Opinion

Growing up a prejudiced Black boy in Los Angeles

How systemic racism instilled prejudiced practices in myself against my own race.

How systemic racism instilled prejudiced practices in myself against my own race.

Image By: Anita Grigore

Bringing myself to write this flooded me with heavy emotions, forcing me to think about the countless Black lives lost meaninglessly over the picking and choosing of who deserves human rights. I did not want to write down — making public proof — of the racist interactions I have endured throughout my lifetime. 

However, this is bigger than me. 

This is bigger than political parties. This is bigger than the n-word. This is bigger than police brutality. Be it in the last week or in the last 400 years, my community is plagued by injustice after injustice which are covered with band aid after band aid. 

But what is a minor band aid to do for the countless fatal wounds that have been inflicted upon the Black community? From redlining to environmental racism to box braids, Black people are condemned for simply being.   

In my own experience with racism, I realized I looked poorly upon myself for the color of my skin during my youth. I just wanted to be white. I would have done anything if it meant I could wake up the next morning and be rid of my melanin, kinky hair and everything that came with them. 

I began to see dark skin exactly how society wanted me to: as dirty and unworthy. I would walk past other Black men on the street, staring to make sure they left me alone. I considered all of the other Black kids at my elementary, middle and high schools’ unintelligent unless I had ample reason to believe otherwise. 

When my non-Black peers told me I am actually really smart, I took it as a compliment. I thought I must have been unique as covert racism snuck into my life and into my ideologies without my awareness of such phenomena. Black people are dumb, lazy, not self-sufficient and will never amount to anything — or so I believed for an extremely long time. 

I grew up in the liberal bubble of Los Angeles, in Ladera Heights — a predominantly Black neighborhood — and I believed only people in the South were racist. This of course, is not true, but I wasn’t exactly aware of that until racism smacked me in the face. 

The first time I ever experienced overt racism I was 13, in seventh grade, and I was at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. At the end of the show after I left the arena and was exiting the USC Galen Center, a tall and rather impatient white man with a full beard pushed his way through myself and one of my friends who was also Black. This same man then proceeded to turn around, look the both of us up and down and shouted at us “F****** N*****s!” 

I was stuck in my tracks, shocked. 

I thought to myself, “I’m in Los Angeles, how could this have happened?” I don’t remember much from when I was 13, but this has and most likely will always stick with me for the rest of my life. 

The next time I would endure racism I was still 13. I was in Marina Del Rey, just west of Los Angeles, and my mother was waiting for me in the parked car while I went inside to shop for a halloween costume. As I reached the bottom of the steps leading to the costume store I noticed I was the only person there. Then a woman came to the top of the steps and began hesitantly walking down as she examined my every move. I was confused and couldn’t tell why she was staring at me. Her purse was on the arm closest to me and right before I got “too close” she frantically switched her bag to her other arm and walked faster down the steps. Once again I stood there, stuck in my tracks. I turned around and watched her walk down the steps unsure if that had actually just happened. 

“Why would she think that I was going to steal from her? Can’t she tell I’m just a kid?” I thought. 

It didn’t matter. I was Black. I am Black. Situations like the two above have continued to occur to me to this day. Suspicious looks when I drive my Lexus to work in the Pacific Palisades, an affluent and predominantly white neighborhood, because there is absolutely no way I didn’t steal my own car, right? 

These exponentially harmful interactions cause me to continue to struggle with my self image regarding my Blackness, and also my outlook on other Black people. Be it assuming an anglicized speech pattern is more desirable, or making specific clothing choices, I oftentimes find myself assimilating to white American social norms in order to prevent being profiled. 

“Maybe if I speak ‘articulately’ no one will judge me.” “If I wear an Apple Watch maybe they’ll think I’m of a higher socioeconomic class.” “I’m late for the Metro to school, but I shouldn’t run because someone may think that I’m a criminal. I guess I’ll just walk and wait an hour for the next bus.” 

Yes, an hour… These are all thoughts continuously running through my mind on a daily basis. I am always thinking of different ways to seem less threatening or to seem like I belong in a certain place. 

But why wouldn’t I belong? Why do I even have these backwards thoughts about my own people? 

This is because racism is everywhere. It’s taught in our schools when the crayon box has a peach-like color labeled “skin tone.” It’s in our justice systems with Black people receiving disproportionate prison sentences to their caucasian counterparts. It’s in law enforcement with countless Black lives lost to the hands of the people meant to protect. It’s in the environment with toxic waste plants intentionally placed in close proximity to neighborhoods with a higher number of residents that are people of color. It’s in the beauty industry where dark skinned women, men and everyone in between can’t find their shade of foundation because it isn’t available due to their darker skin tone not conforming to white America’s beauty standards. It’s really not hard to find. 

On a daily basis, Black America is being reminded by white America of our “inferiority” and if you tell someone something enough, what do you expect them to believe? If I have been reminded of my “inferiority” on a daily basis since before I could even make sense of race relations, then what would you expect me to think of myself? 

The most devastating effect of the racism I have endured is having to look back at my childhood and see how unhappy I was. And a huge part of this was because while I knew Black people in America were treated differently, no one has ever been able to give me a valid answer as to why this is. 

What makes me so different from him, or her, or any of them? 

All of this said, systemic racism infiltrates all aspects of American society, even in ways you wouldn’t at all expect. To be frank, I hated myself as a result of systemic racism. But everyday we live, we learn from each other. We learn from each other’s experiences and this gives us opportunities to grow. Black people have stories to tell and it’s time to open your ears and listen.

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