Living in San Diego means being surrounded by multitudes of rich white folk who have deluded themselves into thinking that they don’t have the time to deal with the complications of race and gender. My particular neighborhood of La Jolla has a very similar demographic everywhere you look, and the materialistic obsession with maintaining ones physical appearance to a tee is quite alienating to someone who neither needs nor wants to conform to those false standards. This is something that plagued me everywhere I went; the fact that I looked nothing like the people around me, and oftentimes the more ignorant people would point out my own identity as an entirely separate entity from the environment I was in, as if I didn’t already know.
I am mixed, with a very white Irish mother and a black father who grew up in Southern California. My father was vehemently against challenging any of the oppressive structures that were put into place where we lived. He was politically uninvolved, an alcoholic, and overall not willing or able to raise a child. All of these factors led to my abuse, as I showed signs of being more outspoken from a young age than he would have liked. He began to manipulate me, bully me, degrade me, and sometimes physically intimidate me.
Growing up with an abusive and disillusioned black father gave me false preconceptions of my own race and how I was to navigate myself around the majority white world I was raised in. In some instances, I could logically reason out why my father would want me to act a certain way, to stay out of trouble from the people that wanted me dead. He would always scold me harshly for every doing or saying anything that was out of line, to the point where I was terrified of him almost every second of every day. We did, in fact, live in an area that was notorious for being not only white, but also more pressing on security and suppressive of those who tried to speak out. You would see streets named “El Camino Real”, and drive through towns like “La Jolla”, and surprisingly enough not see a single brown person. I think my father knew deep down that we lived on stolen land with bloodthirsty inhabitants, but his knowledge was expressed in ways that left me fearful rather than passionate. His deep desire to fight against the system that was oppressing him was twisted into a violent outburst of anger that was taken out on me. As a result, I struggled greatly to speak out against any injustice enacted against me, even if they were minor. The treatment I would receive by the white people I would encounter, i.e. the glances, the alienation in public spaces, and the increased paranoia and defensiveness by strangers was a box that I made myself fit into. While trying to save my skin, my father subsequently crushed my pride. It wasn’t until late high school that I realized what my father was doing. He was adhering to the popular respectability politics of minding your own business and keeping your mouth shut, even if your humanity is questioned.
One of the most vivid memories of being intentionally alienated from the communities present in La Jolla was in middle school. I was walking down the hall to my next class when I noticed a white boy around my age sprint past me and forcefully jam something into my hair. Everyone around me in the hall immediately began to giggle, and as I pulled out the mysterious item and brought it in front of my face I could see that it was an afro-pick. I was in such a state of shock, as I’m sure many people around me could see, and I immediately ran into the bathroom from embarrassment and cried. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the aggressions I was to face as I got older.
In high school I went on a weekend trip with my then-best friend to Idyllwild. Being completely boy-obsessed, she had just started talking to a white boy from San Diego who seemed to express romantic interest in her. Wanting to be a good friend, I gave her advice on what to say. Eventually she decided to take a selfie of both of us together and send it to this boy through snapchat. His response hit me like a punch straight to the gut.
He said: “Who is that fat ugly nigger?”
I gasped, and immediately felt tears swell to my eyes. It was not the first time someone had called me fat, but it was the first time any white person had called me a nigger. La Jolla had overt racism in many aspects, but the interactions I had never resulted in being downright called something that imitates a slave-master relationship to that degree. I was completely and utterly horrified. I decided to take over the conversation and began cursing this guy out, livid that he would say such awful things. He then responded by sending us pictures of the SS and Swastika flags he had hung up in his room, with the caption “I only like pure white girls, keep that coon shit off of my screen.” At this point I was in such a state of shock that I had nothing more to say to this person, as I had never been faced with a situation like this in my life. I had never had any run ins with a Neo Nazi, and at this point I was hoping and praying that my friend had enough sense to completely cut this guy off for her own good, but more importantly, for my safety.
I looked over at my friend, and she seemed to be expressing something that looked like it could be sympathy. But then, she opened her mouth and said:
“Oh, that’s too bad. Do you want me to stop talking to him?”
….Is that even a question?
The fact that my friend had to ask for my assistance on an issue that should be so blatantly clear baffled me. But what really drove her point home was her continuation of conversation to this boy, even though I suggested that she should not talk to him anymore, being a fatphobic Neo Nazi and all. At that point, I was awakened to the potential consequences of me affiliating with friends that would tolerate my dehumanization, and a father that wanted me to stay in my place that was handed to me by white supremacy. I needed to break out before I was killed by the system that had raised me and disillusioned me into thinking that this kind of treatment was okay.
As much as it hurt, and as much as it isolated me from everybody that once “cared” about
me, I knew that if I continued to shield myself under the system of oppression that it would one day kill me. For my own safety and tranquility, I abandoned the life that tortured me in high school, and moved on to a stage of my life where I would no longer tolerate my humanity being degraded. I had the privilege of being able to let go of the people that had a chokehold on me for the majority of my life. My mother was supportive of my decision to cut off my father, and I had a college waiting for me where I would meet new friends that didn’t tolerate hate crimes being enacted against me. I let go, and I could finally breathe again.