Colorblind: Leah Harper Bowron
Within this world there even in the present day are people who preach, hate, discrimination and are prejudice. Some dislike others because of the color of their skin while others because of someone’s race or nationality. Within the pages of this book the reader learns some harsh realities about narrow minded educators, parents who teach disrespect and one young girl named Lisa Parker who lived her life in fear of bullies, insults and yet some day somehow she would hopefully overcome and remember the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King: Free at Last: Free at Last: Thank God Almighty we are free at last! But, before she or anyone in her class or school would understand the meaning of his words we have to explain what she went through, how she dealt with the torments, sneers and insults of two bullies named David and Will who were relentless, fearless and took no prisoners because they thought they could and no one would stop them.
The first day of school is always exciting except when it’s not. Lisa was scared and worried that her best friend Cathy would not be in her class and that she would be saddled with the mean boys once again. Added in Mrs. Weaver was retiring from teaching and the Montgomery schools wanted to integrate them with Negro students going to white schools and white students going to Negro schools. They also wanted to do the same with teachers and the first teaching at Wyatt was Miss Loomis for English. Unfortunately, just like Lisa, Miss Loomis would learn the true meaning of hate, prejudice and fear as her days in the school became numbered and her life was like a candle that burned and then turned into a ball of wax leaving nothing more to burn and taking life that was vital and destroying it in an unless inferno.
Both Lisa and Miss Loomis entered the school and both had their own feelings about dealing with the students. Lisa went to her classes but when she entered Miss Newell’s class something within her snapped. Her father before she left for school explained the meaning of prejudice to hear which as stated means: people that exaggerate the differences between people in an effort to feel superior. Her friends had stereotyped not only her but also Miss Loomis and the mean things they say about her and other black people are thoughtless and cruel. But, as an educator myself I would never tolerate what happened next or even think to say what Miss Newell did. First, Lisa and her mother went to the preteen store to go shopping and its through this shopping experience we meet her mother who is bigoted, strongly against Miss Loomis teaching in the school and directs her to disconnect from her and not make eye contact as other parents instructed their children to do too. If parents teach hate and discrimination how are children to learn tolerance and understanding of other races and people?
Lisa’s mother made her keep some secrets that she did not want her father to know. One was her feelings about Miss Loomis and others about Lisa’s birth defects and making her feel guilty just for being born. Lisa kept her own secrets because she never told what went on at lunch or in the schoolyard and even though Mrs. Duke was there she was ignorant and just as mean as the boys and would never come to her defense of the defense of anyone else.
Mrs. Newell was prejudice and threatened any students who dared to tell their parents that if they did not do their essays from the point of view she wanted they would fail Social Studies. Will of course began his taunts by calling her Miss Smash Nose and rather than ignore it and realize that he was just being obnoxious and wanted attention drawn to himself, Lisa with burning tears in her eyes runs for safety to her friends. Lisa’s first day was not so great but Miss Loomis tried her best to engage her students in discussion all she got was the cold shoulder and the rudeness of Will and David. For some reason she was fearful of fighting back and letting them know she was in charge.
Reverend Reed drove Miss Loomis back and forth to school and when he questioned her about her first day and she related the events he told her to stand tall, not give up and she was the first black teacher in the school and it was up to her to set the example. While Miss Loomis was getting the third degree Lisa was too from her mother. Her parents had two different viewpoints as her father is a lawyer and he took on Negro clients making him not that popular with the white sector of his community. Prejudice is deadly and her mother would make sure that Lisa would adhere to what she thought of black people and not as open minded as her father.
