Part One

Elementary School

rac·ism

/ˈrāˌsizəm/

noun: racism

  1. prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

“a program to combat racism”

col·or·ism

/ˈkələrˌizəm/

noun: colorism; noun: colourism

  1. prejudice or discrimination against skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

“colorism within the black community has been a serious emotional and psychological battle”

How was high school for everyone? Good times that will be looked upon fondly with yearbooks and reunions and wedding announcements and Christmas cards between lifelong friends forever? If this is you, you literally have no reason to read this because this is for a unique set of characters like myself. We are black people who, according to a vicious and confused component of my race, think we are white. I have always been very aware that I am black. I had my inaugural event in being called a nigger when I was in the 4th grade, so I have been wholly aware of that fact since I was a small child. I’d like to go ahead and speak for every black person in saying that we don’t forget the first time we are called a nigger because it’s happened to all of us at some point in our lives. You do not forget it. It’s kind of like the way you remember where you were when a huge historical moment takes place like 9/11 or when JFK was shot.

 Nevertheless I was followed around for the entire day of every week of every year that I attended high school by a pack of black girls headed by a very large and extremely brutish girl named (which I would love to think was her real name)  Skeeter, all of them saying over and over and over and over and over and over and over ‘You think you’re white!’ I’m using her name with impunity because God knows she probably can’t read considering all the time she took out of her classes to harass me with her little gang of harpies following her like a line of ugly ducklings squawking at me all day long. I’m pretty sure they must have all been on shifts because there was a group for each area of the school wherever I went somehow. I couldn’t describe any of them if you paid me. I could not then, and I cannot now. The main reason I’m going to use her name is because after she graduated at twenty years old and I was sixteen, she attacked me after hours while I was at the school getting tutored because I was failing everything as a result of being threatened and harassed all day, and the police never caught her. So, if she does happen to pop up after this is published, and is as brain dead as I imagine she must be by now, she’ll be admitting to assault which is still a crime as far as I know.

  In any case, telling me that I thought I was white was something I still get confused about when I think of high school.  What the hell did that even mean? What does it mean now?  Who walks around in their own skin knowing what they look like but somehow having trouble comprehending the color of it? What I am talking about is being accused of ‘thinking’ I am white because I had white friends and did not speak in broken English. Better at grammar than these knuckle draggers that used to harass me every day? Absolutely. White? Yeah right.

I was born into a military family and I spent the first 12 years of my life on various bases around the United States and overseas in both Korea and Japan. We moved often so I grew up not becoming attached to anyone outside of my immediate family, but I loved every new experience I was put in.  Living on military bases meant that I was exposed to and grew up in many different cultures, and I loved living around and learning about them all. I loved all the different food, the music, and the dancing.  I can only describe my life using the word love, and I’m not using it lightly. I was in love with it all.

Because I grew up on military bases, my schools were run by the Department of Defense. Therefore, all the kids who went to my school were military kids, and we all had the commonality that our parents were serving their countries. Meeting my classmates that were from all parts of the world is how most of my exposure to different cultures happened, and I loved it.  I couldn’t possibly have loved school more. I wanted to be there all the time. I loved learning and even just being in the actual school. I would spend the last part of my summer helping teachers setting up for the new year by making dittos (the worksheets that had the intoxicating ink smell) for quizzes and homework and at the end of the school year I would stay and help them straighten everything up that needed to get done before the doors were locked for the school’s vacation. My teachers used me as an ambassador for any new students who came in the middle of the year because I was so excited to show them around.

I read constantly, and I would join reading challenges just so I could read more. When we lived in Arizona the librarians used to let me put my typed and hand drawn books about my sister’s and my parakeets in the library to be checked out by other students. I painted and I drew. Gymnastics. Sports. Martial arts. I was in choir all throughout my school years, and I won a lot of awards and ribbons in contests. One year when we lived in Korea, I went with missionaries during the school day to sing Christmas carols at an orphanage.

 Everywhere we lived was fun for me. When we were overseas, our family participated in festivals and went to parties that allowed us to wear traditional cultural outfits, and my mother even danced in an annual Japanese flower parade. There really was not anything I didn’t want to do when I was a kid. I was spoiled beyond belief and loved every minute of it. I could lie and tell you that my parents do not still do that, but I won’t.  I have lived an extremely interesting and charmed life. It is amazing how something so wonderful can be destroyed with one word.

When I was in the fourth grade my class was heading to the library for recess. It was raining so that’s where we spent our time when we couldn’t be outside. I know that lots of people hated it, but it was just another way for me to be around more books! A bunch of little kids putting on rain boots and raincoats is basically a giant cluster of squirming little bodies that are refusing help from the teacher because in our minds we were way too grown up. While I was putting my coat on, I accidentally bumped into this redneck kid in my class named Jason Hamm. His instant response was ‘My daddy always told me that niggers were stupid!’

I didn’t know what it meant. I was a little kid. But I knew it was bad, so I grabbed him by the coat and spun him around the courtyard until my teacher Ms. Connor stopped me. She either didn’t know how to deal with the situation or she hadn’t heard, but she only stepped in because Jason started to cry. Little bitch.

I was so embarrassed. I felt like there was a spotlight on me that I had never felt before. That was the day I found out there was a word separating me from other people. I was raised to accept everyone and being on a military base was an amalgamation of different races and cultures. At no point was there any part of me that felt like it wasn’t like that everywhere. Certainly not in the fourth grade. So that was my entry to racism. At least blatant racism. As I got older, I experienced much more subtle racism, which to be honest is the worst kind. It’s cowardly and so tacky. Speak up if you have something to say. No? Didn’t think so.

Later in my life when I experienced colorism, I was not only shocked that such a thing existed, but I was stunned to be a victim of it in every sense of the word.

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