“Is it possible your nose has ever been broken, Ms. Robinson?” the ear, nose, throat surgeon inquired as he looked at my MRI.
“Doc, I grew up in the projects. My nose has been broken at least three, maybe four times,” I replied. He did his best to recover from the raised eyebrow, ‘what the hell!’ look suddenly washed over his fatherly face.
Months later, I remembered that exchange and knew something important had been omitted. The majority of those broken nose incidents happened during phase two of my puberty: the suburbs. It was here in this beautiful, bucolic hamlet known as Northwest Atlanta where my single mom bought her first home in 1974. The reason for the rushed move was simple. After having a 12-year-old neighborhood girl-brute beat the living hell out of me (broken nose number one), I felt it my duty to avenge mankind — or at least the other kids she also abused in the southwest sector of Herndon Homes Projects. Covered in blood from hairline to waistline, I calmly walked into the kitchen, got a large knife, and found Brutus. Only the sound of my mother’s voice calling, “Annsonita Robinson!” saved me from what would have been an attempted murder charge. I was 9 years old. I looked forward to moving out of the ‘hood and being in the company of pacifists.
Still, the shine wore off utopia with a quickness when, being the new kid in the neighborhood, I was confronted with issues — old and new. An old one was a new set of child bullies to deal with. Not having a father in my household made me an easy “mark.” The wild card was my mom, who had a pioneer’s stance on protecting what she worked for and owned. That included me. So, I never told her about my many suburban fights. From 1974 to 1977, I came home with about three black eyes that I attributed to softball mishaps but in truth were from brawls in child-style WWF. Even when confronted with a new kind of bully, I kept that to myself as well: an adult bully.
One fine day, during a rousing game of kickball, the principal asked me why would I do “that” to my hair. The bespectacled gentleman with alabaster skin and Archie Bunker’s belly was referring to my cornrows. I’d noticed days before that the hotter it became on the no-broken glass and litter-free playground, the pinker he became. As much as his pinkness marveled me, it didn’t as much as the elephant on the playground — Didn’t they cornrow hair in the suburbs? It was 1974 and the style was everywhere for goodness’ sake — Ebony, Jet, “What’s Happening” and “Good Times!”
“Only tribes in Africa wear their hair like that. Are you in an African tribe? Do you want people to think you came from Africa? From a tribe?” he said. Marinate on that for a minute.
Even though our country was in transition with civil rights entering its first full decade, sanctuary is sanctuary regardless of the era. And, that is one of the functions of secondary school: to provide sanctuary. And, for 7-year-old Ukailya Lofton, that sanctity has been breached by an adult bully — her teacher. Ukailya clearly has the left brain/right brain thing under control. Loves math, but also demonstrated heightened creativity by wearing little Jolly Rancher candies on the end of her braids for school picture day. Then, her teacher — an adult bully — photographed her hairstyle and placed it on Facebook for ridicule. The bully’s friends made comments.
Ukailya is confused and her mother is angry and The Chicago School Board issued a statement. This is sounding all too familiar around the country. I hope the teacher steps forward and does as Ukailya’s mother asks and apologizes to this swell little girl. One small step starts the healing, sets an example of accountability for every child in that school and possibly saves one particular child from years of undeserved shame and rights her mind on its perch of exhibited brilliance.
By the way, I think her hairdo is extraordinary. I’d like to enroll her in The New School or MIT this very minute. And, it seems I am from Africa and I’m certain there was, indeed, a tribe.