Racism is a concept I will never be able to fully understand. Sure I can see the twisted logic that goes on inside someone’s head to justify that kind of belief, but I’m lucky in several aspects of my life that kept me from ever learning that way of thinking. For example my parent’s never spoke about ethnicity, about people by their ethnicity. My dad was military, and after that a blue collar worker, and mostly sees people by how they act, not skin color. My mom is mostly reserved, though seemed rather surprised the first time I dated a non-white person. She never said anything disparaging, I just think she never thought about it.
Looking back I had some pretty helpful experiences in my life to understand and even embrace diversity. For starters the neighbor hood I grew up in was pretty mixed. Lower middle class White and Black families were about equal, with several Latino families, as well as various mixed as well. The kids all played together, and if anything has the power to destroy racism forever, I think it’s just letting all kids everywhere play together and learn just how much we’re all the same. Even when my family moved to a little bit “nicer” neighborhood, it was still pretty mixed. My parents always said it was about the quality of the schools, and it seems this wasn’t just a code they used, like I’ve heard others use those words that way.
The other experience that I feel is on the same level for me is High School. I’ve clearly had the benefit of White privilege in my life. Looking back it’s pretty clear. I couldn’t really understand it as a child and a teenager, and honestly didn’t even know the concept existed until I was in my late 20s. But the simple fact it, I have had advantages not earned because of my skin color. But that hasn’t always been the case with me. The first thing I was ever told by a high school principal was that I would be in the minority. I didn’t understand at the time why this even mattered. I still think it says much more about the man than anything else I could say about him, except maybe the fact he only was there on year, and got beat to hell by a pair of female students for some things that were never made fully open.
But he told me and my parents that the student body of the school was about 60% Black, 30% White, about 8% Latino, and the rest was everything else. So in one of the most formative places and times of my life, I was a minority. Looking back it seemed dumb to think of it that way, and I mostly didn’t, but now I’m actually very grateful. I have an experience many white kids never will: I got to see what happens when I don’t have so much privilege. In spite of having extremely messed up self identity, and possibly because of it, I also had a wonderful high school experience.
All of my friends tell me stories of how high school was like the movies. The cliques, the bullying, all the stupid tropes of every terrible (and even the good) teen high school movies that are apparently alive and well. I never understood those because I never experienced them. There were cliques, sure, but they were different ones. There were the free-stylers, the dancers, the skaters, even the nerds, but most people were more focused on what they enjoyed and even had plenty of overlap.
I was just enough of an outsider to never be drawn in completely to any one, and just enough of a chameleon to be able to move through most. I have very little in rhyming skills, but I’ve always loved a good beat and could make some great ones for my free-styling friends. There was no real goth clique, but there were enough to let me express myself a bit more. I played video games, and even took up Magic: the Gathering in high school with the nerds, but I excelled at dominoes and spades. There are few things more fun than slamming the last bone (domino) and taking $20 off your teacher. To this day when I teach someone to play bones, they always set them to stand on their side, a rookie move, and I have to resist the urge to slam the table and peek at their hands. Never once did I feel unwelcome, and the handful of times I felt someone judged me for being White were the outliers, the exception, and those that did were never people of import.
I had lots of friends in high school. Several of the most popular kids were people I hung out with at lunch and enjoyed their company. But being the outsider and as mixed up about self identity as I was, I didn’t connect most people very deeply. I don’t have high school friends on my facebook. There are only a handful I really remember very well. There’s only one I’ve ever tried to look up later in life. A couple others I’ve thought about doing so.
My experience are why I think I can never really understand racism. I’ve spent too much time, especially of my formative years, being around people of all colors and many different backgrounds. No amount of telling me someone is wrong for their skin color can overcome those experiences. I was also lucky that I never heard that shit really either as a child. That would come much later and from people I would know I didn’t want to associate with anyway.
In writing all this, I’m also wondering just how much being trans plays into it. I was always trying to understand myself (even when I was actively repressing the biggest part of me) and that drove me to be more and more empathetic. I’ve sought better self understanding by understanding others. Maybe one influenced the other, or maybe it’s all connected, and flows back and forth, both influencing each other. I’m not really sure. I just know I’m grateful that there’s something I cannot ever really understand, because it’s something I never want to.