It was a blessing to be raised by a father who didn’t train me to look at people through a lens of color, but even with this advantage, I didn’t fully understand until sophomore year of high school.
I’m a white female, raised in a middle-class household by a single father. I don’t apologize or complain about these facts- that’s simply where I landed in this world.
In 1985, my high school began an integration project. Busloads of kids from East Palo Alto were brought to our school for their education. It was voluntary, but many kids were “encouraged” by their parents to attend. There were more opportunities.
Debates raged over whether the EPA kids should be able to play on the sports teams because their parents weren’t paying taxes to support the school. It was an embarrassment to watch. I wanted my father so badly to come and argue that if they are attending the school- they should have the right to play sports. But he was a single dad and busy earning a paycheck.
I tried out for the basketball team, making varsity, but so many of my friends didn’t make either team- replaced by better kids from East Palo Alto. Some felt robbed- told me to quit or they couldn’t be my friend anymore. I didn’t quit and watched friendships evaporate. The year before, our team was all-white- this year I was the only white kid on the team.
We were good. We won often.
Every school day, the point guard on our team would pass by my locker in the hall around 1pm and slam my locker shut. Every…damn…day.
I’d been getting increasingly agitated about the way things were going on and off the court. I felt as though my friends encouraged me to quit and now the girls from EPA were trying to get me to quit.
My dad asked one day how school and basketball were going and even though he probably expected a short answer of “fine”- he got much more than that. After I had finished rattling on- he looked at me, obviously confused by something.
“Honey, why don’t you tell your team that you don’t appreciate their behavior?”
“I’m just afraid, Dad- I don’t want anyone to think I’m racist.”
My dad laughed. I waited for him to stop.
“Let’s take this girl that’s slamming your locker shut every day.” And then, apples of gold spilled from his mouth. “What would you do if a white girl was slamming your locker shut every day? That’s the real question. Being prejudiced often means you treat people differently. Everyone wants and deserves the same respect… the same treatment. That’s true equality.”
The next day, our point guard swung my locker shut when I was bending down to retrieve some books. I stood up, snatched her by her collar, and slammed her against the lockers.
“If you touch my locker one more time, I will kick your ass up and down this hallway. Are we clear?”
I let her go before she could answer and pushed through a group of her friends who I was also ready to pummel, if the need had arisen.
Admittedly, this is not a recommended way to resolve all issues, but it was an honest reaction from a fifteen-year-old girl that would later produce a dear friendship.
That locker marked a headstone- the day that racism died in me. Good riddance.