Role Reversal is a short story, my very first published work, that I wrote in high school Creative Writing class. It ended up winning third for a contest in a Methodist young adult magazine known as “Youth!” My prize was $35. Originally, the main character was based in Alabama, but as an adult, I realized it probably should’ve been somewhere else, so that’s the only thing I changed.
©1992 by Cliff Ball
Growing up in a racist family, John Miller only knew about blacks from the pictures on television and what his parents told him. In his entire sixteen years of life, he had only seen one black person in downtown Butte, Montana; and that was when he was eight.
One morning, John woke up and found himself in a strange bed and in a strange room. Getting up, John roamed through a house that was run down and very old. Passing by a mirror, he saw the same tanned face; but something was different – he had a 1950’s style haircut. It didn’t bother him, but he normally had his hair hanging over his face and a bowl haircut.
Going into the kitchen, John went to the cupboard and found some cornflakes. On his way back to the table, John found a calendar that had the date: September 10, 1957. John said out loud, “What on earth am I doing here?”
After eating breakfast, John went outside to get to his car and head for school. He noticed the house was on the edge of a cotton field. In the field, John saw his parents with some other people picking cotton; but what was really unusual to John was that a tall, black man was watching over them with a shotgun. He found his car, a 1957 blue Chevrolet Bel-Air, climbed in, and left. The black man yelled, “That boy has stolen my Chevy! When he gets back, he’ll get the whippin’ of his life!”
Arriving in town, John saw hundreds of black people, but hardly a single white person. His parents had told him how to talk to blacks, so he yelled racial slurs at them; they yelled the same taunts back at him, and threatened to call the police. John stopped his car at an ice cream shop. On the way, he was stared at by many black people; he felt so self-conscious that he didn’t notice a sign that said, “NO WHITES ALLOWED.”
Sitting down at a table, people got up and left the vicinity he was in. A man came up to him and said, “Boy, didn’t you see a sign that said your kind ain’t allowed? Get out of here before I call the police.”
“What gives you the right to tell me what to do? I’ve been told blacks don’t deserve to be here, so why don’t you leave?” John sarcastically said.
Angry, the man slapped John in the face with the back of his hand and said, “Now, are you gonna’ get out of here, or do you want more?”
“No, sir.” John hurriedly left the ice cream shop.
Outside, a black and white Butte police car stopped behind John’s Chevrolet as John was getting in. The two black police officers came around the car on opposite sides. The one next to the driver’s side, Lieutenant Bowen, asked, “So, what is a poor white boy doing with a fine machine like this?”
“For your information, officer, this is my car. I also have rights that are protected by the United States Constitution, so you can’t hurt me.”
“Is that so? Pehrson, do you think this boy is a little too smart for his color?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I say we should teach him a valuable lesson. He should learn never to talk back to his superiors. Lieutenant, let’s do what we do best,” Pehrson said.
Taking out billy clubs, the officers started beating the chrome-finished Chevy. The car was dented so badly it didn’t look like the same car. John, terrified, got out of the car and faced Lieutenant Bowen. Before Bowen hit John, John punched the Lieutenant in the stomach hard enough to make the policeman fall over in pain.
Taking the opportunity, John grabbed Bowen’s gun, then backed away towards the police car and said, “Lieutenant Pehrson, if you value your life, then don’t move until I get safely away in your car….”
Before getting through an intersection, John heard a shotgun blast from fifty feet behind him; two other police cars were chasing him! The first blast took out the back window; the next blast blew out the cars’ back tires. Going about 60 miles an hour, John spun out of control, crashing into an Oldsmobile. His last thoughts were, “I really wish I hadn’t been racist. Now, I know how it feels to be on the other end. I wish I was home!”
Before the cars exploded, John woke up screaming and sweating. His parents rushed into his room, and his dad asked, “What happened, John?”
“I had a dream about the 1950’s, except we, the white people, were the ones that were targets of racism, while blacks treated us just as badly as we treated them.”
“That’s weird! Your mom and I had the same dream.”