I ran into an interesting and heartbreaking article at aunt jemima's revenge, a blog I read sometimes. The post can be found here.
It reminded me of some of the more traumatic events in my life that reminded me I was black and that wasn't ok. The one that most stands out to me, though, is from the 8th grade. For background, I was the only black male in a relatively small class in a predominately white private school. Most of the black males that were in my class had moved on to other schools by the 8th grade, and I was getting ready to transfer to another school for high school, it was just the way it was, my school's high school program wasn't that good. But this did isolate me, in a way, and I developed some pretty low opinions of black people and, by extension, myself. I suffered from some classic symptoms of self-hatred and shame at my skin color. It's almost amusing looking back on it now at how much I couldn't stand myself, but it was a very real and emotionally trying time for me.
Anyways, it was the spring of my 8th grade year and my class was outside for gym class. We were all playing basketball and dodgeball on the blacktops behind the school. As class was winding down one of my classmates, James, came up to me and we started talking. In the midst of our conversation, talking about next year, summer plans and the like, James stopped and complimented me on how I wasn't like the "other" black kids at the school. Unbeknownst to him, I went out of my way to not associate with the other black kids and tried to make myself invisible to most everybody around me. But it was at that moment when everything kind of broke apart for me. I just silently nodded and walked away from James, went inside the locker room, and bawled like a baby. All of the shame and embarassment that I had held for the past couple of years came pouring out of me as I wept, snotty nosed and all, on a cold bench in a dark locker room.
I look back on it now, and if I could, I might even thank James for his prejudice and his racist remarks, because he showed me how foolish I was. But it does always make me wonder how many other kids who are classified as "other" battle with self-hatred and low self-esteem, and how many of them ever get out of it?