'I Was a Victim of Racial Violence in Junior High'
Report; Posted on: 2005-09-16 13:36:27

Leftist agony aunt counsels self-hating White hate crime victim to get over trauma

By Cary Tennis

Dear Cary,

When I was starting junior high, my family moved to a medium-sized city in the Midwest. My parents bought a house in the best school district in the city and sent me and my brother to the public school around the corner.

At my public school, there was something called voluntary desegregation, which entailed packing poor (black) kids from the decaying inner city onto buses and sending them to the rich (white) school districts so they could get a better education than what was offered in the inner-city schools. The program was well intentioned and, with better implementation, could have been excellent. However, the administration hadn't thought to give teachers extra resources or training to help these kids, who faced some different challenges than the teachers were used to, nor did they think to give teachers, parents or kids any sensitivity training. Therefore, the cultural climate at the school was at best tense and at worst a disaster. There were black tables and white tables in the lunchroom, black and white hallways, black and white corners of the gym. The black kids and the white kids sat separately in the classrooms. All of this was student imposed and unspoken. This was my first experience with diversity.

The abuse started about halfway through sixth grade. I had not been able to make friends with any of my black classmates -- I was friendly, albeit somewhat socially awkward, but my overtures were rejected -- and one day, a black girl decided she hated me, as 13-year-old girls are wont to do. She and her friends, both male and female, began to beat me up, kick me, punch me, rip up my homework and deny it all to the teacher. I was once thrown down a flight of stairs and narrowly escaped breaking my neck. I appealed to the school, as did my parents, but the administration refused to punish the perpetrators, claiming that it would be taken as racism. I, however, would be punished for defending myself in any way. The administration followed through on this; my parents enrolled me in self-defense classes, and when I blocked a punch at one point, I was given an in-school suspension. My abusers were never punished.

To this day, I don't know why I in particular was targeted; who knows why kids target one another? In any case, this went on for two years, until the ringleader of the girls left the school -- I never found out why -- and the others slowly stopped beating me up, preferring to ignore me. By the time high school rolled around, I was no longer abused, except for the occasional "fucking cracker" comment, but the racial climate was such that the black kids and the white kids almost never spoke to or socialized with one another. Even the classes were mostly segregated, with my honors and advanced-placement classes being almost exclusively white and the remedial classes being almost exclusively black.

Looking back now, as a grad student in my early 20s, I can understand, to a certain extent, the sources of these tensions. I've studied my American history and read my Fanon, and I feel mostly compassion for my long-ago attackers. But I am furious at my old school district, not only for denying me the protection I needed but for allowing a more insidious sort of segregation to persist inside its walls and for denying many of the kids from the inner city the educational support they were due. But when you're 13 and vulnerable, and you can't figure out why people hate you so much that they want to hurt you, and nothing you can do will get them to stop, and no one will help you, you don't think in terms of civil rights and class divisions and historic injustices. You just see a group of people who hate you for no reason that you can fathom, and you're terrified of them.

And that's the problem. Part of me remains that scared 13-year-old. To this day, when I see a group of young black people standing together in a group, my heart starts to race and I have to force myself not to avoid them. If I'm standing on a train platform with a group of black youths, I am irrationally scared that they're going to push me in front of a train. My earliest experience with black people was incredibly traumatic, and I'm still feeling the aftershocks from that trauma. The fear has faded somewhat over the years, but every so often it flares back into life, and it makes me sick and angry with myself and ashamed.

I hate feeling like a racist, because racism goes against my deepest-held beliefs and values. I truly believe that race is a constructed concept and that all men and women are created equal, and my group of close friends is now very diverse and includes a lovely black woman. I'm getting an M.A. in post-colonial literature and theory. Intellectually and in practice, I am as far from being racist as one can get. But my fight-or-flight response is stubborn in its memory and it reacts to dark skin like a phobia.

Can you help me?

White Mask

Dear White Mask,

I do not think you are a racist.

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Source: Salon • Printed from National Vanguard
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