I’ll never forget the day I began to suspect that there was an advantage to being a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
The incident that I’m relating occurred on a hot, humid May morning in 1947. I was a first-grade student in Miss Butler’s class at Fanning Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas. The disturbance was over in a matter of moments, but the memory of it is imprinted forever in my mind.
Miss Butler was infamous for her stern discipline. Little hands and minds were kept busy, and anything that resembled foolishness was quickly curtailed with a sharp rap on the head or knuckles with the long pointed stick she carried. You can imagine the horror I felt when, while drawing in a deep breath of air, I accidentally whistled. Miss Butler spun around from the blackboard, and seeing my expression, demanded, “Joan, did you do that?”
I managed to find my voice and pointed to the Mexican boy next to me and said, “No. Leandro did it.” His denial was of no consequence; in a moment the stick had descended, and Leandro was sobbing into his worn shirt sleeve.
Somehow, I had known she would believe me. After all, I was a nicely dressed little white girl, and I lived in a pretty white house, and my mother was active in the PTA. And Leandro, who was he? A fat little Mexican boy who had difficulty speaking English and whose mother had too many children to care for to attend meetings. And besides, we all knew how “spicks” lied and stole and then prayed for forgiveness to idols that smiled down from their candle-lit altars.
Leandro, how I wish that I could ask your forgiveness. I don’t remember your last name, but I’ll never forget your face. My sin went beyond the telling of a lie. I knew that my skin was whiter than yours and that somehow that had given me an advantage over you.
And I was six years old.
This essay came from the website of Roane State Community College, a two-year college located in Harriman, Tennessee, a town of 6,350 whose claim to fame is that they used to have a paper mill, used to have two hosiery factories, got bypassed by Interstate 75, and their best days all ended in 1929. I mention all this to make the point that it’s not necessary to be an English major with an advanced degree, a comfortable background, and an East Coast accent to produce powerful writing. Someone like you (or your grandmother) produced this.
Kendrick, Joan. “Leandro.” Types of Essays and Student Samples, Roane State Community College, 12 May 2003. Accessed 9 July 2009.