While attending Charles Drew Elementary School for three full years, I don’t believe I made any good friends. After my time at Drew I had to leave to attend a better public school called Penn Alexander. It was a considerable upgrade from my old school, but at the same time it was even more daunting. I was notorious for having a stuttering problem taking what seemed like days to pronounce the easiest of words, not only to add to that but I had seemed to adopt a sort of “ghetto” accent as black people from west Philly are known for having. This made changing from Drew school to PAS very difficult because it was a mix of several races meaning that my speech didn’t fit in anywhere in particular.
Interracial mingling was something that I had never seen before. I’d only ever known black people and had only seen white people on rare occasions with my mother. The idea of a white kid being able to talk to a black one was like cats and dogs hugging it out. People could have spoken anything from the “ghetto” english I had heard to the standard white one that I had only just recently heard of. Transitioning into this new mixed environment was a hard experience even then I didn’t feel adjusted until 9th grade. Transitioning from PAS to SLA was very smooth because the atmosphere between the two was very similar so I felt right at home after years of adjusting to PAS.
My dad always was a forgetful person, so it wasn’t surprised when he told me to walk down to the local grocery store to pick up some food supplies.
“Get up and go! I don’t have time for this I need to finish cooking!” said my dad angrily.
“Ugh, alright fine I’ll go just stop bothering me,” I retorted.
I slapped on whatever clothes I just took out of the wash and went outside. Now stepping outside I noticed a few things. The first one was that it dark outside and it seemed like it was about to rain soon. Secondly I had seen some people standing down the street in the direction I was going of whom I had never seen before. Being oblivious to how things looked I just kept walking staring at my feet.
“Hey young bull slow down let me talk to you,” said the second biggest one of the group.
I didn’t respond and simply kept walking. The guy looked at least 17-18 and I didn’t want to deal with him so I ignored him. The guy got distracted by one of his friends and didn’t realize I had walked off.
“Hey young bull! Hey young bull!” He kept calling as if he expected me to walk back.
I reached the grocery store which was about a block away from me house. One of the cashiers who worked at the grocery store said that the groups of guys were calling me.
“I’ve never seen those guys in my life,” I said.
“Ignore them; they are trying to mess with you,” he said.
I bought my stuff at the store and continued on my way and then went to go talk to the security officer about the people. He casually shrugged off what I had said and told me that they are just a bunch of punks messing with me. Feeling I could do nothing else I walked back to my house.
At first I hadn’t seen anyone but as I neared closer my house I saw the group of guys walk about of a driveway right near my house. They immediately circled around me; two of them frisked my pockets and took the money I had left over and the groceries. Another one punched me in the jaw and then they all counted up the money they had taken and checked the groceries I had. I quickly sprinted to my house and rung the bell as fast as possible. They saw what I was doing, dropped the groceries, and immediately ran.
The whole event changed how I view black people and made me want to disassociate myself with them while at the same time allowing myself to be able to act freely around them. I tried to act more like other black people to try and fit in and give myself some peace. It got to the point where some of my friends wanted to disassociate themselves from because they didn’t like how I was acting.
“Hey Rafi did you catch the fight between Velasquez and Lesnar” my friend said.
“Naw man shit I don’t keep up with crap like that these days, I’m busy with my other bro” I said back.
I tried so hard to emulate an accent and dialect that wasn’t really mine my friends saw right through it and didn’t want anything to do with me after that. I ended up making things worse for myself. I made an environment I felt was hostile because of who I was even more hostile towards myself as I lost friends.
Similarly, in the Comedy Central show Key and Peele, there is a skit where the two black males purposely tried to seem tougher as to assert a feel of dominance and masculinity. However when they walk away from each other the tone completely changes and one of the Men says to their friend over the phone “Oh my gosh Christian I just totally almost got mugged just now!” The two men were completely harmless to one another but because they didn’t know that about one another they automatically try to toughen up to seem more dominant as to avoid any unwanted confrontation.
I effectively judged an entire race of people because of the handiwork of a few individuals. It made me into a very judgmental person who was very paranoid. It was only after many months that I realized that my impressions were all wrong. I learned that code switching was not solving any of my problems as it only further distorted what I actually wanted to be which was a person who could speak in whatever way, shape, or form that they wanted.
The key to feeling safe and comfortable in society was for me to find middle ground where I could act the same around everybody. Only after letting go of my fear and trying to cope with my fear of getting mugged was I able to stop trying to act so intimidating when it really was not my suit. I stopped trying to talk like other stereotypical black people after being mugged because I realized it was only escalating the situation as shown in the Key and Peele skit and that I should only speak they way I wanted to.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzprLDmdRlc (Key and Peele Skit)