I don’t remember her name or the details of her face.
The little girl, all grown up now, could pass me today and nothing in my head would click and say, "That's the kid who spit on you from a bus window in third grade and screamed 'go back to Africa.'"
"She's the one who said 'Amelia' is an African name" as if that were a bad thing.
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Who the girl was then doesn't matter as much to me as who she is now.
Then, like me, she was a little girl into jelly bracelets and Saturday morning cartoons. All of our clothes were too loud. I was 8. She may have been 9.
Who the woman is now is something that crosses my mind every now and again.
Some say racism is passed down from generation to generation like the oral stories that kept a culture’s history.
One generation learns to fear the “other” and tells the next to fear and hate.
So on and so on until the knot is so tight it squeezes out any light.
Others liken racism to an illness passed from person to person like the flu.
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It is definitely contagious.
Someone in my third-grade classmate’s life poisoned her mind.
That fact is clear to me today.
That’s the only explanation why she spit on me, mocked my name and screamed “go back to Africa.”
Being spit on was bad. But it was the girl’s words that stayed with me — a Cleveland native whose DNA was planted in America by at least the early 1700s, according to a spit sample I sent off to Ancestry.com.
As I remember, before the day she spit on me, the girl and I had been friendly, if not friends.
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When you are a kid, there is no real difference, I suppose.
The girl and I played together on the playground during recess. We glided down hot metal slides, jumped from rusty swing sets and played hopscotch in squares painted on asphalt.
On the day it happened, the girl was mad at me for some reason.
I don’t remember why. Kids get mad at each other.
Any person who has ever been around kids or has ever been a kid can tell you that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a reason.
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One can only assume that the place where my classmate pulled her insults from was not her heart.
She didn’t know anything about Africa and neither did I.
The leather African continent medallion necklaces people wore in the ’80s were not even that popular yet.
“Amelia” in Latin means “industrious” and “striving.”
Despite what I didn’t know about the sentiment behind “go back to Africa” (you don’t belong here, you are not worthy, you are not us), I knew it was meant to draw blood.
The upset over the years has transformed into something else — sorrow. Not for myself or the river of blood in my body that mostly flows back to Africa, but for her.
When she screamed at me from the window and spit on me, the girl told a story.
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Perhaps the girl overheard it sitting on her mother’s knee as the adults discussed the world.
Perhaps she heard it while her grandmother brushed her hair.
Perhaps the story was passed along with the family’s apple pie recipes.
When I think about this girl, I hope she didn’t repeat the stories she was told.
I hope she is healed.
I hope she found the antidote.
LISTEN TO PODCAST
Amelia Robinson spoke with Barrel House owners Sara and Gus Stathes about ferrets, Tinder, Dayton, beer, jerks and Wu-Tang Wednesday on the latest episode of the What Had Happened Was podcast. Find it on Dayton.com, Apple Podcast (iTunes), Google Play, Stitcher and other services.
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