“Ok, class,” she said as she stood up from her desk. “It is so exciting to see all of you dressed up in such colorful outfits this morning.” The students took their seats as she spoke. She moved to the podium in the front of the room. “As always I’m so excited to see what you have come up with for your presentations.”
Stephanie gave one more look over her paper before placing it carefully back into her backpack.
“I know normally I’d take roll right now,” Mrs. Meyer continued, “but today I’ll take it as you go through your presentations. So that’s enough from me for now. First, we’ll bring up Stephanie Anderson.”
A shock of nerves ran down Stephanie’s back and settled in her stomach. For a moment she wasn’t sure if she could move from her seat. Finally, she stood up and made her way to the front of the class. As she walked up the row of desks the seated students quieted. She took her spot behind the podium and cleared her throat. She looked out at the silent classroom, the looks on her classmates’ faces not registering in her nervous mind.
“I have a dream,” she began.
Marcus began to sob. “She’s wearing blackface,” he shouted. Stephanie finally saw the faces of her fellow classmates. The faces registered shock. Tears trailed down Marcus’ cheeks washing trails in his pale makeup to reveal his dark skin underneath.
Mrs. Meyer stood up and walked to the front of the podium and faced Stephanie. “Stephanie Darla Anderson!” she said. “How dare you come into my classroom wearing blackface. Never have I seen such a thing in my classroom. To the principal’s office, now.”
The corners of Stephanie’s mouth turned down, and her chin dimpled as she walked back to her desk to grab her backpack. She tried to hold in the tears, but it became increasingly difficult as she felt the eyes of the class follow her out of the room.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Anderson, but...” Stephanie could hear Principal Fleury’s voice from his office.
“Tricia,” her mom said. “Please call me Tricia.”
Stephanie sat outside the principal’s office while he spoke to her mom. After she had left class, the principal had made her go to the bathroom and wash the makeup off her face so she wouldn’t look so offensive. Her face and neck mostly revealed her light complexion now, but with streaks of dark brown from the makeup she couldn’t clean off. A steady stream of light tears fell from her eyes since she left Mrs. Meyer’s class.
“I’m sorry, Tricia, but we can’t allow something as offensive as blackface in this school. White children should not dress up with brown makeup to darken their skin color, it’s just not right.”
“I understand,” Tricia said.
“We have a zero tolerance policy on this sort of violation. I have no other choice but to suspend Stephanie for three days.”
“My hands are tied, Tricia.”
“Well, thank you for letting me know.” Tricia came out of the principal’s office and knelt in front of Stephanie and smiled at her. Stephanie didn’t look at her. Tricia pulled a tissue from her purse and wiped the tears from Stephanie’s cheeks. “Come on kiddo, let’s get you home.”
Tricia held out her hand and Stephanie took it without looking. They walked out of the school and back to the car. As Tricia opened the car door for Stephanie to get in, Stephanie grabbed on to Tricia and started crying.
“What did I do wrong, Momma?” she asked.
Tricia knelt down and put her arms around her daughter. “Nothing kiddo, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I thought I could be anything I wanted,” Stephanie said.
“You can. But this is America, honey, it has to be within reason.”