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Growing Up: Always OG

Updated: Apr 28

I was always in predominantly white schools growing up. In NJ, when I was that young, it was just about race at school. Our family was so isolated, immigrants, just home and school. New money, private school, appearances. Appearances are everything when assimilation is the game. But something was always wrong with mine.

It was the white people who would bully or exclude at school. So I was always on guard around them.

The Tokens TM, it was understood that we’re in survival mode, don’t congregate. Don’t communicate. Assimilate. Make them like you.

Use energy to distract away. Don’t be loud. Don’t draw attention to your race. Don’t stand up.

It’ll be worse if we do. Isolate. 

I was a shy, serious kid, so structured. So rigid. So quiet back then, so young, such a big heart in hiding. So hidden, I thought I didn’t have a heart. But it would come out with my cousins. I didn’t know it was compartmentalization. It was going numb, being cold, using logic as a tool. Emotions are too dangerous when you’re in survival mode.

The last year before we moved, I took an acting class and became friends with Ryann, a Black girl, Sam, a blonde white girl, and Eric, a boy with Annie-style curly hair. Acting class became a safe place, where it wasn’t so about Identity. We were all different and nobody cared. It was just about having fun. I started being rewarded for being goofy. I started learning how to act when I was 11. It was the closest I'd come to playing, like a kid.

When I moved to Andover, I was already well educated on the reality of racism.

But the rules had changed, and because of meddlesome neighbors, I didn’t see the old money piece, I didn't know about the complexities of my inequality. The intersections of race, gender, socioeconomic class.

I saw the difference as education.

My neighbor saw me as a girl who needs to do better at math and French. And told me so.

I took it as a Personal Affront, outwardly.

Inwardly, it was being Seen. As a person. As an Equal.

That maybe, that was what I was missing, maybe that's why life had been so hard. Education. Maybe I just needed to show how smart I am, I taught myself how to read, maybe I can show it in this town.

I learned that being competitive is a fun, that maybe gymnastics could be just for fun. That maybe I could take acting to the real world, I could have fun.

That neighbor, was just a kid reading a book while biking. The confidence. At that time in my life, seeing a Black kid who had fun with white people. Who was critical of me, in a friendly way. Who pushed me. Who didn’t give me attention when I was mean. Who listened.

He took my neighborhood babysitting jobs. I didn’t have to watch kids to feel happiness. A boy, watching kids. Picking up his little sister, who came to play dolls. I didn’t have to entertain my sister, all the time. I walked downtown. I played on the Pike playground, I climbed the tree in my backyard. I had an example and the freedom to follow it or not.

I learned how to express my frustrations by being funny, how to actually joke around. How to get to the meat of the problem. How to bond without giving the game away. Even if we didn’t know we were playing.

By the end of middle school, I remember writing about how I am an absolute genius. That I rule the fucking world, in the most beautiful way. That I am the smartest, most confident person, and I still am.

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