Growing up in Black and White America

By Sydney Bugg

One of the most fascinating things about major cities in America is that they host different worlds within miles of each other. Crime, excessive wealth, neighborhoods with no diversity and slum-like poverty all in one radius. For me this isolation of worlds proved itself growing up in metro Atlanta.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the world of my first choice. When my parents moved they didn’t know they’d be placing me in an environment where I’d be the only black girl from the time I entered until the time I exited my elementary school.

In my early developmental years, I was the embodiment of the phrase “fake it till you make it” by adapting and masking parts of who I was in order to minimize teasing.

Luckily when it came time to move on to middle and high school, I finally came into contact with people who I could be myself around. (Many of my former classmates redistricted out of the same schools for being too “dangerous”.) I made friends with people who had parents or a parent just trying to make it like mine.

I’d finally escaped the environment where people made you feel less fortunate over trivial matters like the fact that your mother didn’t stay at home full-time and she wasn’t able to attend this month’s PTA meeting. But I also saw the dark side beyond my small problems.

 

In high school when independence came along, I immersed myself in environments that others would probably drop their jaw at or never link me to. Even though my parents specifically moved where they did so I wouldn’t have to experience shootings, drugs and other things I found myself in those areas. Not out of wild rebellion, but simply because that’s where some of my friends were.

 

I know I’m privileged enough to know better than embracing the negatives associated with certain neighborhoods. The fact that I got to go to college and many of my other friends didn’t is elitist in itself. But still I’m hurt by the fact that they’re written off by society.

My experiences being genuinely immersed in two different worlds somewhat qualifies me to say America still has and always did have a race problem.  These experiences give me the capability to truly understand people beyond my immediate demographic and social circles. This is a skill many people claim to have, but don’t which in some ways is worse than those who flat out encourage separatism.

The point is that now when I go back to the Georgia, I look forward to the fact that I’m returning to an overall great city. One that’s today nicknamed “Black Hollywood.” One where I am privileged enough to be accepted and sometimes even the majority in places other than “the hood.” When I really go home, to the world I grew up in, I really only look forward to the physical confinements of my house and family.

Sometimes around town I run into some of the people who –without realizing it– hurt me, or get calls from old elementary school friends to hang out. I don’t hold anything against them, but I can’t help but wonder if I really accomplished anything in showing them kindness and serving as an example of a “smart black person.”

Like so many people of different racial backgrounds, I hid certain parts of myself and sat back idly while certain people classified me as “one of the good ones”, making it easy for them to check off the black friend box (which somehow has become sufficient in arguments against being racist) and go back to viewing other large masses of my race disparagingly.

I don’t know what the solution to America’s race problem is, but I do know that we have to start holding each other accountable and not apologize for harmless aspects of our existence that are unaccepted by society.