Summary of Chapter Twelve: Let the Colors Run
Cedric takes a bus to a part of Providence that he hasn’t seen before, to Slater Junior High School. This is his fieldwork for his education class. He will observe and make a report. It is a poor part of town with pawn shops and cheap housing. Cedric is familiar with this territory, for it is similar to where he came from. The students look young and innocent, but he knows better. He will observe an eighth grade math class for two mornings a week. The white teacher, Mr. Fleming, tells him a lot of the kids have troubled lives at home and bring knives and guns to school. Cedric does not let on that he has seen this before. He writes in his journal, and doesn’t like the way Fleming treats the kids with condescension and threats. Cedric is enraged because of the low expectations of the kids, mostly African American. Fleming says that he can tell the ones who will die when they leave Slater, and this “opens a blister of confused emotions” in Cedric (p. 283).
Cedric will have to turn his observations into a mid-term paper. He struggles with how to construct it. The professor wants an objective paper. Cedric is lost in his personal emotions about what he has seen at Slater. He is angry at the way the students are treated as if they don’t count. In the end, he changes the assignment and writes a long poem expressing his feelings about this poor school. It does not meet the guidelines, but the instructor is moved and gives him a “B,” telling Cedric the next paper has to be scholarly. He worries that Cedric may not be able to distance himself from his topic. Cedric understands what is being asked of him and thinks that he can do it next time.
Cedric knows the month at home helped him break from his old school and from his church to some degree. His mother, of course, he cannot separate from and is the deepest reminder of his past. Barbara brags to a man at work about her son at Brown. He is a manger boasting about his daughter at the University of Maryland, and she is able to top him. It is some satisfaction to her to have a vicarious life in her son since she has trained many managers and never been promoted in her job. Barbara’s office is in a building once used for slave quarters, and the black women around her joke about it becoming a “slave museum” (p. 285). Barbara is in financial trouble again, and though she has been treating herself to new clothes to feel better, she owes back rent. She gets an eviction notice. Cedric doesn’t know.
Cedric continues to work through his trials with his roommate. His mother had told him that “Rob is a test that God has put before you” (289). They seem to be communicating better and go to breakfast together. Rob tells him about the “Wall of Shame” incident where graffiti in a bathroom lists names of black guys dating white girls. It has sparked a campus discussion on race and whether one should stick with one’s own kind. Rob expresses anger about the situation, but Cedric thinks it is tiring to always be speaking of race.
Cedric and Zayd had a fight and are not speaking, but Cedric misses him. He watches the other students trying to find their groups: the feminists, the gays, the ethnic groups. Many kids are hanging out with their own kind, and the blacks have their group and dorm at Harambee House where Chiniqua spends time. She tries to get him to come to functions, but he holds back. Cedric likes the diversity of Andrews Hall. He is beginning to lighten up on his judgment of others, having friends who are gay or lesbian, white and black.
Cedric begins to understand that his exile from others at Ballou, necessary for his survival there, is not necessary at Brown. Everyone is on his or her own path and there is a “live and let live” attitude.
Commentary on Chapter Twelve: Let the Colors Run
Cedric does not like the white math teacher, Mr. Fleming, or his harsh way with the black kids. It sets off a lot of personal emotions, and he is unable to analyze it for his education class. He is full of rage, thinking that Fleming is writing the kids off without giving them a chance. This is still a raw wound for Cedric, but a chance to confront his childhood as an adult. Larry Wakeford, the teacher for the education seminar, tells Cedric he needs to write an expository paper on his observations at the math class, but Cedric decides to write a poem instead, to express his feelings, called “Let the Colors Run.” It sounds a bit like a rap song. He speaks of the multicultural students at Slater as a “rainbow of kids” who have had to “shed grown-up tears” (p. 299). He accuses teachers of basing curricula on behavior instead of intelligence, but says that it’s not easy for kids to behave. He concludes, “These kids are brighter than the teachers think” (p. 301). He proposes that a teacher should “just let the colors run” (p. 301), comparing a teacher to an artist painting a picture. An artist doesn’t segregate or group colors but mixes them. Wakeford is quite moved by the poem and tells Cedric he will give him a “B,” even though he didn’t do the assignment, but he will have to write a paper next time: “If you’re going to make it here, you’ll have to find some distance from yourself and all you’ve been through” (p. 303). Cedric has to learn to put his outrage in a place where it can serve a purpose. Wakeford is a good teacher himself and gets through to Cedric.
During this second semester, Cedric knows he has to loosen up a bit and join the other students: “he’ll need to start unfolding in some fresh and frightening ways to keep moving forward” (p. 294). He goes to Café Paragon for Rob’s birthday party, “the kind of place he’s been warned against visiting his whole life” where there is drinking and loose behavior. It is smoky and loud, but people are glad to see him, and he suddenly feels fine. He has taken an important step. He has “an overpowering desire to break free from himself and dive into the flow” and not be conscious about where he is from (p. 296).
Cedric is not culturally fixed after all; he is growing and changing. Barbara, however, is not. She is stuck in her job and in debt as usual. We flash to her final days in her apartment. She never loses the fear that dogs her, and she is served with a Notice of Eviction once more. She doesn’t want Cedric to find out.