Living diversly…part 2

Posted on Oct 16, 2013 in diversity, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

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continued from “Living Diversly. . . Part 1

“Nigger!” I had heard the word before, but never hurled at me out of anger. I had heard it at home, mostly at my grandmother’s house when she referred to black folks who she decided didn’t work hard at anything, were undereducated and those who sounded ignorant on television. To be fair, she was also generous with the use of the word “cracker”. My grandmother was a classist to her core. I had also heard “nigga” being used in a friendly tone when older cousins sat around joaning one another, and uncles would shuck-and-jive late at night around my grandmother’s kitchen table. But never in my formative years had anyone called me the “n-word” to my face.

At Lindley, there was a white male student who I was typically pretty friendly with. He and I had taken an accounting class together where we learned how to write checks, balance a budget, etc. I enjoyed school and learning came pretty easily to me. He struggled a bit more and asked for help on occasion in class. For all general purposes, I would have considered him a friend.

One day in gym class we were all playing different games in our own groups. Again, the details are fuzzy having to reach so far back, but I remember having a ball . . . maybe a basketball . . . that he wanted and that I didn’t want to give to him. I’m not sure if I was being selfish, protecting it for my friends, or if I was showing off. Both of us being the same height, I am sure also triggered our competitive natures. To this day, I get a thrill in competing with male friends even when I know I have no chance of winning. It was even worse when I was younger. Anyway, whatever happened between us escalated and I think I remember chucking the ball that he wanted clear across the gymnasium just to prove my point. He turned bright red and in a fit of rage and slapped me in the face with word “nigger”. Feeling the blow, I immediately wanted to fight (mind you, I had never been in a fight in my life outside of the occasional wrestling with my boy cousins). I tried to run towards him but my friends pulled me away and his friends did the same. We were both dragged away hot, mad, and crying.

When things calmed down, he did apologize for what he said but we were never friends after that.

IMAG2047I left Lindley after that seventh grade year and went to the high school that my mom graduated from, which was 99% African  American. There, I played basketball for two years; was a member of a performance group called America’s P.R.I.D.E.; joined the Northstarettes (fast forward to 49 seconds); I was in the fine arts talent center; took AP English; joined the work program, where during my senior year of high school I was able to leave school early to work at Crawford Communications; and eventually was chosen as homecoming queen by my peers. In high school I never had to prove myself. Every opportunity was available and I tried to take advantage of as many as possible.

During my senior year of high school, my mom and I fell on hard times and had to leave our home. Ironically, at the same time, my grandmother lost the ability to use her legs temporarily and we moved in to take care of her. It was a very strange time for the family. IMAG2044When it was time to decide where to go to college, I knew I wanted a new experience away from home. I also knew I wanted a school that had a solid reputation in the arts, but one that would give me other options in case I changed my mind about being an artist. Finally, I wanted a racially diverse experience, so I chose a college that had diverse ethnic numbers in the faculty and student body. I applied everywhere . . . to at least thirty schools. My guidance counselor made sure that our students were not shut out of being considered for any school because we couldn’t afford application fees. Students who wanted to apply and met application requirements were given fee waivers. I don’t know if that would have happened had I not attended a school where teachers who knew my family history and were excited to help shape my future. I was accepted everywhere and was then able to narrow my search down to scholarship offerings and degree programs.

My mother, cousin, and one of her high school students took a trip up the east coast to visit my top ten schools. When I made it to Syracuse’s campus, I knew I had found the college experience of my dreams. But like most middle class American families, we couldn’t afford the dream.

 

7 Comments

  1. Vanessa Newton
    October 17, 2013

    Shadra, How awesome was this article. I want more. This was beautiful. I can certainly relate to what you have been through. I remember the first time I was called the N-word. I remember my relatives sitting around calling each other the word and laughing about it. I remember when our next door neighbor called me and my sister N- Bitches and the hurt that filled our hearts. I so identify with you story. Out of all of it there was greatness and I am so glad that your mom knew it and that your teachers saw it and did something about it. You are inspiration to so many teachers, students and artist. Keep on doing your think! Blessing on you.
    V

    Reply
    • Shadra
      October 17, 2013

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your story~ I will continue adding to this series, so stay tuned~

      Reply
  2. Linda
    October 17, 2013

    Thank you two for sharing your stories. I am not Afro-American, but I often wonder how it feels. You hear the term in so many contexts. Even today you hear it in songs and videos. Most of the time I hear it as a jest between those of the same race. I often wonder why they continue to use the term when it’s used in anger that it hurts more? I suppose many white people would not even comment on this topic as it is so loaded.

