When I graduated from the 6th grade my parents finally had enough money to move us out of “our hood” it wasn’t “THE HOOD” but it had just enough gang violence and drugs for my barely middle class parents to say “ It’s Time to Go.”
So we moved to Escondido, a small city just outside of San Diego.
We mowed our new yard with a rider mower. We had orange avocado and pomegranate trees, and a nice old house. We also happened to be in the district with some of the best schools in the county.
The first day after leaving our new school I told my mom “ There aren’t any Black kids at this school.” My brother and I doubled the Black population, overnight it went from 2 to 4, out of a few hundred students.
Not only was it mostly white it was also mostly rich, I remember the poor white kids asking their parents to pick them up down the street from the school, so the rich white kids wouldn’t have to see their beat up cars. In my old neighborhood most of my friends parent’s didn’t even own cars, so there was no such thing as being embarrassed about one.
At my new school we instantly had to battle stereotypes. My mom had to fight to put me in a math class that would set me on the college tract. My first year I was in a math class that I could pretty much teach myself, my math teacher even told me “You don’t belong here.” I was placed in that class because I was black from a poor neighborhood, not because of my academic ability.
Academically I ended up making a smooth transition, socially I don’t think I ever really adjusted. The kids didn’t listen to the music I did, they had crushes on “Hanson” and sang “mmmbop”. I had Tupac hanging on my wall, and sang songs from SWV. My hair was different, at sleep overs I wouldn’t wear my scarf to bed because I didn’t want to have to explain it. I’d wash my hair in the shower just like them, even though it wasn’t “wash day”.
Overall I knew that my black skin and hair made me different and unattractive. No boys from my school ever had crushes on me, in the 8th grade I told my mom I was never going to prom, even though it was years away. She thought I was kidding or would change my mind. Senior year came and went, I didn’t go. I knew in the 8th grade NO BOY from my school would EVER ask me to prom or even on a date. It turned out to be true.
In some respects that was great, no distractions and I learned early how to deal with different types of people. In other respects it put a big dent in my self esteem. I saw absolutely no representation of myself anywhere and even when I got to high school and there were a few more black kids the self hatred was evident. My friends said things like “ I’m going to marry someone white or Mexican so I can have light-skinned babies with good hair.” We were all suffering.
My parents really wanted to give us a great education and that’s what they did, but it came at a cost.
I write this as a warning to parents who are doing this same thing. For some of your kids this will be wrong the choice, I didn’t have teachers saying my hair was stinky or suffer violent attacks from my classmates but I was pushed and shoved by my white male peers because I was black and called a “Bitch” in front of an entire class for achieving better grades.
For others it may be the right choice, but I implore you to talk to your kids about what it means to be Black, Asian or Chicano. Make culturally relevant education a part of your home life. Go out of your way to put them in diverse settings. Tell them that they are different, not less than, but different and they will be treated differently. Even if you don’t see it, it’s happening. Help them to love themselves, their skin and their culture. They will need your help probably more than you can understand.