The Multicultural Zone
CHIP CAUGHT A GLIMPSE of Timmy's ducking head as it disappeared behind Susan who sat at the desk between the two friends. The spit wad had caromed off Chip's shoulder and fallen harmlessly to the floor. Chip smiled, thinking of how he was going to nail Timmy with the spitball next time Mrs. Rose turned her back.
The teacher was reading a poem about Christopher Columbus, and how he inspired his men to press on, even though they were becoming tired and frightened by the continuing voyage. The students could not help but be inspired by this great White man and what he accomplished!
Chip looked over his shoulder at the rest of the class. This group was very much like all the classmates Chip had seen around himself as he progressed through school. White boys and girls, neatly dressed, and fairly well mannered. Sending an occasional flying wad of paper through the air was the most serious prank most of them would ever pull in school. The girls all wore dresses or skirts which came down below their knees and the boys were in clean and pressed shirts and pants. They called the teacher Mrs. Rose and spoke to her with respect.
The posters and displays on the walls which Chip hardly noticed today, celebrated the great White American culture that Chip and his classmates took for granted. They did not realize the blood, sweat and tears that had gone into creating that culture. They were blissfully ignorant of the great thoughts, which had been produced by some of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived, that had laid the foundation of the great nation in which they lived.
At night they would go home to their houses, grouped in neighborhoods of other houses with White families, where these Los Angeles students could safely play even after it had gotten quite dark. The "bad" kids in school smoked cigarettes as an act of rebellion. No one in Chip's life, that he had ever known, had taken an illegal drug for any reason. Even the thought of such of thing had never crossed Chip's mind.
In the poem, Columbus was about to spy land when Chip bent over to pick up the wad of paper from off the floor, for a quick toss back at Timmy. As he came back up he heard the teacher say, "And that is why Christopher Columbus was a racist murderer and we should curse his name rather than celebrate it."
Chip shook his head and looked at Mrs. Rose. Her voice sounded funny and what she had said sounded crazy. He was shocked at what he saw. A black woman was standing in front of the classroom. On the wall behind her were pictures of black men and women. He noticed that his jaw had fallen nearly down to his chest. He looked down at his desktop and he saw words scraped into it that were four letter vulgarities. His eyes opened wide as he realized what was written there. His first fleeting thought was to raise his hand and report the outrageous material that was cut deeply into his desktop to his teacher, Mrs. Rose. However, he thought better of it as he glanced back up at the black woman standing there.
What had happened to Mrs. Rose? He looked over his shoulder once again, and he nearly fell out of his chair. Sitting around him was a classroom filled with black, brown and yellow faces. His was the only white face in the room. As he looked at the desk next to him, where Sharon had been sitting, he saw that there was a black boy, dressed like no one Chip had ever seen before, and who had his hair in "corn rows."
"What you looking at honky?" the black kid said with a snarl.
Chip quickly looked away and his eyes fell on the calendar on the wall, which sported a picture of a Black man, labeled "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." Chip knew of Martin Luther who was a leader of the Protestant Reformation but he was White. As he was trying to digest this information, he suddenly noticed the date on the calendar. It said October, 1999.
Chip was already feeling light-headed when he suddenly heard a voice from behind him. An Hispanic kid had leaned forward so he could be heard without the teacher getting involved.
"Hey, Gringo!" he said. "What are you doing here? White scum is no longer welcome in this town. You tell that to your Mamma. If I were you I wouldn't come back to this school!"
Chip turned around to look at the speaker and suddenly he was looking at a switchblade knife held low and out of the sight of the teacher, but it was pointed right at his back.
What could he do? What had happened? This morning when he had come to this Los Angeles school the calendar had said 1955. The class had been filled with well mannered White kids who were his friends and a White teacher who was in charge of the classroom. Now the classroom was a jungle where he was being threatened on every side. His White world had been replaced by a darker and dangerous group of people who obviously hated him.
He looked down at the spitball he had dropped while in shock. It was the only remaining piece of sanity he had left. He bent over to pick it up from the dingy and scuffed floor.
Like magic the floor suddenly brightened as he picked up the paper ball. The tile had a shiny wax surface on it, and the baggy pants of the black kid sitting next to him had been replaced by white legs protruding from the clean, crisp, well ironed skirt that Sharon had worn today to school. Quickly looking at the wall, he saw that the picture of George Washington had returned to the calendar and the date read: October, 1955!
Chip looked over at Timmy who was grinning back at him, and inwardly swore that he would never, ever throw another spitball. NEVER!