SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2007        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Jessie Grant

Backyard Talk

    Close to the year 2000 I was living in California with my cousin, Lisa.  We had moved out there just for the summer, she was attending college and I was working. We rented a room from a lady in a very small house. Behind the house was a patch of grass and then a separate garage, with an apartment built on top.  The apartment upstairs was occupied by a few younger gentlemen.  My cousin and I came to know the neighbors that lived behind us.  While the experience of moving and living in another state was fun; struggles presented themselves. 

    One of the neighbors, Josh, was a talkative and outspoken young man. He was about 26 at the time and of Caucasian descent.  My cousin turned 21 that summer, my cousin is half African American and European descent.  I myself was 19 and am of European descent. 

    One afternoon the three of us were standing in our small yard, the patch of grass that separated the housing, and Josh asked if my cousin and I were friends or how we knew each other. Lisa responded with, “We’re cousins.”  While I can understand the question I feel it was not only his verbal response “what you’re cousins?!?!?!?” but the tone of confusion and the confusion that poured from the expression on his face that made the situation memorable for me.  His remarks were made as if the situation was not possible.  I believe I then responded with a wise remark of, “no we’re twins.”  While my remark may have been inappropriate the situation happens frequently; my cousin and I now just find amusing responses.  I felt he should have been more open and understanding or just questioned it in a more mature manner. 

 My cousin is a teacher and once I visited her school and we told one of her students we were cousins. The student had some confusion in her face, and my cousin explained our mothers were sisters and her father was African-American.  The student replied with “cool” and continued on with a conversation with us.  I feel this child handled the circumstances more maturely than our previous neighbor.  I understand that people can visually see that there are differences between my cousin and I, but I believe it is how the question is asked and handled that creates certain feelings.

I feel this situation is aggravating for Lisa as well. It Points out the ignorance people have in the way they handle situations.   While Josh may have not realized how strong his words would be he should have been more respectful in his response.  My cousin and I understand and welcome our differences, but when people give us a reaction that questions who we are it is as if they are tearing us farther apart.   When this situation presents itself questioning race and the links it has my cousin and I put up a shield to protect us and deflect the hurt words may bring.  Lisa and I are extremely close; the potential for hurting Lisa’s feelings were so great that I absolutely would try to make light of the situation or protect my cousin’s feelings.

    This occurrence stands out to me because it was more recent.  We were all at an older age in our lives to have more experiences under our belt and more sensitivity to other people.  While Josh’s response was surprising on both sides it makes a person realize there will always be struggles and questions presented no matter where you are.  Maturity, or lack of, played a huge part in this instance.  Josh was a typically immature person.  Considering his immaturity and heaving dealt with this before it was easier to accept and move on.  I would advise to always choose words wisely, because you never know how little of a thing can effect someone.

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