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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brown, June 17, 2005. Interview U-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Class discrimination among black students

Brown recalls learning about her students' psyches through their after-class gossip. She shares an example that she believes reveals the class discrimination within the African American community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brown, June 17, 2005. Interview U-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIMBERLY HILL:
If we use that case as an example, how do you think you would've handled it differently if some of those kids had been black or Hispanic?
ELIZABETH BROWN:
The ones that said it or-
KIMBERLY HILL:
Yeah, the ones who said it.
ELIZABETH BROWN:
Hispanic against their own group.
KIMBERLY HILL:
It's possible.
ELIZABETH BROWN:
I would, if it had been like an Hispanic kid, I would say how could you possibly make fun of anyone or say something against someone that's your own heritage. That's, I would relate it to that. Sometimes the black students here have made fun of other blacks. It's the idea if I make it, anybody can make it. I try to, that's not necessarily true. You have, there are certain circumstances that are, it's just like someone two people who are very good in acting and one becomes a star because they just happens to be in the right place at the right time. The other person doesn't. He's teaching drama in some high school at much less money. So I would not allow, occasionally I've had students make fun of what they would consider lazy blacks or low income whatever and say it's their own fault and so on. I will, very seldomly is it in a classroom situation. It's after school situations that they sometimes, not ever year, but sometimes you get a group that hangs out in your classroom for about five or ten minutes as a meeting room, and you'll hear a lot more than you'll ever heard in class. I remember a few years back the, there was a group of about six or eight blacks. There were some whites in with them but mostly and for some, they had their lockers there after school, and they came back after school and told me about whatever, things. Most of the time it wasn't significant, but they didn't like any of the black boys. They didn't know who to go-. Six of them decided to go to the prom together. They weren't interested in dates. They were going with these girls, and they rented a motel room afterwards because they were going to gossip about everybody that was there. They admitted they were going to have a lot of fun gossiping, making fun of the other people who went to the prom, which I thought was great because I don't think proms are all that great anyway. But anyway, I said well, why don't you take, why don't you go with some of the boys. I mentioned the black boys at the school. Oh no. He can't do such and such. Oh no, he can't-. Have you ever seen his car and dadadadada. All this stuff like that. Just they seemed nice to me, but they had something against every single one of them. I brought up about five or six of them. Then-
KIMBERLY HILL:
Was it all about them not having nice enough cars?
ELIZABETH BROWN:
Well, or something like that. That kind of thing, he doesn't speak well. He's crude. He's sort of like too rough around the edges. That kind of stuff. I began to realize later in this particular-. I was mentioning some that I just knew. I hadn't had them in class especially, but they were athletes and stuff at the time. I began to realize later that I think these girls, these particular girls were of a different class of blacks than the boys. I think the boys were of the blue-collar type parents, and the girls were of a professional families. I began to realize that even within the African American community there were, I should have known it ahead. Obviously I should've known it because of my background is a lot in sociology. I thought I'd be a social worker, and I lacked a two-credit class of becoming a social worker, and I thought I'd teach for a while and get that and become, and decided I liked teaching. But I didn't realize that there's some prejudice of blacks against blacks, and it was that group that did not bridge it. Now I suspect that these boys that were of this class, I suspect that they went into college and got a career. I think these girls would look at them differently, which frequently high school kids that won't even look at each other, they find out that they're not the kids aren't cool enough that they want. Later on in college they tend to realize how stupid that is and-. But I suspect some of these boys probably were a little rough around the edges because they came from blue collar families. I, I don't know too much about it but I began to recall some of these girls had been in my Spanish IV class that was about half-and-half. I thought that's the way, the English that they use and they talk about their parents, they are professional, kids of professionals, and these other boys I suspect they do use poor English and they do whatever. They're probably not of that. But I, I thought well, college is going to cure that pretty soon. They were seniors at the time, and they'll, but it was just sort of a bit of an eye opener to me. One of our teachers here that was, this is, last year was the first year she hadn't taught here. She's gone into the business world. At the time she was obviously of a very high class as far as her English is concerned, and she was very fastidious about her dress and everything. There were a couple that I had in fourth year Spanish, and one of them I had in AP government. The only boy she considered was-in her high school, a black boy she considered dating. She herself was black-was what I would call a son of a professional person. The others, she wouldn't have anything to do with at that time. She was crazy about this kid. I don't think he ever knew that the extent it was, how crazy she was about him. It would've been a beautiful match if I could have just gotten them together.