SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Joseph Maggiola 

Just Outside of Comfort

I grew up in White Plains, New York and then I moved to Phoenix, Arizona for the second part of my growing up. Much of Phoenix, Arizona is still expanding and growing; unfortunately this sprawl creates segregated communities of wealth and poverty throughout the metro area. Yet whether growing up back east or out here in Phoenix, I have always had good friends of all different races and religions, so it wasnít an issue to me that Cory and I became especially good friendsí junior and senior year. Especially since Cory is one of my best friends who is also an African American and I am white. We just both got along and had each otherís backs.  One incident that stands out in my mind would have to be one of the times when I was hanging out with Cory outside of high school one weekend. Cory and I met in the beginning of sophomore year in high school. There were still some places that Cory and I had not gone to together, and even some places that I wouldnít go to without his company. Cory also didnít like for me to have to come down into his neighborhood due to the gangs and bad areas he stayed in. This was also the case with some clubs in the poorer neighborhoods also.

We usually hung out at one anotherís place, or even other friendsí houses where we would all meet up and all go out for the night. None of us much enjoyed the clubs, raves or dance scenes. We all would rather go to a sports bar and watch a game, have some food or even go to a friendís house to hangout.  Depending on what side of town we were on would also determine what and where there was to go and do for the night. One particular night we were hanging out on the west side, so we went to a club nearby. This club mostly attracted African Americans and this night was no different with everyone on the dance floor bumping shoulder to shoulder dancing or moving. Some clubs even had a certain type of clothing required according too, race, class, or gender; it just all depended on the type of club and where in Phoenix it was located. This club was unfortunately located all the way over on the west side of town in the poorer neighborhoods, which was far for most of us to drive too.

Our night was coming to an end so we quickly decided on one more place to go to before we headed home for the night.  Neither of us had been there before. The place Cory chose sounded less than appealing to me; I had never been there before, just heard what it was like and imagined the rest up for myself. Everyone knows there are certain clubs you go to that are friendly to everyone and anyone and then there are those that only attract or cater to a certain type of person.  After some reluctance I finally gave in and decided to go and check this place out even though I wasnít even sure I wanted to go and really wasnít too excited about it either.

When I heard the hip-hop music I knew what kind of scene to expect and the genre that follows along with the clothing and the lingo too.  Immediately I felt nervous and scared. Frankly, I didnít want to go in. I was afraid of not being accepted or fitting in and thought I would stand out. I kept talking myself into thinking, ďThatís crazy, nobody would probably even notice or for that matter care that I was a Ďwhite guyí.Ē When we went in, I saw that most people noticed us but only some seemed to really care. Regardless of my paranoia and what was actually going on this was the first time I ever felt different and uncomfortable or even awkward due to my own skin color not being the accepted norm. Even being  with Cory I felt so out of place, as if everyone was looking at me or I wasnít even welcomed there in the first place. But Cory assured me there was nothing to worry about and that everything would be okay because I was there with him.

             I had been in uncomfortable situations and even similar situations with Cory at his family gatherings but this night club was different. After some time of being in there I did loosen up a little bit and relaxed some, although not nearly as much as I would have liked to. I still felt out of place and not belonging was a very unfamiliar feeling. Cory was having a good time but he knew I was uncomfortable so he stayed close and kept an eye out for me making sure I was alright.  The night wasnít going to be very much fun for me, especially since I was against it from the start, but went along anyways.

            It was a typical club from the bright lighting to the dark tables and the blaring music. The small space of the club didnít allow for a huge dance floor and the floor it did have for that was pretty sticky from all the spilt drinks in the overcrowded club. It probably didnít help that the people around me didnít seem to be the friendliest of the bunch either, but it could have been just me and probably was for the most part since I was already feeling so uncomfortable. The club was so crowded, dark and loud I could barely hear or even see Cory speaking while he was standing right next to me.

            Cory and I were standing on the packed club floor with not a lot of elbow room to move around when I somehow managed to drop my cup. The alcohol was watered down and little plastic cups were so tiny it made it hard to keep ahold of it especially in such a crowded area. My cup was mostly empty anyway, but it did manage to spray a drop or two of liquid on the two guys standing in front of me. I quickly apologized along with a slight touch and a hand gesture to assure the guys it was only an accident and not intentional. Whether they could hear me or not over the blaring sound system I wasnít sure, either way though they didnít seem to accept my apology. When I dropped my drink that didnít help to settle me into the situation and it really upset the two guys in front of me, which sparked this whole incident. The alcohol was watered down and little plastic cups were so tiny it made it hard to keep ahold of it especially in such a crowded area. When that little plastic cup slipped out of my hand it fell to the ground, somehow without spilling anything but a drop or two and landed right side up. Cory asked what happened and noticed the guys were talking amongst each other. They then asked Cory if I was with him or if he knew me. Cory told me that they were really upset with me and were definitely going to fight me if I had not been with Cory or knew him. Cory said that they were so mad at me that they thought I might have dropped the cup on purpose.  Cory knew they were serious. He said it doesnít take much to disrespect someone even if by accident, especially if the guys are looking for a fight and I stand out from the norm or race/ethnicity in a club like this. Cory also said because I stood out the guys might have been thinking the same thing, like ďwhy is he in here?Ē Who is he with? ďIs this white guy trying to emulate our culture and be like us?Ē

 If it hadnít been for Cory being there and explaining to those guys that I was his friend and there with him, they would have both fought me. I think they were looking for an easy target and just waiting for something to happen and I just stood out. My dropping the cup was an easy excuse to test me. Either way, whatever their reasoning may have been, I had felt awkward and uncomfortable from the moment I got there. I didnít feel a sense of relief until we left the club and I was able to relax again.

             This incident could have been a lot worse if a fight had broken out; I halfheartedly could have started a whole racial fight in the club. So if not for my friend Cory, the two guys most definitely would have fought me. Having a neutral person able to step in and intervene and explain things from his perspective, made all the difference in changing the situation from a fight to an even understanding with everyone and resolved the situation. Even if the two guys didnít accept my apology they seemed to listen to my friend and accept his on behalf of me. It was as if I had gotten a pass because of my friend Cory that that night.

            Cory was able to diffuse the situation before it escalated to something bigger. He was able to show my side of the story through his words and eyes, which the two guys could empathize with. Also to have had Cory personally vouching for me as his friend made it okay for me as a white guy to get a pass. So the reasons for this incident could have been due to a multitude of factors, all me or a combination of the multiple factors that could have been taken into consideration that night. This incident hasnít stopped me from finding myself being in similar situations, and even occasionally taking myself out of my comfort zone on purpose.

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