Miss Newell instructed the students that at the end of the school year someone would win the coveted essay contest. They had to write and an essay about Dr. King. But, she had her own slant on it and they had to write why his assassination and death was a good thing. Lisa disputed it in her mind and stated it in class in her own way asking to be allowed to write it from her point of view. The teacher did not care since she thought the school board would never pick hers anyway. This was just the first of many teachers and many compositions that would require a prejudice slant. Even going shopping for her birthday present drew the comments and criticism of her mother. Causing Lisa to have some self doubts about herself and never really complimenting her strengths. Meeting Miss Loomis was a broadening and wonderful experience for Lisa even though it was precluded with a diatribe by her mother about the ills of getting too close to the teacher or even engaging in chitchat with her. Her classroom was filled with important messages to all students to deal with tolerance and understanding of others. Meeting light-skinned Negro the author describes her as an elderly woman with a heart of gold and someone who really wanted to make a difference. But, when Reverend Reed drove her home she explain the day, the white children refused to make eye contact with her which is disrespectful and of course Will and David were plain rude. Lisa was her star pupil and she learned about her father being their lawyer and how he believed in equality of colored and whites. Added in her maid was black and Lisa loved Ozella who was always there to comfort her.
Keeping the many secrets her mother insisted she keep and others about Negroes took its toll on her as Miss Newell presided over Social Studies and made the demands of her writing assignment on her students. Threats were heard. Pencils and pens out and passing her class would mean another secret to keep as Lisa was confused and had heard the I Have A Dream speech and she fully understand the meaning. So, how could the assassination of Dr. King be a good thing?
Teachers wanting to be popular as Mrs. Darren’s behavior was not that different from Miss Newell’s as she tried mocking and making fun of someone from her past to get the students to like her in the present not even considering she might be hurting one of the students in her class. Social changes did not eliminate racism and racial inequality even though the city of Montgomery was trying to do exactly that. Scholars call colorblind racism as the belief that racism is no longer a problem and that we all have equal opportunities. Those believing this do not see the color of people’s skin and believe we are all equal. It colorblindness prevents us from seeing the historical causes of racial inequality and how racial inequality still persists today. Colorblind is defined as not influenced by differences of race. So, why are so many anything but?
Lisa’s father was connected to many important people and meeting Governor Wallace was a highlight for Lisa. The Fair in the state would create more conflict for Lisa as she and her friend Cathy were settled on a ride but Cathy’s mother demanded they be moved to a car away from the Negro children. The carnival brings out other prejudices and the incident with the Corn King is quite enlightening. Lisa is obedient and follows her mother’s directions even taking care of her two younger brothers when other matters cross her mind. Chapter 15 was quite compelling as Mrs. Cook joined the ranks of her fellow rude and insolent teachers and what she does playing the tennis game to Lisa is unforgivable. Ranking on her nose and her facial appearance shows just how ignorant this teacher is and why she should not be called an educator. Mrs. Duke was worse as we meet Clara Martin whose eyes were too small and the author describes her in detail. But, Lisa decides to do something mean in order to get the attention away from her when the two bullies were around but it backfired.
Someone decided to send her a mean Valentine’s Card and of course her mother thought it was Miss Loomis and threatened to get her fired. Prejudice, narrow minded, disconnected from anyone’s feelings, her mother stood her ground as a staunch bigot.
A spelling bee that would result in Lisa winning it in her class but what happens during the championship changes it all. With the teacher in charge since Miss Loomis decided on a leave of absence decides to discriminate against Lisa and give her harder words not on the sixth grade list, the end result would make you applaud someone close to her.
The final result is tragic as Miss Loomis could not bear the ridicule and hate thrown at her while Lisa, Clara and Cathy banded together as good friends. The ending will make you stand up and applaud for Lisa as once again she is instructed by two teachers to write essays stating why Lincoln’s death was a good thing and why plantation life was for the best as Lisa was again spoke up. But, the final result of all that plagued her comes to a head and what she does along with her friends will let you know that she is finally FREE AT LAST? Who won the essay contest that will remain a mystery as you the reader need to take this journey along with Lisa, Cathy and Clara so that you understand their torments, struggles and pain until they all realized they were all FREE AT LAST!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine
In memory of the Late Dr. Martin Luther King and in memory of all those who fought and lost their lives for our freedom. Being colorblind to the colors of others and being unable to embrace everyone who might not be the same race as you are is one issue as well as other brought to light in this book. Tolerance, understanding, caring, honesty, bullying, creating programs in schools to stop the harassment by both students and teachers and opening up your eyes to the world today and realizing in some respects nothing has changed are all brought to light by author Leah Harper Bowron and can be used as discussion topics by teachers at all levels.