The Dance

I was raised to be a racist. I lived in an all-white neighborhood and went to an all-white school. My stepfather would regularly use the ‘n-word’ and would punish us if we tried to make friends with black kids. One time my sister tried to make friends with some black kids from school and she was grounded for a week.

When I was in junior high, there was one black kid in our school. I don’t think anyone gave it much thought that he was black, his social status (being the most important thing about junior-high) was upper-mid-level. Accepted by the popular kids, but not included in their daily machinations.

I remember there was a dance – just a normal event in our school experience. And at one point, a large group had coalesced at one end of the gym. The group quickly formed into a circle, and the circle formed around the black kid. They were around him and they looked to me like hungry wolves – eyes bright, mouths agape in wide, tooth-filled smiles. It was as if they assumed that because he was black, he could dance and entertain them, like a trained monkey.

Suddenly thrust into their spotlight, he just stood there like a frightened deer. He smiled and tried to sway awkwardly to the beat, confused by all the attention and wondering what was expected of him. They watched and waited for him to do something, anything, but all he did was stand there and sway. No one said a word. I remember feeling angry over their greed – he wasn’t there for their amusement. Just because he was black, didn’t mean he was there to entertain them. But I was too scared to say anything. I was a social pariah then and was afraid of calling any attention to myself. Frustrated and angry, I watched this poor bemused kid displayed in front of a bunch of privileged white brats try to do whatever it is they wanted him to do. Eventually, bored and displeased, the crowd dispersed, unable to extract any pleasure from him. Unfortunately, his social status diminished that day to lower-mid-level (only acknowledged by the really nice popular kids who felt sorry for him), and he was never the same again.

Personally, I do notice racial differences. I notice when people look different – I’m a visual person. But it’s exactly those differences that attract us to each other. Our differences aren’t here to push one person up while pushing another down. They’re here to blend together and make the whole stronger. And when we are strong together, we can resist anything.

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