly in NYC didn’t enter my world.
Maybe it is the same for my parent’s generation. As I learn about the Civil Rights Movement now, I wonder about my mom. She grew up in Washington, DC. She wore a uniform to her Catholic school. She attended dances at Glen Echo and went to the movies at the Tivoli Theater. When I asked if she attended the March on Washington, she said no. “I had babies to care for at that time. All my attention went to them. I guess I saw the clips of it on the news.” This summer, my mom and I took a road trip to Greensboro. While there, we toured the Woolworths, the site of the first civil rights movement sit-in and is now the International CIvil Rights Center and Museum. For my mom, it was brought back memories of her time as a high schooler, sitting at the counter and eating anything on the menu. “This is just how it looked. You used to stand behind a counter seat and when the person sitting finished, you took their spot.” I wondered if she was aware this was a priviledge for her, a white woman in DC? It seemed that people being treated unfairly in the south in didn’t enter her world.
Maybe in the present, we can’t fully understand.
Maybe in the present, we can be ignorant or have blinders on.
Maybe in the present, we are are too busy living our own life.
Recently, I have been thinking about the history of the marginalized as I continue to read Clint Smith’s book, How the Word is Passed (I blogged about it here). It is through stories, oral and written down, that the “word is passed down”. I do believe, as we know more of the past, we can do better in the present. Looking ahead, I plan to add these three books to my classroom. Maybe in the past, I was unaware but going forward, I will do better. As Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”