I will never forget the very first time I was introduced to racism. I grew up in El Paso, Texas and it wasnít until my junior year of high school that I was confronted with the barriers of color. I am a white man, but growing up in a very diverse neighborhood I never realized that being a certain color meant something until this incident.
I grew up in a very diverse setting and had many friends of different races and ethnicities. Three of my very good friends were black but they too did not realize that color was a major issue until confronted along with me. We were heavily involved in athletics and took every opportunity to play a variety of sports. They had heard of one particular gymnasium in El Paso where the basketball games were unbelievably competitive. So we all decided to jump in the car and head over one Sunday afternoon. When we walked in we got some looks but nothing that made any of us feel uncomfortable and I hardly even noticed that I was one of only a few white men in the entire gym. We signed up to play together and sat around talking, waiting for our turn on the floor. When we finally stepped on the court we never left, winning every game we played. I was having an outstanding afternoon and was doing very well against one particular team. At the time I didnít realize that the same individual was guarding me every time we played this team. I was playing as hard as I could, not knowing that this was turning into more than a basketball game.
How could I have known that doing something the same way I had my entire life would end up becoming an eye opener I had yet to experience? It was getting late in the day and we decided to play one last game. The individual I mentioned earlier was once again my opponent. It all happened so fast, still to this day I canít remember ever seeing it coming. I had just stolen the ball from him and ran to the other end for a lay-up. After I scored I turned around and ran right into his right fist. After I went down his outrage took over and he just continued to punch and kick me as hard as he could. My three friends ran over, pulled him off, and the dispute began. As I was lying there I could not believe what had just happened and I still didnít know why! Thatís when he said it and everything changed. His exact words were, ďI will not let this white boy embarrass me in front of my brothers, how in the hell could you guys bring this white boy to our gym.Ē The pain I felt was worse in my heart than the bruises I had just received. Why was I being singled out because of the color of my skin? I could only imagine what was going through the other individualís mind.
I will never forget that day at the gym when something inside me snapped. I really canít tell you what happened to make the rage inside of me take over, a question I still probably canít fully answer. I donít know if it was just I against him or if it was the world telling me that this is the way it is supposed to be. Growing up I always heard that it was us against them, minorities against whites. The funny thing is that I didnít even know this guy. If I didnít even know him, then why did hate grow inside of me?
I believe that the events that took place that day were all built around stereotypes and beliefs bred into each of us through family, friends and even the media. What were all of my black friends thinking about me with this white boy showing me up? I could just feel the tension growing right in front of my eyes. At the time I saw no other alternative but to show everyone in the gym that I wasnít going to stand for this. So, I just snapped and hit him. Funny thing is that after I hit him, without even thinking about it, I just continued to try to really hurt this guy.
I didnít even think that racism could be a two way street, I mean, am I not the racist if I place a white man in a category because of the color of his skin. This white man was doing nothing to me; he was just playing great basketball. I was the one at the gym who had the problem with race, not him. I hope I have learned that changing racism has to happen on both sides, it is not just the white man that has to change but all of us!
I am not saying that I was unaware of racism or that I didnít even know it was going on in my community; I had just never personally been confronted with the issue. Growing up in El Paso, Texas racism did not seem that big because of the great deal of diversity in the city. El Paso sits right on the Mexico border and is also home to one of the largest Army bases; these two places bring many different people from different backgrounds to El Paso. However, it was the late eighties and gang activity was on the rise, economic recession was very big on the border, and planned communities began to develop all over the city. These issues caused a huge separation between races and anyone of another race was almost automatically an outsider.
I can see the elements and the sparks that lead to my own incident and Iím not even blaming my opponent for the incident. The tension in the gym that day was very high and along with the outside influences he may have felt as though he was in a corner. He probably felt as though he had been in a corner his whole life and I just happened to be the one that pushed him over the top. Since this incident I cannot say that things have not changed. I am still to this day very close to those same three friends, but in that instant our friendship changed. We all unfortunately became very aware that we are different and that no matter what, each of us will always be put in a class because of the pigmentation of our skin! In that instance my opponent was also changed and most likely it was also in a negative way.
How does racism work its way into our lives? Are we born with the notion that we are separated because of our skin or does society mold us that way? I believe that in the gym that day society played a key role in the escalation of my incident, however the incident did not change me in society. I still do not make judgements of individuals based on color or culture; I make my own judgement after getting to know someone. As long as we let others influence us then we will never change as a society.
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