Six. That’s how old Ruby Bridges was when she walked into William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, escorted by both her parents and U.S. Marshals. Ruby Bridges was SIX when she integrated schools in New Orleans.
My Ayva is six. She’s sensitive and can still be babylike at times. She’s a first grader who loves having playdates with her friends, playing with dolls and having dance parties. She is the same age that Ruby was when she endured racist taunts and physical threats just for going to school. As proud as I am of Ruby Bridges for being the change, I’m still ashamed that our country was ever at a place where a baby had to endure all that she had to just to go to school.
That’s what being Black in America is. A dual feeling of pride and shame / sadness.
I’m proud to be an American. I really am. I love this country so much. I don’t take for granted at all the freedom that we have, and cherish that fact that we have the opportunity to do or become anything we set our minds to. I can’t think of another place that I’d want to raise my daughter.
As a Black American, though, there is still a deep sadness and a sense of dread that I feel on a regular basis. My stomach turns and my heart starts thumping every time I pull up alongside a police officer, even though I have nothing but respect for the majority of them. That’s the duality of being Black in America.
Terrence gave me a book about Oakland for Christmas because he knows how much I enjoy American history. I read through it every night, savoring each page and getting excited as I learned how the streets I drive through every day came to be. Then I came to the part about where it discussed how Black folks weren’t allowed to purchase homes in the Piedmont neighborhood where Ayva’s school is located, and I had to close the book and put it away for a few days.
Although I know the history of our country, it’s easy to get comfortable and forget the heartbreaking narrative of the Black experience in America.
We can’t ever erase the fact that this is the country in which adults threw trash and yelled at a 6-year-old who was walking into a school.
We have to be careful not to romanticize American history, the legacy of Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, or any of the other African-Americans who sacrificed their safety, well-being, and in some case, their lives, for equality. We celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday every year, but let’s not forget that he was shot and killed for the work that he did on behalf of Black Americans.
When we stop talking about the truth behind our history, when we don’t talk to our children about the challenges we’ve overcome (and are still working to overcome), folks start to think that we’re done doing the work.
We can move forward, but no matter how far we get into the future, there’s no erasing the past.