Rude Awakenings

            Through the eyes of young child, the world seems like a fresh batch of cookies you can’t wait to get a bite of. Issues such as race, gender, sexuality, and class are neither within the realm nor within the grasp of our knowledge for we are only concerned with the simple pleasures in life. However this cannot last forever. Some where along the way we stop seeing people as just people and instead as black, white, hispanic, gay, straight, bi, rich or poor. Our minds become enraptured with these concepts thus inhibiting us from moving closer to someone simply because they are different.  It is unfortunate that as we emerge from our innocence, we are immediately submerged in a sea of prejudice and discrimination. To me, race was never a huge issue; neither with my friends nor my family until around my junior year of high school.

            I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and lived there with my mother for four years before she migrated to the United States. We lived with my aunt for another four years in Long Island and then moved to New Haven, CT where we lived with my grandfather until I was thirteen and ready to go off to high school. My mother wanted to send me to a private school but seeing as how I had attended one from fourth to eighth grade, and how much I detested it, I decided to change things up a bit and enroll in a public school. Neither my mother nor I regret the choice for not only did I receive a good education, but I also learned some very valuable life lessons that I will carry with me forever.

            Now that I had moved to Hamden, a suburban town adjacent to New Haven, I found myself adjusting to high school with ease. I made many friends no matter their color for I was used to being around diversity. Throughout my freshman and sophomore years I had a lot of fun, but as I reminisce on how things were, I realized that something was wrong.

            Looking back I now see that although I may have conversed with white and Asian students, I only hung out with blacks and Latinos. Though this does not cause much feeling in me, I do wonder why things worked out this way. I ponder if I subconsciously made more of an effort to bond with my African American and Latino peers rather than my Caucasian and Asian counterparts. Though I never thought of race at this time, I now find myself wondering if the images portrayed to me through the media had a negative impact on my perception of other races.

            Now at the beginning of my junior year and even towards the end of the summer that preceded, I noticed that I fell out of touch with many of my friends. Though it was not attributed to any arguments, or any “he said she said” nonsense, I realized that the goals my friends and I set forth for ourselves led us in completely different paths. I wanted to go to college and leave the monotony of Connecticut while they lost sight of the fact that high school would not last forever. I started taking A.P. courses and became more concerned with building not only my academic resume, but also ensuring my opportunity of getting into a great college and securing my future. I would see my old friends the hallway during passing time and instead of hurrying to they’re next class, they would be lounging around criticizing those whose attire was not up to par. I could not help but wonder why so many of my friends, the friends of color who once had so much going for them, suddenly stopped caring. Sometimes when I would speak to them they told me “stop talking white” and not only did it offend me as a person of color, but it also made me wonder why they looked down on my vocabulary and therefore thought of me as “white.” I found it so reprehensible that speaking properly and without slang was a “white” thing. It was at this moment that I began to look at the people in my classes and noticed that I was usually the only brown person aside from the few Asian kids and occasional Black or Latino student. I asked my self “why isn’t there more diversity within the classrooms considering how many races attend this school.” I was soon able to answer my own question.

            When I think of my friends and the homes they came from, I realized that with many of them, education was not always reinforced. And when I take into account that the people they hung out with all thought the same way, I also realize that the lack of motivation within the home paired with surrounding yourself with people who share the same sentiment makes for a mentality that fails to see the we all need to have a post high school plan. Though I lived in the same neighborhood as many of my friends, my mother was always pushing me to do well in school and to put my education first. She never failed to remind me of how beneficial it was to have a college degree and how limitless life could be if I obtained one. I truly thank her for wanting me to do more with my life while appreciating where I came from. I often think about how some of my old friends got involved with soliciting drugs which led to incarceration, how some dropped out, while others just went through the motions of school barely passing with a D and it hurts to know how smart they are and how much potential they had. But due to a certain mindset, some goals, I guess to them, just did not seem attainable or much less worth fighting for.

            As senior year drew in I only became more removed from the friends I had my freshman and sophomore year. I went from having maybe twenty friends to four really close friends. These four were all different but we were all motivated in some way and knew that we wanted to be the best we could be. By this time the issue of race had not dissipated but rather was often at the forefront of my mind. Though I did not attribute every mistreatment from other races to the fact that I was black, I was aware of its factor in certain situations. For example, there were twenty-six students in my A.P. English course and I along with two other girls, were the only people of color in that class. It seemed as though whenever we answered a question with not only accuracy but also depth, I would sometimes notice a surprised look on some of the students faces. At first it bothered me but after a while I decided to ignore it. Then I got my first job as a hostess at a Chili’s restaurant which was right next to my school and it was here that I received another glimpse as to how other races were treated. Once I began working, I saw that although there was a black manager, there were only three other black employees that worked in the front. Though there were many others, I noticed that they worked as cooks or bussers. When I began working there, though everyone was nice, there was one waiter in particular that who always greeted me with “what’s up girlfriend?”, “yo ma’ was good?” or “what’s good homie?” I thought he was simply being facetious but then I noticed that he never spoke to any of his other non-black co workers that way and I began to think that he spoke to me that way because he thought that was how I behaved. Though I do not look down on people who speak that way, it offended me that he assumed that was how I was before he got to know me. But little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

            As time went on I noticed that the servers had a change of attitude whenever an African American, Latino, or Asian person came into the restaurant. I was soon informed that the reason for this was because they felt like they would not get tipped. Before this time I had never heard of the saying that black people don’t tip. Whenever I went out, I always tipped so I found it shocking when this was brought forth to me. I used to get so enraged when a large party of Hispanics or black people came in and the waiters got mad at me for seating them in their section. At first I just let it go, but one day I went to get the waiter because a customer (a black customer) asked for a certain drink and when I got to the back, I overheard the waiter calling them niggers and how he hates serving those people. Before I knew it I went off on him and told him to suck it up and do his job. I could not believe the blatant racism that lay before me and how eminent it seemed to be. The more I worked there, the more instances of racism were brought to my attention and the more some waiters started to distance themselves from me because they knew I would not hesitate to put them in their place. For the most part, I got along with many of the staff but there were those few who gave me the cold shoulder whenever I sat them with people of color. What they failed to realize was that if you walk over to a table with the thought that you will not be tipped, whether you are aware of it or not, your table will sense that and therefore they will not tip you. There was even a server that was paying certain hostess’ to avoid seating him with black people. That is why coming to New York City was such a blessing for me.

            In this city, I find that this social construct known as race seems almost non-existent. This is one of the only places where I have seen so many interracial couples race never seems to play a factor in everyday life. Although it is also very diverse in Jamaica, this, Manhattan is the only other place where I have seen not only equilibrium amongst races but also a sense of consonance and there for a slew of languages and cultures mixing together. Even within the walls of Pace University I see all kinds of people not only within the classroom but also conversing in the hallways and café 101. I love that anyone who is anyone feels comfortable when in the school and even more so this city. There are no cities that I have been to in Connecticut where I have seen such a mix of ethnicities but when my time comes to have children, or even when my children have children, I hope that race will be a thing of the past.

                                                                                                            Danielle Davis

                                                                                                Spring, 2009