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Made up as a black person, Rose, the Wurgel family's daughter, joined an African-American student poetry group. After they'd gotten to know her, Rose was set to host a reading for the group at her "home." Before the reading, however, she appeared before the group without makeup—she was her real Caucasian self. After initial shock, nobody in the group seemed to mind and the reading continued without incident.

Carmen, Rose's mother, moved by the group's openness, decided to address the group of teens. In the course of thanking one of the group's members, she said, "I'm moved by the beauty of this magnificent black creature."

Each member of the Sparks family responded negatively to this comment. "You could have said 'beautiful woman' or 'beautiful human being' but don't call her a creature," Nick, the Sparks family's son, said. "It's ugly."

"I feel like she always has to go there with someone to just leave that lasting insult," Renee said.

Carmen says she was trying to pay a compliment, and that the members of the group didn't seem offended by the comment. "There was quite a warm response after I had shared in that group," says Carmen. "It was just understood from a different perspective than what it was given."

This tension left Rose feeling stuck in the middle. "I just remember the tearing feeling of wanting to stand up for my mom and knowing exactly where she's coming from," she says. "And then knowing exactly where [the Sparkses] are coming from. Not being able to merge the two was intolerable at times."
FROM: Trading Races
Published on February 16, 2006