    I attended Catholic elementary school and in 4th grade a Afro-American student joined our class. This was in the early seventies. I feel bad because I looked at her so differently from everyone I was use to. I never called her names I just didn’t know how to integrate in a social environment. Today if I saw her I would say I am sorry and give her hug. I attended a racially diverse high school and learned to be accepting. Interestingly enough the culture at my high school tried very hard to keep peace. We had race riots , black on hispanic, five years before and by the time I came things had settled. I learned how to be nice to everyone no matter what skin color or physical handicap they had.
    Do you think things are improving from the time you were younger? I feel it is, but I am white. Perhaps the gentleman today would feel differently and never use that term, but maybe not. Forgiveness is something that is very hard to do. It’s hard to forgive when anyone calls you something derogatory no matter what race you are. Blessings as Vanessa said!:)

    Reply
    • Shadra
      October 17, 2013

      Thank you for reading and sharing, Linda. Back in the 90s the NAACP held a funeral to end the use of the word in any context. I certainly was taught that it was a “bad” word even when using it with my friends. Eventually I grew up and stopped using it at all. Today I use other terms in place of the word that sound similar, like”ninja” and “negro”, but only with my closest friends and family behind closed doors. And if any of my white friends tried to call me out of term, even in jest, I would be offended.

      I remember being in elementary school and there being one bi-racial girl in my grade, named Mocha. Other kids were always so much nicer to her and treated her with kid gloves. She was pretty quiet and stayed to herself mostly, but I did wonder why she was treated differently. I never fully experienced racial integration, but in the late 90s when the zoning districts changed, many kids from rival housing projects were bussed into our school and fighting began to escalate. My high school had fantastic leadership and the male administrators we able to, for the most part, keep fighting to a minimum. Change is hard for any of us, and the only way that some people deal with it is by opposition.

      The incident I wrote about happened at a very young age when hormones were raging for all of us. I hope that the young man I knew matured enough and broadened his cultural landscape enough that using the word “nigger” today would horrify him…hopefully.

      Are things improving? For me? Yes. My whole mentality has shifted throughout my life. I am aware that racism is still alive and well, but I am also aware that there is little I can do to fight that kind of ignorance. As an illustrator and writer of books, I try to use my gifts as my tool for change and enlightenment, but I am realistic enough to know that some people are gonna be angry and hateful just cause the sun rises.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Blessings to you too.

      Reply
  3. Claudia Pearson
    October 17, 2013

    Thanks for sharing this Shadra. Kids do use words in anger that are intended to hurt, not just racial epithets, but other hurtful terms like fatty, spaz, retard, etc. When I practiced law, mostly employment discrimination, one of the things that bothered me most was the casual way some whites used racial epithets. It bothered me more than things said in anger, because the casual use of words like this indicated a deeply rooted bias and there seemed to be no need to trigger the verbal attack, no sense of shame in using the terms, although they often lied about using them because they didn’t want to lose the case. I’m glad the boy apologized, and sorry that a moment of anger and frustration led to him losing the opportunity to get to know you better. It might have hurt more because you knew him and had spent time with him than if it had been said by someone you knew wouldn’t have anything to do with you.

    Reply
    • Shadra
      October 17, 2013

      I think I understood why he yelled it, even then. The sad part for me was just knowing that he had probably heard it used at home and resorted to using it against me in anger instead of calling me something…anything else. That year in middle school for me ws so fleeting. I didn’t hold on to any friendships there. I just tucked it away as an experience to learn from and push me to the next chapter. Thank you for sharing, Claudia~

      Reply
  4. Living Diversely . . . Syracuse « Living the Dream
    December 2, 2013

    […] continued from Living diversly…part 2 […]

    Reply

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