SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2004        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Jamie Conway

My First Lesson in Difference

    Hi my name is Jamie and I want to tell you about my first lesson in difference.  When I  was in second grade, I became friends with a girl who was quite different than me, her name is Shaina. 

Wait a minute, I am not going to let you tell this story all on your own, I am going to help tell it!  I am Shaina.   Jamie came to our class later in the school year, and we got to know each other pretty well right away.  She and I had several things in common and had fun together during recess and at each other‘s homes. 

As I think back on it now, almost everything about Shaina and I was different.  The things we enjoyed doing and the school we went to had to be the only commonalities we shared.  I did not realize how much different we really were, until I had to think about it for this assignment.  But, when we are children, we do not think about things the same way we do as adults. 

The fun we had together is all that mattered to Jamie and I at that age.  But sooner or later things always change, as did my feelings about our differences. 

Not only were Shaina and I different in race, but we were also of different social class.

    As soon as Shaina and I started class together, we became best of friends, despite our difference in race.  Of course, I knew we were different and could plainly see the physical differences, but I hardly thought about them and when I did, I was only more fascinated. 

Physically Jamie and I were different, of course.  I am African American and she is White, so you can clearly tell the difference.  I wonder if people found it odd that she and I were such great friends, when we seem nothing alike at first look. 

Shaina had such beautiful dark skin and eyes.  I wanted my skin to be smooth and rich like hers, and I have always loved brown eyes. 

I felt the exact same way as Jamie did about my complexion as I did hers. 

I remember one day when Shaina and I were in class and we noticed the different textures of each other’s hair.  Her hair was kinky, coarse and took a while to grow, while my hair is curly, smooth and grows quite quickly.  We found our physical differences interesting, not threatening or showing superiority.  I have always known there are differences in race and class, but never thought of someone who was different in any way other than I do people of my race and class.  I know now, people were probably surprised to see Shaina and I together because it is not common for people of different races to accept one another as equal, but for us we were the same. 

I remember the first time I met Jamie’s family.  I was curious what their reaction would be since I am black and my father always talked about how white folks looked down on us.  However, they did not show any sign of thinking I was lesser than them, and they seemed  to treat me as they would anyone.

    The first time I met Jamie’s family is also the first time I noticed a difference in our social class.  She had a nice house with a backyard and had room for many pets.  She had several expensive items in her house, and she even had two television sets.  Our home was nothing like that. 

I have always lived in an upper middle class neighborhood and had many things I have always needed.  I do not believe I had any friends who did not live in the same sort of neighborhood I did, before I became friends with Shaina.  Shaina not only lived in apartments, but they were not the best apartments at all.  If I remember correctly, she lived in a two bedroom apartment with her parents and two siblings. 

Yes, all my parents could afford was a two bedroom apartment, and I had to share a bedroom with my sisters. 

I, on the other hand, had a house with four bedrooms, and each of us three children had our own room. 

I was jealous of Jamie because I wanted a room of my own and some pets.  We, of course, did not have any nice, expensive belongings or the space for any pets. 

Along with her apartment, Shaina’s neighborhood was different.  My neighborhood always seemed very clean and safe.  Without a doubt, this was due to the home owners association, but still there was a completely different atmosphere around her apartments.  Shaina’s apartment complex had a little play ground for all the children, which I thought was fun at the time.  The play ground consisted of a slide, swings, monkey bars and other things like that, but it all seems unsanitary and unsafe when I think back.  Going to Shaina’s apartment for the first time is when I truly noticed a difference between us, but we remained friends for a long time, as time is for children goes, and it never changed my opinion of her. 

The difference in Jamie’s and my social class was the first major difference that caught my eye as well.  This did not bother me too much at the time either, but as I understood things a little better it started to bother me.

    Once the school year was over Jamie and I spent time together in the summer.  We would go to each other’s home and play, but as soon as school started again things changed.

Shaina and I were always close friends and never saw a problem with our differences, until one day, after we went on to the 3rd grade and had different teachers, she stopped talking to me and being around me as often. 

Since Jamie and I no longer had the same teacher anymore, I made new friends.  These friends were more like me in race and social standing.  When I became friends with them, they did not approve of my friendship with Jamie and pointed certain things out to me.  They told me that I would never have what Jamie did, and this bothered me.  I could no longer be friends with someone who was so different from me.  So the time between phone calls and hanging out greatened until we never talked or spent time together again. 

After Shaina stopped talking to me fully, I made friends of my same race and social rank.  I never fully understood that we were really all that different, until I was constantly around people of the same race and class that I am.  Those things were never something I cared about and still do not.  But I do realize now that it is much easier to be friends with people of a close social class.  Not only do I have more in common with them, but we have the ability to do the same things more than someone with less money would.

    I will now wrap things up on my own.  Thank you, Shania, for letting us see your side of the incident, too.  Well, when I experienced my friendship with Shaina I did not even think about the differences we had.  I knew about them, but they did not mean anything to me.  I was her friend and that’s all that mattered.  When I think about it now, I know I did not really know the difference of race and class.  I knew it was a difference, but it did not quite connect with anything in a realm of superiority in my mind.  I was just too innocent to understand how someone could be less than another person.  As I grew up of course I noticed these things more and got an understanding of society in that respect.

    I know the reason I remember this incident so greatly is because it hurt me when Shaina decided not to be friends with me anymore.  I know that class and race had a big part to do with it because all her new friends were of the same race and class that she was.  I was very upset about our distance.  I wanted us to still be friends, not necessarily best friends, but friends either way.  It seemed as though Shaina did not care about me as a person once she made her new friends too.

    Now I realize that it was probably a lot easier for Shaina because people do have more in common with people of the same race and class as them.  I know that if I have a friend who is “rich” that sometimes I feel self-conscious of how little money I have compared to them and it sort of pushes me away.  So at the time I didn’t see the difference and it hurt me that she didn’t want to be friends anymore, but now when I look back at it I can understand her feelings.  It is too bad the world works like this because it would be great if we could all be friends with people of different races and class without this constant pushing away from our differences.

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