Growing up in a predominantly all-white community has helped me better understand what it’s like for my local peers to first encounter a person of color. In my first twelve years of life, the only people of color I met were a few Native American parents of foster siblings, and my little sister, Heather. (I don’t count Heather.)
Everyone else was Caucasian. My teachers, neighbors, friends, family, everyone. It was all I knew so, of course, it was normal to me. Basic training was my first experience with diversity. I stared a lot. I got bullied by a black woman from Miami who claimed I “talk proper.” While I tried to process this, the other women stood up for me and shut her down. It was my first experience with social politics.
My first assigned buddy was a black woman. We despised each other within a few minutes of the meeting. She called me an oreo, and I told her she needed glasses. (I know, I suck at comebacks in real time but think of hilarious zingers after sleeping on it.) I remember putting all my energy into preventing myself from bursting into tears. I failed. Repeatedly. Throughout the whole eight-week course. (And that’s not counting the time I spent working one-on-one with a Drill Sgt learning how to walk right before I could begin basic training.)
I was assigned a different buddy since we both objected vehemently. I got a Mexican-American woman whose English needed some work. My Sesame Street Spanish served me well. She was the best buddy I ever had. We complemented each other well and conquered each challenge by working together. I also befriended a woman (named Heather!) who was the glue that held our platoon together. She had bright red hair and a few freckles. She could find the funny in anything. I learned so much from her. Thanks to her wit, we laughed as much as we cried.
I loved serving in the Army. Acquiring PTSD was my only reason for getting out. It murdered my eligibility to serve. I had both positive and traumatic experiences. I learned a great deal about humans, war, and reality. I lost my innocence in every sense of the word. I recognized my vulnerability and gullibility. I had known before I reenlisted that my reasons for joining initially were adorable at best. In those initial three years, I grew up. I entered a child, and before my first active duty enlistment ended, the child in me surrendered control to my adult self. The military has converting children into soldiers down to a science. Soldiers are adults. The process was painful but fascinating.
I remember the day I realized I had a friend from every group identified by the government. I ate chocolate cake for dinner that day in celebration. I celebrated because I thought it meant I was safe from ever being called a racist. I felt like I won some unspoken challenge in life. This is something I tie to my upbringing. It’s a subtle conformity to institutional racism. Subtleties usually fly over me. I fear I’m too distracted to grasp them regularly.
This recognition of my contribution to the problem of racism is extremely hopeful progress in my journey to being the best possible me. Now that I’m aware of where I’m fucking up, I can consciously avoid it in the future. I have several previous posts in this blog where I, unfortunately, demonstrated my ignorance. When I gain new knowledge and annihilate the ignorance, I’m tempted to go back and remove anything I said that I now realize identified me as an ignoramus. I chuckle, then leave it.
Another thing I learned in the Army;
It never hurts to have a reminder handy for those times you’re tempted to shove your head up your ass.
My previous posts remind me, humble me, and (something that might be) embarrass me. I’ll never forget the day I had to carry a giant cardboard ID card everywhere I went for losing my military ID card. My Sgt took many liberties in drawing the highly unflattering photo on my large version. I struggled to keep assholes from yanking it away and running off. (Losing the giant card would have been devastating.) People kept honking and scaring the shit out of me. I was a nervous wreck that day. I never misplaced a card of any type since. Or keys. I guess it was worth it.
I don’t classify my friends by political groupings any longer. I know diversity enriches my life. I like being surrounded by it, but I’m also okay with living in a community that doesn’t have a lot of diversity. What matters is recognizing it’s positive for everyone. The only superior race is homo sapiens. We changed the face of our planet, for better or worse, and climbed to the top of the food chain. This is our planet, and I hope we spread to much more in the future.
When a person creates something that propels mankind forward, that victory belongs to all humans. The same goes for the athlete who achieves a world record. And the scholar who wins the Nobel Prize. The writer who captures our imagination so profoundly we believe the story is real. The actor that makes us laugh, then cry. The comedian who’s so funny you laugh and cry at the same time. The artist who captures an idea and paints it on a canvas. These are humanities victories. These are proof of our awesomeness as a species. We don’t worship people, we share what makes us amazing. It’s in all of us. All humans. It’s in you. It’s in me.
Knowing this makes me love people. I know everyone I encounter has awesome in them. I hope they show it off. It’s a connection between all of us, and I think we should all celebrate it by eating chocolate cake for dinner. You in?