My First Tale Of Diversity
I originally thought to tell the story of when I backpacked throughout Europe in the late nineties with just a friend and a smile. I assure you I had many cross-cultural experiences, some of which I still tell to this day, twenty years later. However, I want to tell you a situation that really changed the course of how I see people, from the viewpoint of the color of their skin.
I was born in a suburb of Cleveland in the late seventies. I was that last of seven children so we were pretty packed in a five bedroom ranch style home with no garage and nine people living together. The city we lived in was Brecksville, a small affluent (although we were not) town on the far outskirts of the Cleveland metropolitan area. The city was predominantly white, I would say ninety percent or higher. I now tend (jokingly) to refer to it as white-town USA.
As a child I never thought of the racial issue. In my elementary school there were only two black kids in the whole school, who happened to be in my grade level. One of them, Luke, became my best friend. He we an adopted kid from a South American tribe and he lived with an all white family. Many of these facts I only know after the fact because you see, we never viewed things in color. My parents never spoke of these differences and the other children in my grade loved Luke, he was one of the most popular kids in all of elementary school.
In kindergarten I had my first birthday party. Back in those days the parent went to the school and received an address list from the office of all the surrounding children that I wanted to invite to my party. Luke was on the top of the list. When the lady in the office saw the list, the first thing she said to my mother (which I only found out over twenty years later) was “you know Luke is a kid of color?” This startled my mother because for months I had been bragging about my new friend and how much fun we had in school, but not once did I mention the color of his skin. My mother didn't mind and Luke and I had a wonderful friendship until I moved.
I few years later, my father’s job transferred him to Houston, Texas. We moved into a small suburb in the outskirts of Houston and I attended my first day of an Intermediate school that was three times the size of my school in Brecksville. Talk about culture shock! The minute I walked into the building my eyes and mind seemed to be transported to a Hollywood movie. There were kids with boots, tight fitting jeans, and cowboy hats. I had never seen such a thing, only in movies. In addition, the school was heavily populated with black kids, none like my good friend Luke. They wore M.C. Hammer pants and had weird designs etched in their hair. It was bonkers!
So here is the kicker, up until this point in my life I had only heard the N-word used one time in my life. Ironically it came from my good friend Luke. We were in the third grade and playing kickball on the field when we started to play tug-of-war over the ball. He belted out, “fight, fight, the n****r and the white, the n****r starts to win and we all jump in!” I stopped and looked at him and asked him where he heard that, it sounded funny but I thought it seemed like a bad word (we were only in the third grade). He said he picked it up somewhere from the t.v. he thought, and we both laughed and continued to play.
Skip ahead several years, here I am in a brand new school surrounded by cowboys, pop-culture infused black kids and white yuppies such as myself. It was a cauldron of new ideas, hormones, and stupidity. This was the very first time I ever heard someone use the N-word in a true derogatory fashion, and it was not from a white kid. As time went on I too heard it from the cowboys and even some yuppies but it was never used more than the black kids in my class. I was astonished at this from all sides of the aisles. What had happened to society? What, nothing, time had not elapsed, just my geography changed. I was not in Kansas anymore.
What I gained most from this experience was that our norms, attitudes, prejudices, and expectations come from the home. They are caught, not necessarily taught. We pick up what we think from other people. This is why, when I meet a person with prejudice or outright racial prejudice (as I have over the years) I feel sorry for them. Anger should be set aside for evil. Racial prejudice is not evil (although sometimes it leads to that) but stupidity inculcated by ignorance promulgated by diversity. How I long for the days where some of us really viewed people by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin.