SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2012       Personal Memory Ethnographies


Fear of a Black Planet

The Bank One Ballpark had just opened up and there was going to be an open house for the community to visit the extravagant home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. My sports obsessed family jumped at the opportunity to go to this event. My mother asked if I would like to bring a few friends and I asked a couple of kids from my first grade class. The boys I invited to go to the event had one key difference from my family; they were black.

When we arrived in downtown Phoenix my mother being an over protective parent insisted that my younger sister, my two friends, and I all old hands as to prevent us from being separated. I really didn’t want to hold hands but my mother insisted despite my refusals and then I started to notice something strange happen. As the group of us started to walk downtown and in the ballpark, awkward stares began to be thrown our way. I noticed also that my father had begun to separate from the group and drift far behind us. He must have felt really awkward and his reaction was spurred on by the stares. I remember going home after this event and wondering why people were staring at us.

After the event, my friends and I really never hung out after going to the ballpark. I felt different after the experience and as a result our relationship pretty much died. Thus, this experience had some effects not only on my relationship with my friends but more so with blacks in general. The effect from the experience was either a conscious or unconscious desire to avoid black people in general.

The event also kind of made me wonder what my friends thought of the situation and I imagine they would have thought something like this.

When I was in the first grade, my brother and I saw the new Bank One Ballpark with my friend Rich and his family. I was extremely excited to go as I am a big sports fan. I asked my parents if I could go and they said yes as they knew Rich’s mom who was a teacher at the school my brother and I attended.

Rich and his family picked us up and we drove down to the stadium. When we finally got to the stadium, Rich’s mom insisted that we all hold hands. I didn’t want to because I thought holding hands was lame but I went along with it as I was respectful to her wishes. As the four of us, Rich, his sister, my brother and I, walked around the stadium hand in hand, I began to notice the stares. The same stares that my mother and father get when they hold hands in public. I began to understand the correlation between holding my white friend’s hand and my white mother holding my black father’s hand; something must be wrong with whites and blacks holding hands. This became more apparent to me when I noticed Rich’s father kind of fade into the background when the stares started to occur. His actions made me wonder if he didn’t like black people or even want his kids around blacks. Though Rich’s mother seemed to be fine with the whole situation and accepted us as who we are. The whole situation made me feel uncomfortable to be out in public with Rich’s family.

After hanging out with Rich’s family that night, we didn’t hangout much more away from school. We played sports together but nothing like a friendship was present. I wonder if his father didn’t want him to hang out with me or blacks after the experience we had at the ballpark. The experience also made me look at my own family situation. I began to identify more with my black side as it seemed that society deemed me as black like my father and not white like my mother. Ultimately, I began to realize that race matters especially as defined by society.

Looking back on the experience at the ballpark, the large crowds and the downtown location added to the experience in a negative way. The ballpark was extremely crowded on the night we went. The large crowd most likely was one of the reasons my mother insisted that we hold hands while attending the event. As we held hands in the crowded areas of the ballpark, my black friends and I were met with stares. I remember many sets of eyes focusing down on us and feeling uncomfortable. The sheer number of people staring gave a more impactful sense of difference between my black friends and me. The location of the ballpark was in Downtown Phoenix. Even by first grade I had been taught to view the downtown part of Phoenix as unsafe and I felt unsecure even before being put into a situation of awkwardness. I was already feeling more aware of my surroundings and the danger of who I might encounter in the general public. The city environment gave me a sense of uneasiness.

This incident remains the closest I have ever been to black people. After the incident I never developed a meaningful friendship or relationship with a black person. I chose to write about the incident to discover why I had a lack of close interaction with blacks. Through the timeline assignment I have a possible insight into my negative relationship to black people. Before my incident two memorable events had occurred the O.J. Simpson chase and murder case and Mike Tyson biting the ear off of Evander Holyfield. I was young but I had been impressed by the events, whose main theme entailed black men behaving violently and thus perceived as dangerous. These events occurring during my formative years must have triggered an unconscious association that blacks are dangerous.

After my incident more violence and danger with black persisted, reflected in sports, videogames, and the media. The Malice at the Palace, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, and Hurricane Katrina occurred after my incident and each one depicts black people as violent. As a white kid with little experience with black people it’s no wonder I felt cautious or suspicious around blacks as most of my awareness of them had been through extreme media portrayals.

I know it is wrong to feel this way about black people, and I know I should not paint all black people with a broad brush. But my limited contact with blacks and reliance upon media portrayals has led me to feel anxious and wary of them. Ultimately, I now recognize that my ballpark incident was not the only factor in determining the way I feel about blacks as Others but rather part of accumulation of events through time.

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