My Black Community Accuses You
I have committed a crime. This story is not an excuse; it is simply a shameful period of my life that I am owning up to. I ran into a huge problem when I moved back to my passport country, and I wasn’t prepared for how long it would take me to adjust. I got caught up in being racist.
Over the next several years, I would need to train myself to not have averse feelings for my own race. I would need to learn not to discriminate simply because they did not speak or act like me. I would constantly remind myself, ‘they are people, too’. We are sisters and brothers. They are African-American, just like me.
I returned to Washington, D.C., and was eventually enrolled in a school that was 95% Black. The problem was that a majority of these students faced harsh lifestyle and societal issues. They suffered, and I could see the repercussions when they came to school every day. Students argued and fought with school staff on a daily basis. One day during winter break, a kid set part of the school on fire. Later, they put security detectors at every school door. I occasionally imagined I was in a kind of jail. Previously, I had only been to religious private schools or those on a military base. I definitely had never been to a school where most of the students were coming to class stressed and unhappy. But the worst part? I blended in. ‘Hidden immigrant’ described me perfectly. The teachers had not known that I would behave without request, that I would sit silently, complete my work and participate in class. They had to learn. Until they learned, they spoke to me and looked at me as if I was going to bring them trouble.
So, unwillingly, I started resenting more than just the school itself. I started disliking the other students who attended it. Those who couldn’t just sit still for eight hours and get along. Those whose lives I knew nothing about, but ones which were probably so difficult and filled with chaos that my silent plea for them to simply behave was not a priority. It became me vs. them, and in my attempt to survive re-entry, I wrapped myself tightly in the ‘base-kids’ community at school. We were the children of soldiers who worked and lived on nearby military installations, a mix of races and backgrounds. We could leave this environment and return to what we knew to be normal at the end of each day. Our group was only about 40 kids, but for once, I didn’t want to make friends with everyone. I just wanted to survive. Those outside the group noticed that we (especially I) were different and spoke out. They acted with goodwill on a good day and with animosity on a bad one.
Leaving that school meant that it was time to move again. The damage I’d done to myself became apparent once I started to interact in my new environment. I soon realized that I’d avoid anyone who was Black unless they were someone my inner circle knew. If any Black person wanted to get to know me, I pushed them away. I disregarded the individual and lumped him or her with the rest of my negative experiences. I expected negativity and judgement if I engaged. Still, I recognized it was a problem. It was wrong of me, unfair to them. No, not them. Unfair to us.
I was treating them the way I didn’t want to be treated.
The pain I was avoiding was the pain I was giving out.
How dare I inflict that on my own people!
Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
Change starts with oneself.
These wise sayings rebuked me constantly, and full of shame, I was more than ready to repent. I was ready for a rebuilding of my mindset. University started and every time I came across another African-American, I made sure to acknowledge them. You see, Black people do that anyways. When two Black people are walking and come across each other, there is usually a nod that passes between them, especially between men. An acknowledgement that doesn’t require you to talk to each other, you simply say, ‘I see you. You alright? You making it through your day okay?’
I make sure to do it too. Even with my introverted spirit, I try to throw a smile or greeting in and continue a conversation if it starts. I want to know them and I want them to know me.
This ordeal taught me what it’s like to change your mindset about a person, a group of people, and the struggle to fight against stigmas. It is a lesson I’m ashamed that I had to learn, but one that I’m incredibly thankful to have conquered. It helped me discover the mental strength and personal discipline it takes to see a person as an enemy. Or as a friend.