This year was a busy one. More than one memory to relay.
I changed schools again. Guess who came up lacking in diligence regarding homework? While I enjoyed my new school from 8th grade, I was bored with all the paperwork associated with it. Homework leads to grades, so I had to find a new school. 9th grade was, for the first time in my life since kindergarten, in the racial majority. Additionally, I was actually attending school with my neighbors for the first time. I had to deal with the standard “Getting to know you… Oh, you’re not one of us” conversations. Doubtful I need to expand upon that point again? Moving on…
After the adjustment period, many had become aware of my still-forming beliefs. I recall an instance in which I spoke about what I had learned about non-violence. This came from many philosophies of peace, most of them from Asia. A classmate asked “So if I hit you, right now, you wouldn’t do anything?” I affirmed, and he smacked me in the face. Just like that. He walked around the room laughing (though he was nursing his hand. I didn’t flinch or budge, and he had hurt himself), while most of the other students kept their place. If I were anyone else, my calm would have been seen as a prelude to me hurling a desk across the room. He came back around and tried it again, but I caught his hand in time for the teacher to come back in and reprimand him.
I had done a lot of reading of faiths and practices outside of “the norm”. To this day, I have made it through life without having to resort to an all out fight. Back then, I just wanted to focus on school and try to lead a good life. Oddly, people would challenge me after hearing my advocacy for passivity. They would try to insult me to wind me up, and it always failed. One day, someone hearing what I felt, believed, and lived, decided to test that. And I held my ground. To the credit of my classmates, someone went and grabbed a teacher when the person followed through. That teacher came into the room to find me seated, and the offending person with their head on my desk and my hand around their wrist from when they tried hitting me a second time. I believe I whispered something akin to “Yes, I am peaceful. But no, I will not allow myself to be agitated without reprisal more than once.”
While not racially motivated, this instance continued to erode the foundations I may have built in regards to Black communities. For all of the events thus far, and those to come, the behavior was in the same vein. While being less extreme, it was much more constant. So much was it that I cannot recall a single event, but whenever I came into a new place the first three to six months required me to hold my ground.
I was able to be somewhat in the same grounds with the people from my neighborhood. Much as those friends that defended me in 8th grade, so too did my lifelong friends stand with me here. However, they allowed me to fight my battles as I chose. When they heard about the previous story, there was a lot of laughter. There was of course concern. But they knew me. My neighbor and I had been friends since we were four. He knew full well of all the previous stories I have told, my then growing coldness, and held no doubt that the only reason there was no fight was because that is how I wanted it.
As our home and school lives were not separate, it left more space for socialization. Though I came in as a freshman I was in mostly honors/advanced sophomore classes. As I had accrued credits from the prior year at the magnet school I was put a step behind my junior aged friends, a step ahead of the other freshmen, and offset me from the regular classed sophomores. Yes… I had been harped on and knocked for being “too smart”. But rather than being derided, it was now my unique trait.
This helped close the rift on some of the alienation I felt for years. At this point I still had the body of a boy. I was not the strongest. I was not always the “fastest” as taller people could easily beat me in a footrace. What I had was my intellect, and my voracious appetite for even more knowledge.
To have that celebrated, and by Black people, felt good. The common thread to my grade school classmates being a fore-knowledge spanning more than five years. I learned here not to take to heart the opinions of others. That in time, the opinions would likely change.
I think I am pretty good at finding common ground with the people I am around, whether by choice or circumstance. Again, perhaps I am naive, but in learning someone from crown to core there are two major boons. The first is being able to find what matters to us both and build a relationship on that. The second is understanding what makes up their worldview. In either case, I am able to move ahead hand in hand as an Equal, even if the person used to be an antagonist.