At one point I was walking through an open air mall. As I rounded a corner, a mother and child, the latter attending to a ballon, did so from the other end. At this point we were the only two people in sight. As soon as my presence was established the mother tried to subtly move her child so she would be between us. I noticed, and considered what to do. But if I sped up or slowed down I felt that she would have been frightened. So I kept my pace and acted as though I did not notice. I began listing to the right to give her greater room. As the distance closed the mother became more frantic. All but lifting the child, she finally managed her goal. She managed this just as we were side by side. In this, the child lost hold on the balloon. I heard the outcry as I passed. It caused me to pause and I turned around which got the attention of both of them. Taking advantage of a support structure, I ran up and jumpped off it, catching the balloon before it got to high. I managed to land right in front of the child (super hero landings really are bad on the knees) with an outstretched hand holding their balloon. They were as happy as could be. When I stood the mother seemed visibly relieved. I nodded politely and turned and went about my way.
Why did the mother recoil from me? She was alone with her child and with no one else around I may have had free reign to do whatever I wished. Or so I tell myself these days. I do not know what was in her head, but I know what I thought and felt. As such, I respected her discomfort as well as I could. The turn around of the impromptu good deed set well with me in that, whatever she thought, she may make a more nuanced evalutaion in the future.
I changed schools once again in the middle of the year. Went through the whole “you’re not really black” bit again with EVERYONE. One person in particular stood out due to a circumstance later. Was ostrasized from the majority of POCs in the school due to my pride, intellect, athletisism, and choice to wear dreadlocks. In lieu of getting to know me, the school tried to give me a nickname based on a person in a reality TV show. I did not accept that nickname, and was jeered at further due to not watching BET at this point in time. I was considered “traitorous” due to lack of “black self-identification” and the non-POC company I kept.
Gracious. So many fun times. Fortunately I was used to moving and being alone by this point. I had accepted that there was really nothing I could do to “win” as it were. I, as was said in the 90s, “kept it real”. But it wasn’t the “right” real, so I was a sellout. I did well in school (mostly because I had to retake mandatory classes every time I moved to a new district, so I already knew the material).
It should be noted that MANY of the jeers came from the underclassmen. I already had a “too old for that” attitude, which only caused further annoyance.
I pushed myself to excell not just mentally, but physically. I didn’t go out for any sports teams, but I always aimed to run faster times and push heavier weights. I had only a few good friends, and I was pleased with quality over quantity.
While I was forced to retake many classes again, one teacher proved to keep the material interesting. Another black woman, she was in charge of social studies for me. She made the experience memorable. I can say confidently that she became a fast friend to me. Musicology had recently been released by Prince, and I got to break the news to her. By the next week she had brought in a copy for me.
A shocker to those that know me, she encouraged me to stop being so humble that I limited myself. Thanks to her I began to take pride in my skills. In my acting, speak, and writing.
When Black History month rolled around, she all but threw out the textbook and guided the lessons herself. For the first time I got to go in depth into the Harlem Renaissance. This guided journey was my first exposure to the history of black artistry in America. Being unable to trace lineage back across the ocean I felt connected via what I enjoyed doing.
I have been working on the whole of this article for months. The negative is easy for me to call up. I had to search for positives. I am glad I could dig up this gem from my memories. This class kept me excited and engaged, and for the first time since 8th grade, new material to cover.