It was a lengthy sweltering summer, prolonged by the delayed school year. We were members at a new pool in Flourtown, it was okay, there were two pools on the property and they were never cold, the back pool was filled with salt water which really exfoliated your skin. The main pool had two slides and a diving board. All in all, the pool was a nice retreat from the scorching sun. There was only one problem-the pool was half an hour away from our house and we didn't know anyone there. I was a fidgety 9 year old and my brother was a busy 6 year old, but very shy, once we got bored playing with each other we’d just sit on the deck. My mom got tired of entertaining us, so we visited a pool that my best friend was a member of. It was a temperate day in August and I was so ready to spend the day with my best friend, my whole family was ready to have a nice relaxing day at the pool. Wherever the pool was it was at least an hour away, but I knew it would be worth it. We finally arrived and walked through the threshold, immediately my eyes started to wonder. As I carefully examined the pool I was confused.
“Where are all the white people?” I asked aloud
“There aren’t any” Olivia, my best friend responded. We shuffled over to our spot on the lawn.
“Well what do you mean?”
“This is a black pool” I didn’t understand, but I decided to leave it alone, my parents were looking at me like I was crazy, and I could tell that no one else seemed to have a problem with it. Olivia dragged me to the diving board so we could wait in line for our turn, I was less than excited to jump when I saw dirt at the bottom of the pool. As I continued to analyze the rest of the pool I noticed that it was basically falling apart. The tiles were covered in scum and falling into the pool. The floor was rusted and some spots had caked on algae. I couldn’t help but attribute that to the only difference that I’d noticed between my pool and that one, the black people. I know how harsh that must sound, but let me give you some background.
The elementary school I went to separated each grade into two sections: Enhanced and Immersion, kids who would be taught in Spanish. The students in the enhanced program were predominantly black, while the kids in the immersion program were predominantly white, I ended up in the immersion program with the white kids. I don’t know why my parents put me in the program, they just did, and I was happy there. Olivia was in the same class as me and I was making lots of friends, white ones.
It didn’t matter to me what race my friends were because my school always advocated for diversity. I was used to being around a rainbow of people, white, asian, black, hispanic, it didn’t matter to me. Until I got to middle school and realized how different I was from the other black kids. Fifth grade is when we started mixing the classes, I wasn’t excited. The reputation the enhanced kids had wasn’t good, they were always getting in trouble, the teachers never stopped yelling at them, kids were always getting kicked out of class, and the majority of the class basically lived in the dean's office. I knew they were troublemakers and I didn’t really want them disrupting my learning.
Once the merger happened everyone was less than enthused, enhanced kids thought we were know it alls and we thought they were awful. Although somehow we ended up getting along, no one switched friend groups perse but we could now talk to each other without judgement. The more I got to know everyone, the more I wanted to befriend everyone, I mean those kids looked like me and grew up with similar experiences. The more we interacted the more I realized that I should want to expand my friend group. I was always taught to have a diverse group of friends but somehow I had ended up with mostly white girls, which was great but there were some things that they didn’t understand about me or vice versa. Like, why did I wear my hair a certain way? Why didn't I get sunburned? Why couldn’t I blush? So I decided to start trying to hang out with a new group of people, people similar to me, I wanted to be apart of their rainbow of mochas, cocos, milk, and white chocolates.
Quickly I realize that I hadn’t made the best decision, yeah it was true that these people looked like me but they weren't like me. The friendship that I tried to develop with them didn’t fulfill me anymore than my other white friends. They were just as intrigued with my blackness as I was with theirs, so I no longer forced myself to hangout with them and turn into their version of blackness.
Being black is more than just following the status quo, wherever I go and try to fit in I just don’t and that’s okay. My “black experience” has been shaped by so many people and places, I guess that makes me a melting pot. But I realize that it doesn’t matter if I go to an HBCU like Hampton or if I move to a black neighborhood, I may never be accepted into the conventional stereotypical world of blackness that I was conditioned into thinking was better. After a long and traveled road I am finally okay with the black woman that I am. Okay with the black and not so black features that I have, I’m okay melanin, okay with the nose, okay with the lack of rhythm, and okay with the global community of black people that I help represent.