Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When I Learned I Was Black

Up until the age of my early teens I never knew that I was black. It wasn't that I was turning my back on my color but society had yet to get a hand on me and tell me I was black. I was born in Oklahoma City, actually in the country on a farm. My earliest memories was riding our neighbor horses, feeding the pigs and running in the fields with no shoes. At night we would catch firebugs in a jar or build on our collection of tadpoles. I was just being a kid.
I think my first incident of race was when I was a young boy and I was about to cross the street. A white man in a car stopped for me and waved for me to go on. I proceeded to do so and he jerked the car as if to hit me. I jumped and he had the biggest smile. He did it again and this time had a full laugh going. But even then I didn't associate it to my color. I just thought he was a jerk.
I didn't learn I was black until we moved to Minnesota. This was in the mid 70's. If you don't know although demographics have changed today, when we moved there as a child, the percentage of white was 98% and I was the other. I went to elementary school in Phalen Lake which was in St. Paul, the far end, which was very white. I say that because I never saw another person of color except for myself. Even then race didn't enter my equation. But I had an incident that made me know I was different.
I had a huge afro as a child and at the time was waiting in line for lunch with other classmates. I had a pencil and placed it in my afro. The next thing I knew there was this scream from this girl and the other kids gathered around me. They all had a puzzled look as they believed the pencil was pushed in my skull. This was there first time they dealt with someone with an afro. Of course I took the attention to the extreme and when I pulled it out I made sure to make it look like it hurt like hell. I still remember this girl running down the hall.
I was different.
It was also the time when Roots, the miniseries was shown on TV. I just remember watching it and at a young elementary age I was angry at anyone white. I never knew how little value you had. I think I may have even scared some teachers as I dared them to mess with me especially after watching an episode of Roots.
As i got older it became more obvious I was black Especially as a teen I would be stopped by cops asking for my id saying I looked like a suspect just called in, or experience a car full of people driving by calling me "nigger" as they drove by. then the stores I used to go to, all of a sudden I was being stared at at the end of the aisle or sometimes just outright followed.
I really feel that in schools today they should have a curriculum on Racism 101 for young black males to go through to prepare them from when they transition from the 'cute phase' into the 'threat phase'. What I mean by that is when we're young holding our mother's hand we're cute, but when we reach that age were we travel on our own and sometimes gather with our friends, then we become a possible threat.
We are boxed and labeled and given boundaries, both mental and physical. We learned while growing up in Minnesota where as black youth we should avoid areas such as Highland Park where it as a 'rich' area and any black person over there would be arrested. And if we ventured into NE Minneapolis we were playing with our lives as they didn't allows blacks there. Again this was in the late 70's/early 80's so there has been changes but one thing that hasn't changed is that as a black youth you are labeled, targeted and only made visible when you stand still with others of your race in a group.
But my message to any young black man is to not let anyone make you feel inferior based on the color of your skin. And know that this whole world belongs to you as well and you should never have to ask for respect because why would you ask for something that belongs to you anyway. And if anything don't live your life in a box. Don't think you can't go to certain neighborhoods or businesses or events just because of the color of your skin. I see so many teenagers who deny themselves a full life because of the color of their skin.
Don't let others form your identity, beat them to the punch!!
Even as adults we sometimes stay in those boxes.
Remember "laundry is the only thing that should be separated by color"

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