When I first started elementary school some number of years ago, I went into my first school year with a couple of friends from my neighborhood and whom I knew from family that are still my friends to date. I grew up on the West End of Martinsville which to some would be considered “the hood” but to me and everyone in it, it was the safest slice of Heaven we could ever ask for. But when I left home and went to school for the first four years, I was surrounded majorly by white students and very limited black. Until I was done with grade school completely, I never paid attention to the dynamics of my surroundings. Not until the recent uproars between blacks and whites, police and the black community, and everything concerned with inequality in America arose.
By the time I reached fourth grade at Albert Harris, outside of my handful of black friends at the old school and my friends in my neighborhood, I immediately realized that a lot of black girls did not like me. I didn’t know any of them because we had gone to different schools, but they could not stand me for whatever reason. I got picked on terribly at Albert Harris during fourth and fifth grade for “wanting to be white”. To me, I was being normal. I had advanced classes and there were two other black girls in my class. I was friends with both of them and we ate lunch with all the white girls every day. Where majority of the black girls were eating lunch from school trays, I had my doting grandma packing my lunch with Lunchable’s, bologna sandwiches, and all the sides kids loved everyday just like my white girlfriends. To me this wasn’t a matter of color or social standing, however to the girls that didn’t like me this was just another way for me to solidify my friendship with white girls and separate myself from them.
Then I got to middle school where our schedules weren’t so restricted to immediate classes, but we had the opportunity to interact with an entire team of diverse kids that made up half of our grade’s student body. Looking back, I feel like my whole existence changed in these years. I did so much to fit in so that I could hang with all the girls who understood and adapted more to my culture. Because at the end of the day I was like them too. I listened to R&B and hip hop, I wore the brands they wore, watched the shows, talked the slang, did all the same things at home, and grew up in the same culture but they wouldn’t know this for awhile because of their preconceived notions of me. In the coming years, I’d still hear those comments like I thought I was a white girl, I thought I was better than others, or just misunderstanding altogether towards things that I liked to do, how seriously I took school, and my lack of forwardness that most girls my age possessed; as a result, I began to hide that side of me that no one outside of “my white girls” as I began to call them could relate to.
By high school, I was popular and everyone was either loving me or pretending to at least. That little inner white girl in me had damn near completely disappeared. I still shared all of classes with “my white girls”, we still told each other everything, but at this point I realized that our lives were damn near completely uncorrelated. For instance, reading has always been my first love and I’ve always been diverse with it. I could go from reading Harry Potter and Twilight series to reading a hood novel by K’wan or Sister Souljah; because the first two are mainstream of course everyone has heard of them, but probably one of my black friends would have read those and none of my white friends would have ever heard of my hood novels. Somewhere along the lines, I began to realize that there really is a complex difference between the demeanor, actions, culture, and problems faced in both societies. I also realized that there is a very small number of people who can understand the complexity of both sides of the spectrum. When there is limited understanding between two diverse groups, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that one should also expect limited respect and consciousness on both ends but apparently that’s what happens.
With that said, I have come to believe that MANY issues in society involving race, social status, income, etc are derived from lack of understanding towards people who are different. We see this all the time! Black people don’t feel like white people struggle like we do, white people feel like black people complain about their situations more than they try to control/fix them; rich people feeling like poor people use the government, poor people feeling like rich people aren’t required to give enough back to the government. There are so many issues caused by diversity and lack of understanding, and I really believe only a person who has lived and witnessed both sides of the fence would be willing enough to look at every angle and aspect. At the end of the day, anyone can SAY what they would do if they were faced with the issues of others, but no one really knows what they would do until it’s actually them.
At the end of the day, we all have to realize that everyone has their own internal struggle. I went to school with the white girls who would freak out if they received a B in a course and feared it’d ruin their college opportunities; and I knew girls who went straight to work after school not because they wanted nice things for themselves, but because they needed to help their parents with bill money. Just because one struggle may be heavier than the other, we should never judge or treat someone based on their situation. We just never know. So while I spent majority of my post high school years trying to figure myself out and upset at the fact that I did so much to fit in and still stood out SO much, I learned to appreciate the fact that I have been blessed enough to see both sides of the world. So when I’m hit with that ignorant comment from an elderly white man who can’t understand why I wear my hair like they did in the 1960’s or I hear someone group all policemen or all black people together like one represents all, I have the understanding to not pay it any mind because I know not everyone will be respectful towards those who are different. Everything in the world seems so complex, but all relates back in some way… if we could all be more open minded, see things from all perspectives, and learn to respect other people even when we don’t agree then the world would be so much better!