By: Charity Turnboe
My family was a product of black love. My parents are both black, and up until age five we lived in a nice black community within Detroit. Though race never occurred to me growing up, I never had any hatred of myself or others due to race. In fact I don’t even think I had an understanding of what it was until I was taken from homeschooling in third grade, and put into the public school system.
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We had moved to St. Clair Shores – a small town about a ten minute drive from my old house- the year before and my mother had decided to enroll us. Though I did Co-ops for homeschooling with people of all races, the school I was put in was virtually all white. This didn’t really matter to my seven year old mindset, and though I was shy around people at first, I soon started socializing with everyone with no regard to skin color.
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Most of my friends were white, but my dearest friend Margaret was black. That first day in the classroom there was an instant connection between the two of us being two out of about four black girls. I don’t think I knew at the time race was the reason I opened up to her, but I certainly am aware of that as the reason now.
Then fourth grade came around and it was great! All until I get promoted into the fifth grade. I had become so used to all of the people I had known the year before, and being taken from them, and put into an environment with an entire set of different student’s was difficult. No one really talked to me at first, and in fact even the teacher in my new class seemed cold towards me. While everyone would play at recess I’d lock myself in the bathroom not doing anything, but just wishing to not go out and feel lonely with nobody to talk to.
Looking back I realize I was actually depressed and suppressing a lot of my emotion during school time, only to have it erupt when I returned home. I even told my mother I didn’t want to go to school anymore at one point. Which she adamantly said no too, and thank God she did, because as time passed things slowly started getting better. Then one day I struck up a conversation with the two black girls in my class about our churches. One of those girls became one of my greatest friends throughout my middle school years.
Still, I maintained relationships with the people in the grade I had just left. Over the summer I was invited to a party for a white friend of mine. I was super excited to even be invited, and Margaret was there too. When I walked through the door the girls’ mom, aunt, and cousin all stomped up to me talking about how cute and “behaved” I looked. They were fawning over me; touching my hair, taking pictures, the works. At the time I thought that was cool and made me interesting.
As the party progressed we began throwing water balloons and the aunt was in on it too so I threw one her way just as the other girls at the party had. She stomped over to where I was and made probably the first racist comment I can remember. Her words were: ” You better behave or you can go back to Detroit where you came from” I’m guessing she was either drunk, or had no prior knowledge that I lived just up the street in the same city as them (St. Clair Shores).
After she said that I became paranoid about doing something wrong again so I made sure to act “proper” as to not be in trouble with her family. Meanwhile the other girls at the party acted out as they pleased. This you could say, was my first introduction to the respectability policies shoved on African American youth at a young age. When I went home I didn’t even tell my mother about the incident out of fear I had in fact done something wrong.
When sixth grade came I recreated myself, -new wardrobe, self-confidence, etc. – and people bought it! I had a stable set of friends, and there was a bit more diversity at the middle school of the district. Also I had my sister at the same school which definitely helped. The both of us would leave after school and hang out with her – almost all black- group of friends. There was a unity amongst all of us by being a minority group which was amazing, and something I look back fondly upon till this day. Growing up
I’d never been surrounded by such a large group of people just like me, who were dealing with the same school system as I was. I loved every moment spent with them.
In seventh grade I became very interested in activism, and by now I had a basic understanding of what racism was. I began speaking at events in my aunt’s court, and going to rallies with my sister. I loved having a voice. Even though I had spent such a long time in a predominantly white school system I never formed self-hate, and I think that was due to my foundation. My mother always encouraged us to wear our natural hair- which I did- and love ourselves.
The only time I can think of that came close to self-hatred on my part was one day looking in the mirror and flattening my lips because I thought them to be too big. But other than that it was all love, which is something a lot of people don’t have regardless of their environment.
Also, seventh grade year another black girl and I won first place in the science fair. Every year before then the paper had come, taken pictures, and given an interview of the two winners. That year they did not. Instead the papers writer walked around the winners table and went to give two white children the interview we had been excited for.
My mother and I both recognized this for what it was, and decided that if I wasn’t being appreciated I would be home schooled again. So I was! It was a blur, but it allowed me the time to fine tune a lot of my political beliefs, which is something I’m happy to have gotten.
Another thing awesome that year? Our neighborhood! We were surrounded by a community of families helping each other out all the time, and we made very close relationships with everyone in our area which was a blessing! It truly showed me the importance of community, which is something I still believe in today.
That next year however, we moved to Grosse Pointe – located seven minutes from my childhood home in Detroit- which was the opposite. It is not that the people of that town are malicious and rude or anything, it’s just that where I lived in Grosse Pointe it was hard to really get to know anyone. However we did have a bad experience when we went to register for school. The person in the office was especially cold towards us for some reason, and a person who brought their child in the office we were in commanded them to stop communicating with us which did put a bit of a sour taste in our mouth about going to school there.
My sister and I started school about two days late which made getting to know people complicated, however our cousin went there as well so it wasn’t that bad. In my first hour class I was one out of two black people. And you guessed it! We became friends and still are till this day.
The most controversial class at the school I attended ninth grade year was history. We were constantly having heated debates, and I would get so nervous about sharing my views at times that I’d be on the verge of tears as I spoke. Though it was world history, when it was time for Africa to be covered my teacher simply said: “I know you guys aren’t really going to be listening anyway since it’s so close to break, so let’s cover African history, because quite frankly it’s boring”. I don’t recall myself saying anything back to his comment, and I’m not sure if it’s because I truly didn’t catch what he was saying, or because I was shocked but either way now I wish I had responded.
I stuck close to the black people of the school, and to be honest I had a little animosity against white people at that time. Due to the Baltimore protests that were going on, along with the
Freddie Gray case I became cold towards others. I was so upset that I barely spoke to anyone aside from my select group of friends.
During this time I became aware of the respectability politics I’d played in the past, and the fact that I’d actually once thought that going to school with white people and “talking white” made me better than others. In the past I had thought myself better than a lot of people. Coming to a new school system somehow awakened me from this strangely and I became more passionate about race than ever before.
I joined African American alliance and was named vice-president. I was feeling amazing! Until I moved again, meaning I had to move school’s once more. It is sophomore year and I am currently at a predominantly black school for the first time in my life, and I love it! At first I was nervous moving into a new school, and I didn’t know if they’d be receptive to me. However the stigma I once had surrounding relationships with other black students has been shattered with their tremendous kindness towards me. The relationships I have with people just like me have been amazing, and it’s allowed me an understanding of my people I’ve never had before.
It feels as if I’ve found a safe haven from worrying about race, which scares me a bit. Though I am still passionate about activism, I’m not as into it as I was when I attended my old high school. It’s like we’re under a sort of umbrella from it because we have each other, but part of me wants to feel livid as I did when discussing race before.
Moving from predominantly Caucasian schools all my life to a black one has also cleared up a lot of the misconceptions I once had about my race. I actually had a hard time communicating with people for a long time before moving schools. Being surrounded by such a great community of people has certainly been beneficial for me mentally and spiritually. I feel more in tune with myself than ever before! So would I take back my hard times in the past? No because without them I would not have the deep appreciation I now have for finally loving not only myself in my own skin, but other people in theirs.