Kids can be very cruel. But the cruelty is multiplied when peer pressure causes one person's cruelty to be supported by a group of children--or even a whole class. I have often wished I could contact Belma Jean King so I could offer my personal apologies for the way we treated her in the 6th grade. The party line declared that she had "cooties" and everyone should stay away from her. Even when we were on the stairs when our class orderly walked down the stairs with the boys holding the banister on one side and the girls on the other. The boy who found himself on the same step as Belma Jean quickly pulled out of line and went to the end of the line. This continued until the teacher called a halt or someone defied the dictates of herd behavior. I pride myself in once doing that. Once! Most of the time I was afraid to act contrary to the dictates of our corrupt group mentality. I wonder if Belma Jean fared any better in Junior High than she did in sixth grade. Maybe she left all that ugliness behind, and maybe she had a normal life after that. Or maybe she has had a dysfunctional life and spent a lot of time on the couch of some shrink. At any rate since I have grown up, and since I was born again, I have thought of Belma Jean King, and felt much guilt in the way she was treated. I have even googled her name and looked for our grammar school records to see if I might make contact all in vain.
I'm thinking that in some ways our sixth grade class was a microcosm of society. The same kind of cruel prejudices are at work among us as adults too. The first black family to move into your neighborhood, for example. Maybe the Arabian guy who gets on your bus is immediately profiled by people who remember 911. Then there is the Mexican day laborer that we assume is an illegal. We go out of our way to avoid certain people or worse yet say hurtful things about them behind their back.
Belma Jean, if by some extraordinary providence you are reading this, please forgive my cruel behavior back at Rockdale Elementary School.