It still hurts, and it will continue to hurt.
I grew up in a very small, predominately white town. And by small, I mean small. Like, we had one blinking stop light and everyone knew my mama name small. I remember when we built our first Sonic Drive-In and how that was a town wide phenomenon. I went on to work there throughout high school. The name of my home town is Sweeny, Texas. Sweeny had a very tight knit, southern conservative feel to it ― an insulated community.
Nearly every elected official, police officer, school teacher, volunteer fire fighter, and business owner I ever encountered was white. As you can imagine, many of my childhood friends and close acquaintances were white as well. We played, went to school, laughed, and even occasionally got in trouble together.
No, Sweeny wasn’t this post-racial utopia where we exchanged customs and cultures. We were eons away from such a place. In fact, Sweeny had a storied reputation for being both insidiously and overtly discriminatory. Which is pretty ironic now that I think about it, our town motto was “A city with pride.” Perhaps “A city with southern pride” would have been more fitting. I had my share of disputes and fist fights for the use of racially charged remarks and slurs.
The first time I was called a nigger was in the third grade at recess. I vividly remember those feelings of anxiety and shame consume me as my eyes filled with tears and my tiny fingers compressed to make a tight fist. I wanted to punch him, but his words pierced my soul. I just stood there paralyzed with pain.
In spite of that, I still maintained my friendships with my white friends. You see, they were different. This is probably because they never used racially charged remarks or slurs. Well, at least not in my presence.
My white friends and I rarely discussed race. We were care free children after all. We were much more concerned with bike riding, mischief and PlayStation. But when we did discuss race, my friends would always reassure me that the casual racism and discrimination I experienced was just the ignorance of a few.
At the time, this made perfect sense. I was very young and the complexities of race was something I simply did not understand at the time. I knew of the blatant instances of racism, but the insidious instances were tough to identify.
As we grew older, my childhood white friends and I began to identify differently. I don’t remember the exact moment when I noticed our growing indifferences, but I believe it was sometime around high school. Our indifferences became our preferences. We were becoming individuals. This in turn led to us to choose different circles of friends.
We still occasionally hung out and talked. We still considered ourselves friends, but things were just a little different now. I don’t believe there was any animosity or tough feelings. In fact, I think we all were a bit happier finding friends to identify with.
After high school, I left Sweeny and went off to college. Some of my childhood friends went off to school as well. While others stayed, hit the workforce and started families of their own. Luckily, we were able to keep in touch via Facebook. We would like each other’s pictures and status updates occasionally.
I would visit their Facebook pages occasionally to check in, that is when I first began to notice that our differences continued to develop as we grew older. But this growth made me uncomfortable, even angry at times. Most of it was “I’m not racist but…. here’s a very racist statement” and the occasional anti-Obama rhetoric.
It offended me, but I chalked most of it up to just being a difference in political ideology ― even though I slightly felt their arguments were rooted in racism. We exchanged views and wits from time to time, but nothing too major. As Facebook began to become more popular, I saw more of my classmates and friends sharing their ideals, principles and personal views. I too was very active on social media, often voicing my concerns of injustice and un-apologetically affirming that Black lives do indeed matter.
Many of my friends and classmates began to challenge my views. As you can imagine, this attributed to many debates and arguments. I wish I could tell you that we all exchanged insight and simply agreed to disagree. I wish I could tell you that these conversations were constructive and productive. But we know that was simply not the case.
Some where between the re-election of Barack Obama and the murders of black bodies at the hands of law enforcement, I saw my white friends begin grow comfortable in their anti-blackness. I watched them share racist right wing articles, support state-sanctioned violence and argue who was worthy of life and humanity.
I watched my friends who I played, went to school, laughed and even occasionally got in trouble with devalue my life and reality. That hurt. It still hurts, and it will continue to hurt. I hurt most of all for that little boy who was reassured that the casual racism and discrimination he experienced was just the ignorance of few.
At 26, I now understand that there was no way we were ever friends. We just grew up together.