Growing up as a kid in the 90’s, surprisingly, I remember a lot from my childhood. I remember spending the summers at my grandmother’s house, bike riding around my apartment complex where I lived, singing all of the current R&B songs while standing in a circle with my girl crew, having crushes on the big headed little boys at school, mocking MC Hammer moves at every family function, finding ways to convince my mom to let a friend spend the night, going to the store to buy penny candy also known as Frooties … and the list goes on.
I also remember being one of the youngest girls of my immediate friends and wanting to be just like the older girls that I was around every day. That meant that I was a sponge, soaking in everything that they said and did … even when they told me that white people were the devil. While the exact details of that conversation are blurry, I just remember that during the early 1990’s, while living in a predominately black suburb of Cleveland, a city called Warrensville Heights, that I was taught by my older peers that we are not supposed to like white people because of how they’d treated us in the past.
To feed into this ideology even more, making this thought process more prevalent to my young naïve self, the elementary school that I attended was very pro-black: every day after reciting the pledge of allegiance, we sang the national Black anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, the majority of my teachers were Black including my principal. All of my classmates were black with the exception of one white boy named Kenneth, and we didn’t just celebrate our Black history in February, but we celebrated our history and culture 365. My elementary school was the HBCU that I never attended.
So this was my life up until the 5th grade…
Then as most black parents do, it was time to move on up. My parents purchased their first home in Maple Heights, a predominately white suburb of Cleveland. This move turned my little black world upside down and to add to that, my first teacher in this new school district was an older white man who had a fascination with Native Americans; my black is 365 was now interrupted and taken over by the history of Native Americans, 365. I went from learning Swahili and African dance moves to learning about Sacajawea.
I wasn’t ready.
As a young Black girl who was taught early on that whites were the enemy, I was now living in a predominately white area: white teachers, white peers, white neighbors … all white errthang. I definitely had to readjust and while I don’t remember exactly how that readjustment occurred, I’d imagine that it was hard and if nothing else, a culture shock.
But as the world teaches us … as life teaches us … you must adjust.
With that being said, we must also know that adjusting does not mean that you must lose who you are while in the process of adjusting. It does not mean that you conform to what society wants from you. It does not mean that you do not appreciate your roots, your background, your history or where you come from. It simply means, in this case, that you learn to appreciate and accept everything and everyone around you, for who/what they are and how they contribute to society. It means that you love what makes everyone different. It means that you understand that you won’t always agree with the ways, perspectives, actions, etc of others BUT you embrace them anyway. But never lose yourself.
These experiences taught me early on that diversity is important and critical to healthy social development. They taught me that no one is better than or less than another based on the color of their skin. Simply put, my childhood experiences taught me to be colorblind.