I am one of those black points who has lived in and has reaped from the investment of busing. My first day of busing was my first experience in interacting with white children. Being shy, I chose to play alone on that day because the new faces scared me. My new teacher, smiling gaily so that a layer of wrinkles circled her cheeks, bent down to me and in a motherly voice asked, ''Why don't you play with the other kids? There's a little boy writing on the chalkboard over there by himself,'' she said, pointing to a white, mop-headed kid wearing a new, two-inches-too-short pair of Toughskins. ''Go play with him.'' Obediently and cautiously, I did. I approached my future friend, took in hand a piece of chalk, and proceeded to imitate his scribblings. Realizing that silence does not make friends, I ended the hush by asking, ''What's your name?''
The boy scratched his hair, wiped his nose, and arrogantly proclaimed, ''My mama don't 'low me ta play wid no niggas.''
Such incidents remain vividly within my memory as they became frequent. The harmony, love, and mutual respect that busing was supposed to bring were somehow nonexistent, and the racial slurs and prejudices I faced because of busing made me wary of whites. My fourth-grade teacher nicknamed me ''sun boy'' and cast me to serve as a slave in a class production celebrating the freedom of our country's bicentennial. And there were black vs. white recess games and fights as we practiced our own form of segregation.
In addition to being alienated by race, years later I was separated from my black friends as students were divided by academic ability. I was propelled into a solitude surrounded by unfriendly whites. The coldness of my situation peaked in an incident when I became the first black student in an advanced math class. My presence seemed almost to stop time as the chatter died, the rustling of paper stopped, and the preparation of cheat notes ceased. With their eyes rolled snake-eyes in unison, the students' faces were fixed on me around the room. I felt like an animal on exhibition and quietly moved to my seat wondering what was to come next.
My curiosity was answered as I became the representative of blacks and faced many prejudices and rumors about blacks. The ''poor nigger,'' ''dumb nigger,'' and ''savage nigger'' stereotypes now confronted me, because they saw me as the personification of the average black. Many of my white friends, if the term is applicable, told me black don't-get-mad-I'm-just-kidding jokes in multitudes. Slowly the rumors and idiosyncrasies about blacks being poor, stupid, and savage became meaningless to me because I began to build a fortress of confidence around me. I knew that my fellow black students and I did not fit into these molds, but unfortunately, a few of my classmates refused to allow bigotry to die.
Kenny, a white classmate, said, ''If I ask ya something will you get mad?'' I shook my head no.
''Are y'all on welfare?''
I stared at him with a slight grin, but gradually my nostrils circled in rage and I shot him an infuriated look. He was wearing knee-torn jeans and a raggedy, full-of-holes T-shirt, while I was neatly dressed in corduroys and a rugby shirt.
''Why'd you ask that?'' I said in anger. '' 'Cause I'm black?''
''No,'' he said, sensing my anger. ''I was just curious.''
''Well, for your information, the answer's no,'' I barked.
Besides getting spine tingling chills while discussing Darwin's theory of evolution in biology and slavery in American history, new feelings of inferiority developed as childhood black friends turned against me because of the separation in academic classes. I no longer had time to throw imaginary NFL touchdown passes in the street. I was trying to pass English literature with good grades. Running to get a seat in a library which filled up quickly replaced running to the basketball court for a spot in a pickup game. Because of my quest for academic success, to many people I became a ''white boy,'' ''Tom,'' ''burner cracker,'' and many other labels. I was told that my studying was a waste of time, ''Whitey ain't gonna letcha have nothin','' and ''you ain't no real nigger.''
I was despised by whites because of my color and by blacks because of my striving for success. Being a dweller of two domains, ethnically with blacks and intellectually with whites, I was denied citizenship by both. Busing had, at this point, only brought tears, pains, and a great feeling of loneliness.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once dreamed that ''little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and girls as sisters and brothers,'' but he never said it would be easy. I came to realize that dreams, to become reality, oftentimes require sacrifice and some hardships. Busing revealed this truth to me and my painful experiences of facing hatred, prejudices, and the feelings of loneliness became important factors in my ability to relate to others and my growth as an individual.
One of the positive gifts busing has allotted me is the ability to relate to other people personally instead of through rumors and prejudices. Through busing I have seen the similarities of the ''insides'' of people instead of concentrating on skin color. I now see the oneness of people as blacks and whites achieve, have fun, and flunk out of school together. The interaction between blacks and whites that busing has allowed increases my understanding of the similarities of all people.
Busing also induced me to seek better relations with people instead of being an outcast by both blacks and whites. Despite being something of a pink elephant , I still needed to interact with others. Around intellectuals I spoke an advanced vocabulary and was more conscious of using proper English, while around the less educated I conversed more colloquially. Changing dialect and attitude with different groups of people was not an attempt to please everyone but to become part of them.
The many crucibles and personal challenges busing presented, prepared me for future tribulations. I now realize that one's inner qualities, not skin color, are the guides to a successful destiny. By observing failure and success in both blacks and whites, I now realize that the thought that pigmentation predestines success is senseless. If I am to become a great leader or a traveller of skid row, it will be so because of my character, not because I am black, white, green , or polka dot.
Through busing I have suffered pains to know the true meaning of joy. I have been called ''nigger'' to be proud of being black. I have sacrificed my innocent childhood to achieve adulthood. And I have faced the cruelty of my peers to appreciate the potential goodness of mankind. Without busing I would not be as mature, caring, and as strong as I am.