Dears Friends and Readers,
Today I am announcing that I am giving up my self-imposed role of beggar. Beggars are not to be confused with paupers. A beggar is one who lives by asking for gifts from others or is one who feels that he does not have the requisite abilities or resources to succeed. A pauper is only poor. The genisis of my moral confusion about poverty was self-created, but had long been forgotten until of feeling of poor, incapable and not belonging. However a visit to Roland Park one of Baltimore’s communities designed to legally exclude non-white, non-Christian people that I reminded me of my childhood of not belonging.
I was visiting my acupunturist whose office looked as if it were staged for a photo for an interior design magazine. As I walked into the waiting area two blonde pre-teens and their grandmother stopped talking to stared at me as if I had invaded their private space. Besides their stares and silence neither the children nor the grandmother acknowledged my presence. In that moment I was transported to my interview at a private school in Potomac, Maryland.
It was ten years old at the time, which was 12 years after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education which was the 1954 decision ordering desegregation of America’s public schools. Being the scholarship kid is not a pleasant place to be- it’s a tad better than being a beauty queen. All applicants to this school had to take a written test, after which the school’s admission committee would interview each applicant. My anxious mother had tutored me on how to answer questions from the committee who held the power to prohibit or admit me to their elite private school.
I don’t recall what I said that day. After my interview I was shown to a vast music room where dusty cocoa brown carpet looked as if someone had groomed the designs in the thick wool. Matching silk curtains pooled to the floor were restrained by woven silk ropes of the same dusky brown. An expanse of floor to ceiling glass over looked the school’s tennis courts, hockey fields and Olympic size pool.
My parents had to work and did not know when the interviews would be over so the admission committee left me to wait in this room which also included a grand piano. My heart sunk. I was not excited to go to the school. I knew that I did not belong here. I had no idea how to play field hockey and I had never learned to swim. I also believed that I would not pass the written part of the exam. If I was admitted, I would be like a fish out of water at this school.
My interview was was right after lunch. By six o clock- my mother who was sales person in the linen section of the Hecht department store in downtown D.C. took the bus. My father, who was unpredictable at best said that he would try to pick up me at three in the afternoon had not arrived. I kept pacing along that big expanse of window watching hoping to see my father’s old black ford . The sky was growing dark and I was still sitting in that room waiting for somebody to pick me up.
By chance, a teacher who lived on the school property found me sitting on one of rooms three large curved Italianate sofas. I most of looked worn and hungry, because I was phycially experiencing both. “Oh you must be hungry,where ever are your parents?” It was on that day that I made up my first lie to protect my parents. I told the teacher that both of my parents were doctors who probably had a medical emergency. Wether she believed my story, I’ll never know, but she walked me over to the “head mistress’s” home to ask a member of the kitchen staff to make me a sandwich. She changed her mind and decided to make the sandwich for me. My stomach was rumbling from not eating since breakfast.
“Do you put butter or mayonnaise on your roast beef sandwiches?” she had asked. as she looked through the large commercial stainless steel refrigerator. I told her I usually preferred butter. It was my second lie of the day and so it went. This event and the numerous others throughout my childhood would ingrain upon my brain that it was only by the grace of these generous white people that I was allowed where otherwise, I could not afford to be and I did not belong.
While at that private school, I learned good social graces; I learned how to pick classic clothes that would last for years and I recieved a great education, but I internally internalized a stigma of being born to a poor family. It was something, I did not realize I had done. Even when, over ten years ago, one of my colleagues told to me that I needed to stop living from the mentality of “the scholarship kid” I did not get it. I dismissed her remark. She was born wealthy and is white and her family’s surname is shared with a city in Virginia. She is known for saying that the very worst thing that ever happened to her was that her grandmother had disinherited her- so my colleague created a fortune on her own. In restrospect, she was right. I needed to shift my relationship to myself. I was capable and no longer “the smart scholarship girl.” I no longer t need a discount or a scholarship. I can afford all that I need and want. It was time to gently close the door where I had felt ashamed because I was poor.
I can now emotionally distinguish the difference of feeling poor and being poor. As a ten year old child had made a judgment being poor was morally wrong. While it is acceptable to feel gratitude for opportunities of any kind, it is hurtful when we make illogical decisions about being deserving of an opportunity. The reality was in that situation the admission committee had already looked past my parent’s financial situation and was really gauging who I was as an individual. I only wished that one of them had said “You will be make a great contribution to your class as you bring your unique perspective to the learning process.” Finally, I am saying those words to myself.
Brianna S. Clark
The Addict Writes