Get Along

In third grade I should have told them, “I’m not a Negro, I’m a student.”
I was like everyone else – a young kid forced into a school system.
But our society is taught to look and dwell upon our differences,
especially physical ones. So the kids saw my skin color. My little
sister, Charity and I made up two-thirds of the African-American
population at Carver Elementary School in San Marino. The other
children didn’t care that I didn’t live in San Marino, so much as they
cared that I looked so much different than anything they had ever seen
up close and personal. They were not rude, and for the most part they
did not treat me unequally, but the only black kid they knew was Steve
Urkel from T.V.’s Family Matters, who coincidentally spend some time
in the same school district a few years before my sisters and I. It
didn’t help that I was a skinny kid with glasses, so I sort of fit the
part of the TV nerd. Some of the kids called me “Urkel” for the two
years that I was at the school.

“Let me feel your hair!” They would say. “Wow, it is so soft! It
doesn’t feel like mine, at all!” At first, this bothered me a little,
but I realize that this gave me some sort of identity. I was the black
kid. Back then, I was happy to be recognized for something even if it
was just my hair and skin color. It was funny to me that two things I
had absolutely no control over made me popular. They made me stand
out, made me unique, and to me, that was cool. It was easy for me to
be cool; All I had to do was wake up. At that age, I was quite unaware
that very soon my skin color and hair would make me something else:

A “fucking slave!” That’s what I was when I moved to a school just a
couple miles away.

I still remember the words. Loud and clear. It was my first experience
with racism that I can recall. It was fifth grade, and was attending
Washington Elementary in San Gabriel. The kid’s name was Hank. He was
an Asian kid. He was a “big kid,” even though he was in my grade, and
stood about 5 inches taller than me. He was mean for no reason at all
from my perspective. But, there was nothing I could do about it even
though hearing that word in reference to the ill-fate of my African
ancestors made me steaming mad. But, I think I was more hurt than I
was upset. I never did anything to provoke him, from what I recall,
and that is why it stung so badly. I tried to be nice to everyone, but
I learned at an early age that not everyone wanted to be nice to me,
for reasons even beyond my race. I learned that we are all different
colors, shapes, sizes, religions and we all have different interests,
hobbies, professions, political and moral views, and I learned that
some people do not know how to deal with those differences properly. I
always saw that it was easier to dwell on what we have in common than
it is to dwell on differences, especially those which could
potentially create conflict.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it my way. I’ve faced discrimination,
as probably everyone in a multi-cultural society has, but nothing was
ever like that first time in 5th grade. The only instance that comes
close to this was some time in early 2006, when I was about 22 years
old. It was a gorgeous afternoon. As always, the sun was shining and
the temperature was perfection. I had a big smile on my face as I rode
my bike down the beautiful streets of South Los Angeles, on my way to
the University of Southern California, where I had graduated just the
year before. My destination was the gym, where I would work out to
could maintain my immaculate physique.

Anyway, I was minding my own business, when I rode up behind a group
of about 5 to 8 young black males. As I passed them on the sidewalk,
one of the brightest of them had a light bulb turn on in his genius
brain. He got the brilliant idea that he should chase after me and
kick the back tire of my bicycle, because I was obviously posing an
immediate threat to him and his high school buddies by riding past
them on my 18-speed. So he jumped after me, trying to chase me down
for a bit. At first his intentions we unbeknownst to me, but I finally
realized what he was about to do as his leg was flying maliciously
toward my spokes. At this point, I was thinking to myself: I am in no
mood to be messed with at all today so if he tries anything, he will
have chosen the wrong man with whom to mess. I am normally a peaceful
guy, but I was ready to put up a fight, even if I was forced to engage
in combat against the whole group. But before his basketball-shoed
foot had a chance to connect with my precious ride, there was a
supernatural intervention, as his big toe must have been just
centimeters from my bike. Luckily, I think, for everyone present,
there were a few intelligent and kind-hearted youths in the group to
balance out my idiot-would-be-cold-blooded attacker. At least two of
them stopped their friend with shouts of “What the hell are you
doing?” or “Naa man, don’t do that!”

At first, this incident made me very upset. First of all, I was
minding my own business and this young brother was about to come at me
with nothing but hostility. What ever happened to the days when black
people supported each other and lifted each other up? What ever
happened to a thing called human dignity and decency? But, after I
thought about this for a while, I decided to focus on the good side of
the whole situation. The fact is that there will always be a fool or
an idiot in almost any group, who happens to be a pain in the neck for
whatever reasons, and it is the job of the others in part, to keep
that one in line. I decided that there must have been some sort of
reason why the boy acted as he did, so I pray that he won’t always be
that way and will some day become a productive member of society.
Finally I decided to dwell on the fact that the group of teens was
actually quite civil as a whole. It was definitely a positive thing
that two of them had their heads screwed on enough to discourage the
destructive behavior of their friend. I can only hope that blacks and
all people continue to make progress towards being completely civil
and rational.