Why Were There No Black People in My School?

by Alice Christian

I thought Black people didn’t want to live
in New Hampshire – winters cold, music clubs non-existent,
Black stores and hair salons nil,
just boring White people.

In Boston, news blared with angry
parents protesting the bussing of their kids.
We NH kids all rode busses too;
why protest that?

If I ever saw Black people on a class trip to Boston,
going to the zoo or art museum,
I would stare as covertly as possible.

We did host a Fresh Air kid one summer –
Crystal from New York City.
She was a bit older than I,
and had interesting hair, braided tightly.

I didn’t know how to act around her.
She wanted me to dust her back
with baby powder after a lake swim,
like it was the most normal idea to her.

Shy me had never powdered anyone,
so I had no idea how to say I’d rather not.
I sure didn’t want to seem rude, or worse, prejudiced.
So powder her I did.

I didn’t think I could be racist.
We read Langston Hughes and Richard Wright
in English class. We watched Roots on TV.
That was history; slavery was long gone.

I didn’t know then about
government-enforced redlining,
fair housing laws flouted, all the invisible forces
keeping White New Hampshire White.

I thought separate but equal was a thing of the past;
everything was getting better, right?