"That's right," said Justine, clicking next to Ricky's name on her homeroom attendance screen. She also quickly changed Dalia's attendance status to "tardy; unexcused" and glanced around the rest of the classroom to make sure that nobody else was absent. Each of her classes was packed tight with thirty-five students, and although the smell of preteen and early teen body odor defied description on hot days, it made it easy to see when a student was out. Dalia was the only kid in the class with excessive tardies and absences, which was impressive, considering the low socioeconomic status of the majority of the student body. That would likely change in high school, Justine knew, but for now the kids hadn't resigned themselves to the same tired lives their parents had.
Justine came from an upper-middle class family in Sacramento, California. Her husband Robbie had been born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and they opted to start their lives together in the Carolinas because the best real estate they could purchase in California with their teachers' salaries wouldn't give them enough space to start a family. Although Robbie was more or less used to the culture and belief systems of his fellow Southerners, moving had been quite a culture shock for Justine.
For one, she noticed the peculiar fact that, although the kids in her small middle school all sat at the same lunch tables and seemed to get along really well, the adults did not make any effort to cross racial divides. Justine's neighbor, a mixed-race woman from Columbia, Maryland, put it this way: "When I take my daughter to ballet class, the other girls' parents are perfectly nice to me. But no one's inviting me over for dinner."
"Didn't your parents ever have any friends who weren't white?" she'd once asked Robbie.
He shrugged. "Not really. They didn't not like black people. They just didn't have any close friends who were black. You know my parents. Just because they have Southern accents doesn't mean they're in the Klan."