Looking back on grade school, I can now admit that I really struggled with fitting in. I was submerged in an environment that made it easy for me to blend-in. My grade school was a Black-utopia. 98% of the children in my small private school checked “Black” on their admission paperwork. In the 70’s checking “Biracial” was not an option and I wouldn’t have checked it anyway because I wasn’t aware I was biracial. My parents knew I was biracial but since race was not discussed in our home no one shared this vital piece of identity until I was in my 20’s.
I appeared closer to the Black kids than the few White kids so I clung with all the strength in me to the Black population. Every day was a cautious and prayerful walk. I just wanted to be like every other Black kid. I didn’t want to be singled out because I wasn’t like the Black kids that I admired. To be rejected by them meant certain death. It meant that I would be cast into a racial purgatory-suspended between the races.
So my steps were calculated and the majority of my actions premeditated. It took a lot of energy to conceal I wasn’t the typical Black child.
I compartmentalized my life. The White family that I was attached to didn’t bring me shame or embarrassment because they were my normal and rarely did I wear a shirt that said, “I’m being raised by white people.” My parents were very involved at my grade school and I cherished their support. Being part of the Black community was paramount and that didn’t reflect, in my mind, badly on who I was raised by.
My biggest fear was being seen as a fake. There were the conversations and confrontations that I played out in my mind that made some daily daydreams in to day-mares. It was my fear that someone who saw a way to advance their popularity or status would single me out and publicly ridicule me for not really being Black. The scenarios that I would invent in my head never materialized to the graphic detail I imagined them because I played great defense. Whenever the conversation started to go down this nightmarish path I would re-direct the conversation. I stood guard like Cerberus, as my three heads moved in each direction waiting for the inevitable, “You sound proper,” or more clearly, “You sound white.” As soon as this phrase orsomething similar passed across the lips of a friend or foe, I’d jump to action. Inside my head my internal cheerleaders were screaming, “De-fense! De-fense!” Instinctively I would shoot back something to derail the conversation. Comments like, “Shut up,” would casually flow from my mouth. If my initial volley of insults didn’t change the path of the conversation, I would zero in on a more personal retort which was risky because I never knew how it would be received. Comments like, “Your mother,” were effective but would usually draw in the local instigator who would loudly repeat what I said hoping punches would soon follow. I was aware of the risk but the pain of a punch would subside and the desired outcome would be achieved.
Early on as a defensive player, I learned that I was especially skilled at insulting others. At birth, installed deep into my brain was the ability to strike quick and hard with my tongue. It was this dangerous wit that deflected so much and saved me from my worst fear.
In a word, my worst fear was rejection. As I analyze it now the connection between this fear and adoption are blatantly obvious. One of the side effects of adoption is the feeling of being rejected which for me created a monstrous-size fear of being rejected again by anyone. So I did whatever I could to avoid it. This often meant doing things to please others so they wouldn’t reject me,; accepting not-so-healthly relationships on not-so-healthy terms just to be accepted. Things that were unacceptable to others became very acceptable to me because it protected the relationship.
Once when I was in the 3rd grade, one of the leaders of our class found my house key that I lost. He approached me with a business proposition. If I paid him a dollar he would return my key. Never once did I consider just telling the teacher. This type of action would risk a break in the relationship. Instead, I approached my big sister and asked for a dollar. Of course she asked why and she immediately reduced this negotiation to what it was; nonsense. She approached my friend and demanded the key back. Being 5 years older than us and much bigger she resolved the situation quickly. Since my friend had conceded to a girl out of fear for his life, the situation quietly went away. This is a simple example of how I was willing to exchange common sense for connection. The risk to me here was not so great but what if I was presented with something more grand. Would I again have forfeited common sense? Peer pressure potentially came with extra weight for me.
My trump card turned out to be my wit and razor tongue. After awhile, those that tried to attack me felt the pain of my smooth cuts. I learned that by retaliating in a very loud voice and hammering back with insults meant less and less challenges from others. Many saw the advantage to having me, and my tongue, on their side instead of against them. My other advantage was that the private school brought some protection. There was some latitude given to behaviors but only to a certain degree and all of us knew the boundaries and what edges not to step off. Enrollment in private school meant our tough kids operated at 50% of what real tough kids did. Therefore, acceptance into this group was assisted and with acceptance came an increased self-esteem. I was able to pull it off and be a part of the group I so admired. This meant that later in life when confronted by unrestrained toughness I was confident to stand firm in who I was.
There were so many combinations of events that spared me from a more difficult life and one of the biggest impacts to me was to be a part of the Black community. This environment answered back to a society who tried over and over to tell me Black was less than. In this community that I grabbed on to showed me the strength and power of being black. I learned all about inequality from the side of the unequal but I also learned the strength it took to mentally equal out the scales. It was in this power that I learned a pride and that pride protected me from ever thinking, desiring, or craving to be anything but a child of color.
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