Often during my time at Augusta, I thought about another summer, twenty-four years earlier, when someone asked me to clog.
In the summer of 1976, I attended a Russian language summer school at Middlebury College in Vermont. It was a stressful time for me. For six weeks, I was the only black woman among the scores of students in the program. None of us were allowed to speak English during our time there, making communication difficult.
What's more, Middlebury did little to make black students feel at home. I had attended the same language program two years earlier, and one of my most vivid memories was walking into the campus bookstore and not being able to find a comb. The type on the shelf had small, thin teeth--no match for my thick, kinky Afro. I knew that black students attended the college, but the bookstore manager apparently never saw them. (Later, I learned that the black students sent an emissary to Albany, New York--about four hours away--whenever they needed toiletries.)
Arriving at Middlebury for another summer, I thought I was prepared. But things started to fall apart from the moment I met my dorm roommate, Christine.
I had just put my bags down when she bounded into my room with a smile and a "Where're you from?"
"I came here from Chicago--that's where I graduated college," I told her. "But really, I'm from Nashville."
Her smile widened. "Nashville?" The way she said it, I could tell that she was an avid country music fan. "Really? Do you clog?"
"No, I don't."
"You don't?" She gaped at me. "You mean this Italian girl from New Jersey is gonna have to teach a Tennessean how to clog?"
Her hands had fallen to her side, and her body had straightened. She was ready to give me my first lesson right there.
My body had straightened, too, giving unexpected strength to my voice. "Christine, I'm black. Black people don't clog."
The words stung. Her smile gone, Christine stared back at me with a hurt expression--what had she done to trigger that slap?
I hadn't meant to hurt her feelings. But what did she know? She was a girl from New Jersey. What did she know about Tennessee, where Italians--pronounced with a long "i"--were regarded as an exotic race, without a clear-cut place in a world where everything-- everything--was either black or white?