Riding the bus was an exciting prospect for me. The year before, I'd gone to a school outside our school district. My mom drove me to school. Getting to ride the bus was new and exciting. I couldn't wait.
I remember walking to the bus stop, eager to ride the bus for the first time. Getting onto the bus was a prospect in itself. My legs were small; the bus steps were not. Everything was wonderful. I loved riding the bus. Our bus driver was named Mr. Battle. Occasionally, if we encouraged him properly, he would drive fast over the bump on the way to school sending our small bodies flying into the air, followed by streams of giggles and hooting.
But, my bus stop was the last one. By the time the bus arrived at my stop, it was full. I had to find a seat quickly. For the first few months, I found a seat in the front of the bus. Sometime during the winter, I started having to sit in the back of the bus. This wouldn't have been a problem if the back of the bus weren't filled with the big kids. Even then, it wouldn't have been a problem if it weren't for that one 8th grader.
Oh, she was a mean one. I was cute, I'm sure. Most first graders are cute. I was polite. I was quiet, spending most bus rides reading. None of that was good enough for her; I was also the wrong color first grader. Every day for well over a month, that girl hit me on the head. If I happened to get a seat somewhere besides in front of her, she would trade seats with someone else. It continued until she started following me off the bus to yell at me and taunt me. Finally, out of frustration, I screamed back at her, "Why are you bothering me? My people didn't keep slaves. They were poor white people and Indians." And then, because I was too smart for my own good, I added, "You know, black people weren't the only people mistreated. There were indentured servants, white slaves, and yes, my Indian family had their land stolen, were forced to arch for weeks on end to reach new lands, and many of them died. Why are you picking on me?"
Well, that was definitely the last straw. She smacked me. She told me that it didn't matter if my family had owned slaves. All white people were responsible for the enslavement of black people. It didn't matter that her family was middle class and probably had more money than mine. It didn't matter that she was at least 7 years older than me. It obviously didn't occur to her that she was perpetuating a form of hatred and intolerance that she would have fought against were it directed toward a person of color. All that mattered to her was the fact that I was white and she was feeling oppressed. She was lashing out at the weakest person she could find.
After multiple attempts to get the problem corrected, including reporting it to the bus driver, the people in the office (I was told there was nothing they could do without witnesses), and my teacher, I was finally assigned a seat at the front of the bus. I learned to avoid the girl. And I learned that racism was alive and thriving. I got my first taste of bullying and a school's unwillingness to do anything about it. At the ripe old age of 6, I learned that sometimes people do bad things and no one cares.