I remember hearing of Ruby Bridges for the first time in elementary school. I was in 5th grade and just a few years older than she was when at the age of 6, she walked through the doors of William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, LA. The Ruby Bridges Story by Robert Coles was released in 1995 and my gifted support teacher thought it was imperative that we learn Ruby’s story. I sat in her class, a weekly 5 hour portion that stood outside of the regular 5th grade curriculum to keep gifted kids busy, totally confused. Though my parents had forced me to watch Roots when it came on once a year or so, I had thought that white supremacy was over. I thought that everyone was equal. I thought that, you know, Rosa Parks and all, but she was a woman and she was tired… No way people would be mean to a little girl like me. Lordt. I was wrong.
I remembered this image. Armed US Marshals escorting this 6-year-old with her little book pack to and from school. I saw images of people pulling their kids away, angry white adults screaming at her. She was only 6. I realized while sitting on that rug in class, that I was not brave. I was not that brave. I thought about how tough she had to be for people to yell at her and be mean to her and for her to be able to just keep going. I’ve always remembered this image, this girl, her strength.
Then I became a parent.
I became a mother after Trayvon Martin was murdered. And after Michael Brown was killed, I realized that my sweet, smiling tall for his age boy would one day be seen as a threat. I realized that still, this little girl should have been learning how read, working on her handwriting and instead, she was wading through angry mobs who wanted her dead. Maybe one might argue that they didn’t want her near their kids or some other bullshit coded language, but at the end of the day, this little girl was built up every morning before school and torn down everyday before she could get out of the car.
I also realized, that her parents were even more brave. They left her literally to the wolves. But taking the chances as being one of the first Black students to integrate schools was selfless, and more brave than I’ll ever be. And the shit hasn’t changed much because schools like Analy High in Sonoma, CA has 6% Black and/or biracial kids in its student population and STILL can’t get the shit right 50 years later. We are still being sold the American Dream where we can get our kids into “good schools” which really means white schools with funding, and they are still being terrorized. No place is truly safe for us. And when we pull our kids out of school, sometimes we get arrested for homeschooling them.
Black girls are groomed to be Black women. To be encumbered by the weight of the world, racism, misogyny. To swallow their pride and bend their backs to impossible angles to make room for everyone else’s needs but their own. By the age of 18, 60% of Black girls report having been sexually assaulted. Black girls are punished more often and more harshly than their white counterparts for the same issues in school. They are more likely to be sent to jail. (Please click here for Monique W. Morris’s informative and sobering study on Black girls in the school to prison pipeline.)
Our girls are forced to grow up too soon and yet, somehow, bonehead Glenn McCoy draws an illustration of Betsey DeVos, y’alls new Secretary of Education, copying Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With.
I’m not sharing it here cuz fuck him.
But Betsey was drawn in with an aged face but tiny little body cuz she’s just so lil and precious! walking into a school, carrying her briefcase. And while she might know as much about the public school system as a 1st grader, she’s a 59-year-old billionaire grandmother who has categorically decimated the school system in Michigan. Instead of the n-word sprawl on the wall in the backdrop was the word conservative as if its even ALMOST the same as a 6-year-old being called racial slurs.
I swear these people need to get a grip.
Tiny little Ruby was a freedom fighter. Her parents were freedom fighters. She’s tougher than most of us will ever be, but the problem is that she had to be in the first place.
We remember her today.