It was almost two o’clock, and as I sat at my desk, the familiar fear began to grip me. The sweat was starting to drip under my arms, and I was glad that I had worn a sweater so no one would notice. I hoped again—as I had for the past three days—that they wouldn’t be there waiting, and I could just make it to my next class safe and sound.
I was a freshman at Orangeburg High, and the tension of having several African American kids at what had been a segregated school in South Carolina was still very high. To lessen the opportunities for conflict, I had developed a routine for getting around the campus as inconspicuously as a black kid in an all-white environment could.
Being in class was a haven as there was adult supervision but getting from class to class was like going out onto the battlefield—you never knew when a sniper might attack. My modus operandi was to take the corridors less traveled—fewer people and chances for trouble.
My strategy had been successful until recently, but now I had two new nemeses. The tall, lanky kid and the short, stocky one reminded me of the old comic strip characters, Mutt and Jeff. As I approached them, they began calling me racist names and positioned themselves on either side of me. As they walked along beside me, they shouted and threatened to seriously hurt me—even take my life. “We’re going to send you home in a body bag,” the short one screamed.
I figured I could take either one of them one on, but the two-to-one odds had me concerned. They eventually fell back as I kept moving forward, and when they finally walked away in a different direction, a wave of relief engulfed me. My relief was short-lived, however. As I rounded the corner the next day, they were there. And the next day, and the day after that.
After five days of this bigoted rant, I realized that these guys were all talk. They were content just to yell and scream. My fear had considerably waned, replaced by anger, and I seriously considered taking them both on. After several more days, my anger subsided, and I became indifferent to their insults and just walked on by.
On day twelve, I saw them in the distance sprinting to get to their usual spot. They were running late, and, in their rush, the short guy, “Jeff,” tripped and went down hard. He rolled over, jumped up, brushed himself off, and then limped a bit as he shuffled over to their spot. I couldn’t help but laugh. When I rounded the corner after that, I looked at them, chuckled, and even greeted them sometimes.
One day, as I made my way toward them, Jeff said, “Timeout. Can we call a truce?” I said, “Yeah, we can do that.” Then he said, “Can I ask you a question?” I nodded, “Yes.”
He asked, “How can you have such a yellow streak down your back? You take all this stuff, and you never defend yourself. All you do is laugh and walk on by.”
“I’m No Coward”
I thought for a moment and said, “I’m not a coward, because even though I know you are here, I always come this way. I laugh because I think you are funny. You are wasting time, trying to give me a hard time. But you’re not. I’m spending my time getting an education which is what I’m here to do.” A strange look came over his face, and the following Monday, Mutt, and Jeff were gone, and I never saw them there again.
Many of us have heard the saying, “You can’t control life, but you can control how you react to it." My reactions were fear, anger, indifference, and then humor, yet their actions were always the same. Ultimately, my mindset about what they were doing is what made them go away!
A Quote To Consider!
“Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.”
― Steve Maraboli