I used to not care much at all about Politics. As far as discussions about Race went, I usually just tried to not to rock the boat unless I experienced something egregious. In general, I guess I just tried to see the best in everyone.
I grew up in Houston, Texas, living in and out of the suburbs and going to private school. I had my family and lived my actual experiences, but when you’re a preteen, the name of the game is trying to make the most friends as possible. When I acted simply to please the people around me, and when I was one of the only Black children in a room, that meant fitting myself into a character everyone expected me to be. I’m fortunate enough to have parents who provided me a lifestyle where I could attend private school all the way through college, but it was a pit stop in a small town in Illinois where I went to a public high school for a little while that really equilibrated my sense of identity and real personality. Being in an environment around EVERYBODY really helped me to shape who it was that I am, truly.
Growing up, I was typically more of a quiet and soft-spoken child. Any racism I witnessed or endured, I usually just rationalized or even internalized it as a personal problem. In the different areas of the country I had lived (South, Midwest, Northeast) I did notice, however, that racism and the way people generally treated me differed based on location. In Texas and Southern Illinois, I was generally more aware of folks that didn’t appreciate me, so everyone else had the capacity to embrace me as if I was a family member. The Northeastern variety of Racism was subtler. People weren’t likely to say anything disparaging to me out loud, but behind closed doors, the situation could be entirely different. Folks may be perfectly cordial and nice to me in more commonplace environments; however, they were less keen on developing an actual relationship past the superficial. My other friends of color and I would often express this strange feeling of restriction when it came to our social standing.
Attending Yale University was the first environment where I truly felt accepted. And as a result of that feeling of inclusion, my desire to simply blend into the general student population was intensified. I played football with a totally diverse set of casts and characters but we were able to put our differences aside and focus on the singular goal of winning games. The campus as a whole leaned liberal and was so inclusive towards any particular walk of life, that any strong sentiment against bigotry and discrimination felt redundant. The same could be said, and then some, about my life in New York City immediately after college. I completed a Masters in Public Health at Columbia, where everyone agreed about the existence of health and socioeconomic disparities and everyone was there to do something about them. My voice at that time seemed meaningless.
Two major events have shifted my whole attitude about speaking up and making my voice heard. One was the murder of Trayvon Martin. His death affected me so personally because I used to be Trayvon. Trayvon was a high school-aged Black kid who was walking by himself in a predominately white neighborhood, wearing a hoodie, and who refused to back down when antagonized by a frumpy, hysterical George Zimmerman. When a Florida court determined that situation to be equitable to a death sentence, I was brought to a sad and fearful place. When I saw Facebook posts justifying the verdict, I had to face the fact that the bubble of inclusivity I enjoyed was just that, specific to my liberal, academic environment. As more and more cases of Police brutality have been caught on camera and brought to the attention of our nation through social media, so has grown my appetite for activism.
The other major event was my acceptance into medical school and subsequent life as a resident of the red-state Missouri. Unlike in New York or Connecticut, I’m finally able to experience first-hand the anti-progressive social effects of statewide conservatism. I’m no longer one of many voices in a noisy room spewing the same rhetoric as everyone else.
Where I once felt I could be quiet, I now see the danger in simply trying to fit in, ignoring the evils laid in the foundation of our society, and remaining inactive in the policy discussions I find to be important. As a medical professional, an athlete, a Black American, and a nouveau Activist, my hope is to provide an insight into topics of social, health, and societal relevance.
My token story is pretty simple. I’m from Fort Wayne, Indiana so racism both in the overt and clandestine sense have always been a part of my life. From an early age, I was aware of the fact that I was black, and for the most part, proud of it. At least as proud as any young adolescent can be. But I will never forget when that pride was first tested. I was in fifth grade and I remember being called an Oreo. I had no idea what it even meant at the time, but it proved to be the starting point of a bit of an identity crisis.
I had the luxury of having both a public school and private school education growing up. When I was in public school, I socialized with every race, but it would be a lie to tell you that I didn’t hang around black kids more than anyone else. I felt comfortable. Granted, playing baseball on the north side of town evened me out a bit, but my day to day for nine months out of the year was black culture. So, when I heard Oreo for the first time from a group I felt comfortable with, it shook me. I started feeling self-conscious. I became hyper-aware of the fact that I would come from baseball singing Blink-182 only to receive side-eye from the kids I hung out with at school. I started hiding a great deal of my interests simply to be accepted.
Then I switched to private school for high school. It was during those 4 years that I realized being an Oreo was more than just an intraracial jab. The relatively opulent white kids I went to high school with also called me an Oreo. I mean, I was black, but I wasn’t one of “those black guys”. Was I supposed to be honored by that? Was I supposed to feel like another white kid even though my race was such a big part of my identity? It confused me. How could I not be black to both black people and white people?
College came around and people became the shell of who they were going to be for the rest of their life. In elementary school, Oreo just means that you “talk white”, in high school, people just say what everyone else is saying, but in college, your identity becomes based in ideologies. As much as free thought is celebrated in college, I soon learned that you’re still in some ways expected to universally believe and agree with other black people, lest you become labeled as a pariah.
With older age came clarity. Do the ideologies of black identity still exist today? Of course, but that doesn’t mean I have to buy into them. Nor should anyone else. If you’re black, you’re black. That being said, I still have my struggles. I’m still self-conscious when my beliefs go against what seems to be the greater black idea, but that’s where my voice comes from. I write understanding that black people aren’t a monolith and shouldn’t be expected to be so. One can have both pride in his race and be a free thinker. That’s what drives my perspective.