Decentering My Whiteness: My Instructors Pt. 1

20181130_200419-01I cannot take credit for who I am today, without first acknowledging all the people of color that have shaped my life, protected me, corrected, and accepted me.

My parent’s moved to Lewisville, TX when I was 5 years old. They moved to the northern, more affluent tip of Lewisville where new houses were being built and new development was taking place. When it came time to chose a school though, the boundary was made that I would go to not a new local school with all white students, but a school about 15 miles away that had a mixture of black, brown, and white students and also a higher rate of those living in poverty. I was far from living in poverty, as an only, spoiled child, with two working parents that were combined at the high income level. My mom, always the most supportive and loving, became the school PTA president and our involvement in school activities soared. I had friends named, Lupe, Willie, David, and Holly. I noticed as a small child that sometimes my friends would come to school with the same clothes on, or they would sometimes not show up to school for days at a time. Or they would share with me how they didn’t have their lights on in their house. I didn’t understand.

These students loved me, we played together, had birthday parties together, had school plays together, and ate lunch together.

In middle school I was sent to two middle schools that were affluent and predominantly white, and when it came time to go to high school, the boundary had just been made that I would go back to school with all of my old friends from elementary, I would go to Lewisville High School. All of my old friends welcomed me back , loved me, and accepted me.

I joined the basketball team, and though I was just a mediocre player, I made friendships with all players from freshman to varsity. I got a car mid freshman year and I was able to start taking my friends home after practice. They were my old friends from elementary and I finally got a chance to see where they lived. I got a chance to talk to them and be a part of their lives.

One of the formative experiences of my life though was when a young man named Lamont got arrested for me. For the most part, I usually sat with my basketball friends at lunch, I was among one or two white guys at a table of mostly young men of color. We usually sat in the same spots every day out of habit and one day a new transfer student, a large and well built white student, with a bully type of attitude sat in my seat. When I arrived at the seat and saw him there I stood there, and then just decided I’d sit somewhere else at another table. Yet, when my friend Lamont saw this, he asked the young man to get up and let me sit down, that it was my seat.  Lamont was a black young man, about 6’4, 215 pound, muscular force on the basketball court, yet he asked nicely the first time for this young man to get up. When I insisted it was ok, he said no it wasn’t. He got up and stood next to the student and asked him again, and he wouldn’t budge. So then Lamont raised his voice and clinched his fists and demanded he get up and leave. At this time the school police officer was running towards us and just as he got up, the officer put Lamont in handcuffs and took him away. He was given a ticket for disturbing the peace. Later my friend and I would go to court to testify for Lamont, but the case was thrown out because Lamont was wearing shorts to court, and they just gave him a sentence of some type.

I never really was able to unpack this situation until recently, when I finally realized how much Lamont was giving up to protect me and my position at his table. He didn’t have to say anything, but he did. I was someone that he trusted, and we were friends. I’ve only heard stories about Lamont, the last someone told me is that he had been in prison. I hope one day I can share with him how much of an impact he had on my life.

It was also on my basketball team that I could be a part of the black community, but access to certain word was not within my privilege to use. We were sitting around joking, and having fun like any teenage boys do, and I dropped the “N” word like it was my own. They all stopped, looked at me, and one of them kindly told me that I was not allowed to use that word. They didn’t get mad at me, they just kept on talking after I accepted the rebuke. I was using the word in a friendly context, yet what they taught me as a teenager is that it’s not about my feelings or rights concerning if I think language is right or wrong, I was on their turf, and my whiteness could not be centered, the black context was center. I am sure if I didn’t like that rebuke and protested the use of the word, that they would have tolerated me being around for a while, but I would no longer have had their respect or trust.

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