WHITE FLIGHT

My first experience with racism was in 4th-grade, and it was basically every day, all year.

In 1976, my school was “integrated” via school busing from the Rosemary Hills area of Montgomery County, Maryland. It was the first time I’d met black kids, interacted with them daily. It was also the year I had Miss H as my teacher. I won’t give her name because I don’t know whether she’s alive, and I’m not going to bother trying to track her down for a response.

This is just my own account of what the year felt like, for me. I leave it to others to give their own accounts.

Already I knew people had strong feelings about school busing. Two friends from my soccer team had left Chevy Chase Elementary School for a nearby Catholic school. I overheard my mother discussing this fact with another mother and using the phrase “white flight.”

I didn’t know what the phrase meant. I was 8 years old. But my education in racism was about to begin.

Miss H had heavy make-up, a beehive hairstyle, and circles under eyes. She looked to be in her mid to late 30s. She was already on the snippy, strict end of the teaching spectrum. But on top of that — all year long, and in a way that was confusing and stressful for me as a bystander — she was straight-up nasty to the African-American children in our class.

By nature I was an observant, anxious, peacemaker type. I came to dread the regular spectacle of Miss H scolding, embarrassing, or disciplining black students out of proportion to their perceived misbehavior.

The level of animus went beyond Oh okay, maybe Miss H is against busing. She seemed to dislike black children personally. One girl spoke too quietly for Miss H’s liking, another was dumb and basically unteachable, in Miss H’s view.

Most mornings I felt sick to my stomach entering that classroom, just from the overall tone. And then I would feel hot and claustrophobic when Miss H started to work up a tirade against the quiet girl. The injustice of it was so obvious, a grown woman going after a girl who was already on the shy side and who, in hindsight, was already dealing with the significant stress of moving to the “white” school on the other side of town.

The treatment of black students made me feel bad about almost anything that happened in that classroom, even when the event was ostensibly positive, like Miss H praising me aloud for my work or my attitude.

I never said anything about Miss H to my parents, nor to school officials. I certainly never stood up on behalf of black students.

On some level, as a member of the preferred group — white — I think I felt shame and complicity, almost like a child in a family where one kid gets hit, and you’re not that kid. It’s a relief, but you also feel guilty and stressed out.

That was 4th-grade.

My other teachers were lovely.

About kittroyer

Kit Troyer lives in Los Angeles. He worked previously as a newspaper reporter and a criminal defense attorney. For the last 15 years, he has been a stay-at-home dad. But that gig is running out. Kids will soon be moving out and moving on.
This entry was posted in MY CHILDHOOD, UNIQUELY AMERICAN BULLSHIT. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to WHITE FLIGHT

  1. Bob Baker says:

    1975, 5th Grade, Cheshire Ct. US History. It was a group exercise, we were filling out a worksheet, the answer (according to what we had no idea was an archaic text book) was Negros. But little tiny Lisa Dupuis , would not let us fill in Negros, she crossed it out, and wrote Black People, I had no concept of what this tiny little white girls problem was, a 5th grader, in cheshire ct, maybe 4 black kids in the school. Lisa Dupuis!!! Was luckey to know her! Feeling guilty by association, is , at the least challenging….Maybe your teacher is alive, maybe she’s changed her ways, or more likely she’s but a racist stepping stone , one of many, that has brought us to a most unique opportunity in our lifetime. The racist stepping stones have been sprinkled all around us, they are embedded in us and a part of our psyche, as individuals and a country. I hope to evolve, to continue to do so. Lisa Dupuis was one Kray Kray, little girl!

    • kittroyer says:

      I love Lisa Dupuis! And Bob Baker! Thank you for reading, and for commenting. I miss playing ice hockey with you (if you can call Copper League ice hockey). Take good care of yourself, Bobby B.

  2. Beatriz Chavez says:

    I went to Chevy Chase to and I’m curious if Miss H is who I think she is. I had her too and she treated me horribly. I’m Latina and I would go home sick often because of how she treated me. To this day I never told my parents why.

  3. Bill Gilliam says:

    Kit-
    I was in Mrs. H home room with you that year. She was an awful person in general, but I do remember her picking on newly integrated students of color more than others. For me, the telling reality was, we shared a divided room with Mrs. Albert’s. Mrs. Albert was always smiling, positive, and spoke to us like human beings. Looking back, Mrs. H’s class felt like North Korea, and Mrs. Alberts S. Korea. I had Mrs Albert for 5th grade home room, and it was like a vacation.
    I made my mind up that year, that no matter what, when 5th grade started, I wouldn’t acknowledge Mrs H in the hallways. I’d make eye contact and look away. It was my way of legally letting her know she sucked big time. She confronted me once for not saying hi to her, but I think I got my point across.
    Mrs. Sulik, Kopp, Hanrahan, Albert – they all stood out S great teachers there.
    The best part of that integration was we got to experience all races. At the time I never thought about. It wasn’t a big deal. I moved to Ohio in 11th grade to live with my father, and attended a smallish, all white upper income high school. The first few months went well, but after awhile I remember thinking, this sucks. It just wasn’t interested or exiting. It was expected. It bored me to tears. That wasn’t what I had at BCC. I always think back and am grateful for whoever initiated the busing in 1976. I know I’m a better person for it.
    Hope all is well my Primrose St. compatriot.
    Bill Gilliam

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