August 1st, 2010
09:01 AM ET

Letter to the President #559: 'Racing to discuss race – Continued'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

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Reporter's Note: President Obama wants to have a national discussion about race. Here is my contribution.

Dear Mr. President,

So to continue my story from yesterday (and sorry again that it is so long)…

Toni appeared not so much angry, as astonished and righteously indignant. I had clearly walked brazenly across some social line that simply was not to be crossed in polite company (or at least not in her company) and her tone, body language, and expression all said retribution was at hand.

I looked to Abraham for some kind of answer, but he’d regressed back into the shy, quiet kid who was not engaged with others. I looked at the rest of the class, as they quickly stepped away as if I had some sort of contagion. And then we all shuffled back into class. Toni was at Mrs. Johnson’s side before I even entered the room; whispering, casting sidelong looks, and striding back to her desk with the smug satisfaction of a prison snitch. I was nervous. Unsure of what I had done, and worried about the repercussions.

To my relief and Mrs. Johnson’s credit, her sympathetic look instantly told me that she did not share Toni’s malicious joy in my misstep, but my heart still jumped when, as soon as she had everyone scribbling away on some assignment, she wagged a finger for me to join her in the long corridor of the coat closet.

“I understand that you were playing with Abraham,” she said.

I nodded. “Yes, maam.”

“I know that you’re not from here, and maybe people do things a little differently where you come from but…we don’t play with Abraham here.”

My panic ebbed. This wasn’t about me. But right behind the relief came burning curiosity. This business of “not playing” with someone as a permanent state of punishment was something I had never encountered. The most ill behaved child I’d ever met up until that point had at worst been paddled or put into a corner or sent to his room for a while. The idea of being ostracized from the entire universe of play, seemed so unthinkable, so medieval, that I could not imagine what crime could have landed him in such straits.