Unity Through Diversity: A Way of Growing Up

By Tracy L. Deis

When I was a child, I couldn’t understand why the white girls had the pretty blonde curls, and I had to have my hair pressed to make it straight. I couldn’t relate to why I was so much darker than everyone I attended school with, and I was ashamed to be the only black in the whole fifth grade, or any grade for that matter, during my five years at Garfield grammar school in Ohio.

I guess there were some times when I wasn’t so ashamed. I was proud when the girls wanted me to teach them the “Sinbad” dance because I had “rhythm,” or the “Black” ways to jump rope, such as “Double Dutch,” with its acrobatic twists and turns, or the complicated “Chinese Rope.” I gained friends because I was different, even if they used the elements of my culture to learn something “trendy.”

Yet, there were so many times when the fact that I was different got into the way. I had a best friend who was white, and she was invited to all of the slumber parties. I never received an invitation to the parties, and it hurt my feelings deeply to know that she was accepted while I was not, but I had the best friend in the world. She told the young ladies that invited her that if her best friend couldn’t come along with her, she would not be there either. The girls didn’t break down, and we had our own slumber parties in the parlor of my house every Saturday night. Those were the best times in my life.

Those times were soon to change because I moved to Maywood, Illinois, to live. I was thrown into an all-black world that I had never experienced before in my whole life. I was teased because my English was “proper,” and I finally came to realize that I didn’t have so much “rhythm” compared to my black “sisters;” I wasn’t the rope jumping “pro” I thought I was; and I wasn’t even as dark as they were. I was teased, taunted, and my long ponytails were pulled by boys because they said I “thought I was white.”

When I was in the seventh grade, I won a short story contest in my school and placed second in the statewide contest. I gained so many new friends because of it, and they couldn’t wait to read my next story. Because of my talent, I had something that made me different from everyone else, and that made me feel special. For the first time in my life, being different didn’t matter so much anymore.

We moved to Chicago the next year, and our local school was overcrowded. This resulted in my being bused, along with about fifteen other black and Hispanic children, to an all-white school. I was so happy to be around white children that didn’t make fun of my “proper” English that I think I went a bit overboard when I got to school. I completely forgot about those kids I caught the bus with, and I had only white friends. It was bad enough that I was different, but now I was an “Oreo”—black on the outside and white on the inside. Needless to say, I got a licking almost every day of my eighth-grade year from the black kids, and my “diverseness” didn’t help my sore behind.

igh school was easy. I went to Curie in Chicago. It had been “the” center of racial tension on the Southwest side, but now the blacks and whites lived peacefully, and interracial couples were the “trend.” I thought that the whole world had changed, and that we finally had our equality at last. No one made fun of how I talked, and many people admired me because I was “proper.” I though I had found peace at last, but I was in for the biggest shock of my life.

I came out of my fantasy world this summer when I visited Montgomery, Alabama, for a family reunion. I found that there are still segregated football fields: the Rebel field for the white boys, and a dusty field with really no name for the black boys. If they can’t play football together, how in the world can they work together in the future down there? I couldn’t understand how Montgomery, the center of the civil rights movement in the sixties, still had segregation in the eighties? I realized that although diversity had already arrived, unity was still far away.

Now here I am at NIU, and do you know that many of my “sisters” won’t speak to me unless I speak first? Sometimes I feel like we have to get this tremendous chip off of our shoulders before we can make any progress, and instead of giving our “people” the cold shoulder, open our arms to brotherhood.

I am not saying whites don’t have far to go, Lord knows they do. It is a give and take situation where learning goes hand in hand with the acceptance of culture. It’s time we all held hands, and “jammed” the Sinbad.