I grew up in Northern Maine, but spent time living outside Washington D.C., Freehold, NJ, Casper, Wyoming and Old Saybrook, CT because my father was a wanderer. All of these places were mostly white, and when they weren’t – they still seemed segregated to me. My parents never taught me to hate other races, or even distrust or think of them as different. I first heard the n word shouted at a man I had known to be sweet and kind and hard working from a kid I went to school with, Eric Debay. I don’t mind naming him because that attitude continued and he became a bully for me, he and his friends regularly calling me a faggot. In that moment I had a decision to make. As he sat on his bike speaking to me in my parent’s car I asked him why he called the man that. He explained himself, but it was clear that he didn’t know why he hated. I was in love with Jody Watley at the time and I knew she was black and I knew that man across the street was cool, so this kid must just be an idiot. I rolled up the window and I’m fairly certain our friendship fizzled out that day. I heard words of hate regularly growing up in that small Northern Maine town – sometimes about Mexican migrant workers, often about gay people, sometimes about Asian people, but most often about black people. I had a hard time understanding it because we weren’t faced with many opportunities to interact with people of color in not just our town, but the whole county and even state.
Through high school I became increasingly obsessed with black pop culture of the time- I would only watch movies like Action Jackson, Poetic Justice, Boomerang and New Jack City. I would mostly listen to TLC, 2Pac, En Vogue, Mary J Blige, and even 2 Live Crew. When it came time to pick a school I went with one in Philadelphia because of Boyz II Men and someone I knew from there who had visited me in Maine. I was so excited to get there and have a more diverse group of friends and maybe be accepted for the first time. The reality though, was that Philadelphia was still a little segregated. I heard even more terrible, racist things out of the mouths of students and co-workers. Racial tension was high and I was young and naive and didn’t understand how to be an ally. When I left school I moved straight to San Francisco and fell into an apartment with a stranger, a beautiful woman named Laura. She taught me about life, loving myself, standing up for others, and yes – about racism and privilege. She was a young black woman. And she was fabulous. When my mom came to visit she exclaimed, “you didn’t tell me she was black, that’s cool!” My mom was proud that I didn’t feel the need to describe her in that way. I didn’t realize I hadn’t honestly. I can’t say I didn’t think about it. Even though I wasn’t taught to hate and no one sat me down to say, “hey, we are only humans, don’t divide with color”, I do. I do see color. I wish I didn’t. I wish something inside of me didn’t assume all black people are rad because I know that is a form of racism too. I know deep down that assholes know no color. I don’t know where it came from or why do it, but I do and I still work on it every day. I do know that without black people in our lives – our music, our dance, our poetry, our movies, our very culture in the United States would be absolutely bland mayonnaise.
Today is Juneteenth, commemorating June 19th, 1865 when the abolition of slavery was announced. I was not taught of this holiday and didn’t know a thing about it until I had black friends. Perhaps if I had learned about that in school, perhaps if other hateful little shites around me had heard the heart breaking tale of the burning of Greenwood, Oklahoma they would have grown to have more empathy, more compassion. Celebrating these African American Holidays and learning of the history could benefit all of us at that young age. I hope our education system evolves because starting young is the only way to bring about true understanding and change and an end to the systemic racism in our country.
Above, some people who I love, who might not have existed or been created had it not been for Juneteenth.