Games for the Haves and Have Nots

She was one of the only freshman in my class; confident, questioning, and thoughtful.  Her ability to absorb relatively complex ideas about gender, race, and class and fit them into her own experiences was impressive.  Particularly because, although she had graduated at the top of her high school class, her writing ability was no higher than a middle school level.  Her thoughtful reading of course materials, persistence in attending office hours for extra help, and astute questioning of everything around her gave her an air of innocence and intelligence; making it clear that any shortcomings in her writing was not because she hadn’t learned it, but because it had never been taught.

Of the many anecdotes I gathered from her, this one is the one that has stuck with me for years.  She described playing in the band in her Detroit High School, something she loved.  She never really noticed that the instruments were dull and dented, or felt it was strange that students had to take turns bringing instruments home for practice.  The fact that they wore matching clothes rather than actual uniforms didn’t really occur to her.  What she loved was the camaraderie of the group and the chance to be proud of what they played together.  She was thrilled when they were offered the chance to compete at a State-wide competition.

Then they arrived at the competition.  She saw the new instruments, fancy uniforms, and huge numbers of students from schools not too far from her own.  When she saw the tremendous differences between her school, of which she was so proud, and the other schools, she realized, ‘we weren’t suppose to be there.’  She understood that the unspoken message to her and her classmates was that this competition was not for them; they were not as a prepared, not as polished, and ultimately, not going to be a serious participant.  I remember her talking through that memory, struggling with the complex feelings of pride for the opportunity, confusion at the differences that were so apparent, and frustration over what to do or how to feel about it.

Without taking away from the acheivements of any athlete, I find it hard to watch the Olympics and not have her story foremost in my mind.

UPDATE: This post was named a JUST POST for August 2008.  (Thank you!)