While not related to race, this event is of import in my development.
Due to my now trademark standoffishness, the fact that I like to watch people before I socialize to see where I wish to be, and the fact that I struck many people as just plain weird, I was an oddity. My new peers wanted to know everything about me, But at this point in my life I was able to make it weeks without saying a word to anyone. I prided myself on my Vows of Silence.
It did not go unnoticed that I did not give most people the time of day. So the few times I regarded anyone with any sliver of recognition it was taken as a sign. The group that was granted most of this recognition? The classmates who had transferred to my new school as well. Since talking to me was like talking to a wall, they aimed for the personable options. My friends would ask me afterwards, or even break away from their groups, to come and ask what they wanted people to know about me. With my eyes that transmitted a laughing “Really?!” and a small shake of my head, they knew that I didn’t want anyone knowing anything, and they respected that.
One day, perhaps about two months into the school year, I walked past a group before classes began. I know one of my friends was there for certain, but there may have been three. I rounded the corner, and again my friends were asked about me. Something. Anything. I heard a defeated sigh. Someone had finally cracked. Everyone could feel an answer coming. So I moved against the wall to eavesdrop out of sight.
“Jasper is… Jasper. You just get used to him.”
The rise in frustration from the expectant students was palpable. I went back around the corner, just enough to be seen, causing everyone to realize that I had heard the exchange. The onlookers could not tell my emotion. I exchanged a respectful nod with my friend(s) and went about my way.
This was yet another defining moment in my life. This phrase has adorned my Facebook profile since I first signed on. It was damaging to have to deflect, defend, and otherwise deafen the sentiments of people who thought I was out of line. When black people insisted I wasn’t really black, when I was excluded from ceremonies for having not participated in requisite rituals, when all other groups found my Otherness to be grounds for jeering and deal breakers, I knew my friends respected me. They did not simply allow me to be me, but extolled my self-definition to strangers. Going into my teens years, knowing that those that knew me best would support me however I was, gave me the solidarity to be myself. And in that, I made grounds for others to do the same. I knew who I was, and no one could tell me otherwise.
Additionally, there is something of a culturual oddity in this. As said, my friends and I went to the same school for seven years. When we had vocabulary to learn, we were told to not use the word in a definition. You could say sedimentary rock was layered, but saying it was made up of sediments or something similar was not acceptable. As such, to hear my friends go against the grain of years of training and say “Jasper is Jasper” was empowering.
To this day, this story gives me hope. In recent years I have become more rooted than I once was. I can say some of this is due to fear and perception. I think back to this story, and I find myself. Then I proceed forward. If someone does not know me, they cannot tell me who I am. If they do, and tell me something different, I can look for malice in the words. If there is no enmity, I am left with something to meditate on. Helping others cultivate the same self-confidence has been of import to me.