At 8 years old I stood in line waiting to get a ride in the little cart attached to the small donkey at Upland Hills Farm summer camp. This was a farm/day camp located in a rural area just outside of Detroit. While Mom and Dad worked during the summer months my brothers and sister and I and several other inner-city youths were bused Monday through Friday from Detroit to a farm. It was a program designed to allow inner-city children the opportunity to experience fresh, clean, farm living. Although at 8 years old, this farm seemed much more dirty than any city street I knew. I vividly remember trying to avoid cow and horse pies all day long hoping my Range Master shoes wouldn’t sink in a freshly made pie. Looking back on it, this program was designed for the “inner city” youth but it doesn’t appear any of the black families got the memo, because I remember being the only child of color on the 45 minute morning bus ride, at the farm all day long, and on the 45 minute ride home at the end of the day.
It was here at this farm while waiting in line to ride in the donkey buggy that I matured from a cute little brown boy, who could flash a smile and get my way, into a black male adolescent.
While getting in line, I mistakenly cut in front of an older white boy and when he pointed out that I “took cuts,” I flashed him my cutest smile. The same smile that made color disappear in the past. But that day, I grew out of cute and no longer would the smile cover my darker skin. The boy looked at me with such disgust, anger, and hate that I instantly felt myself shrink. It was the look I would come to learn and understand exactly what it meant as I continued to mature in this color conscious world. This was the look that could call me all kinds of names, and demean me without a word being spoken; the look that I still see today as I walk through life as a black man.
At the farm, I learned that my white privilege that I had benefited from living in a white household stopped for me at my front door and once cute and brown dissolves into black the world becomes a different place, a much different place especially for black males.
My parents never had the talk with me to prepare me for this but my black friends had the talk with their black parents. The talk that told them when this day comes that the person trying to shrink you with their eyes is the wrong one and that you are just as valuable as anyone. Instead, when this day came for me, I walked back to the end of the line several inches shorter than when I got up that summer morning.