The first time I met hatred, cruelty and discrimination was in October of 1973. It walked and talked like me and was the same color and age as I was. It wasn’t wearing a white sheet with a pointed hat and it didn’t come with a rope tied in a noose. I had just started my freshman year in high school. I was excited and scared at the same time. I was in a brand new school and didn’t know a soul. I was quiet and introverted – never shy, though. I was hoping to make some new friends, but instead, I made enemies with five girls who I’d never seen before coming to that school.
It was mid-October – far enough into the new school year to have had several quizzes and tests in various classes. English class was always my favorite and I excelled there, always getting good grades. Our teacher had a habit of separating and distributing the graded test papers by rows – front to back. She’d then hand them to the person sitting in the front row and ask him/her to take their graded test and pass the rest back. In doing so, that person got a chance to see the grade of the person sitting behind them. Looking back now, I know that wasn’t such a good idea – especially for me. You see, I sat in the last seat in the back of the room, so the students in front of me always saw my grades – which were always high 90’s.
I remember, on this particular day, tests were returned to us in that manner. I had earned a 95 on an essay that we were assigned. I was so proud! As we left the classroom and headed to our next class, several girls blocked my way and accused me of thinking I was better than them because I got good grades and because I was light skin. I was shocked. I’d never said one word to any of these girls since school started. I’d seen the dirty looks they’d shoot me occasionally, but I was confused by them: Did they know me? Why are they looking at me like that? I remember responding that I didn’t think I was better than anyone and to move out of my way. I also remember my heart pounding so loud in my ears I could barely hear what they were saying. Somehow I moved past them and went to my next class – I still hadn’t made any friends yet and was alone. The last class of the day ended – school dismissed. I walked to the subway station as usual, headed back to the Bronx where I lived.
I remember standing on the platform as the train approached. Suddenly I remember turning around and seeing that same group of girls from my class room were now standing dangerously close behind me. They seem to have appeared out of nowhere. Once again, my heart started racing and I knew that this wasn’t going to end well for me. I’d never seen any of those girls taking that subway before and I knew they were there just for me. I entered the subway when the door opened and took a seat near the door – single occupancy. They all rushed inside, too, and came directly over to where I was sitting. They stood over me and began to cuss at me. Someone – not sure which girl – called me a high yella’ bitch and punched in the face. My glasses flew off and I remember standing up quickly and grabbing one of the girls and shoving her against the opposite door. I had her by the face and hair. We both went down on the floor swing! I knew I was about to get my ass kicked by the other 4 girls, but I was taking this one down with me.
Well, I was right – I was jumped and beaten by a gang of girls that day on the Number 2 Uptown train – somewhere between West 24th and 34th Streets. I had a big clump of hair pulled out, numerous bruises and a black eye from being kicked in it. I remember the shoe coming at me – it was a red shoe with a thick white marsh mellow sole (The Marsh Mellow shoe was popular back in the early 70’s). I don’t know why they finally stopped beating me up,maybe because they realized they needed to get off the train since it wasn’t their normal route, but I was glad they did and exited. I remember tasting blood in my mouth because my nose and lip were bleeding…but so was the nose of the 5th girl who they dragged off the train along with them – the one who I’d grabbed.
I remained on the train – battered, bleeding and temporarily blinded in one eye. I managed to find my way back to my seat and sat there crying and in shock. My backpack and books were scattered around me on the floor, but no sign of my glasses. My vision was blurred – I don’t know if it was from the swelling of my eye, the fact that I needed my glasses or from my tears. I think it was all of the above. I remember looking around me, trying to gather myself together – had I missed my stop? Where was I? When I looked around some more, I saw the dead, passive and disinterested faces of the other passengers. They just sat there like robots staring at me. No one had tried to help me – not one person. I gathered my books up and sat back down with my bloody nose and lip as the train raced uptown. People got off, people got on. I remained frozen, in pain and confused. Finally someone came and stood in front of me and handed me my glasses. I don’t remember much after that. I made it home – I don’t even remember how.
I never went back to that school again. My parents took me out of public school altogether and enrolled me in an all-girl Catholic school. I thrived there and continued to get good grades. However, I never had to worry about getting jumped after school because of it. I was never again referred to a high yella’ bitch who thinks she’s too pretty and too smart! I’d never done anything to those girls except exist. That was enough to make them not like me and really want to cause me harm – and they did. I’m just glad that they didn’t decide to push me off the platform in front of the train that day.
Many years have passed since that awful day. I remember, for a long time afterwards I was haunted by it. I often wondered what I had done to make those girls so angry and filled with hatred towards me. I’d never said one word to them in class – I was quiet and kept to myself. I was confused – why did they call me those names? I never thought of myself as better, prettier, smarter than anyone. I was just being, well…just being me. Fast forward to the present – they were not the last “mean girls” that I encountered in my life. However, trust me, a repeat of that physical attack never occurred again. But what I have experienced instead is the insidious or sometimes blatantly random acts of hatred coming from a complete stranger.
I’ve received the dirty “stink” side-eye, dagger- filled looks from other women who I have never seen before, nor had any interaction with. I have been the recipient of bilious and rude attitudes from sales clerks to receptionists, even though I may have greeted them in a friendly and respectful manner. I see this all too often in one of my outside gigs where I work in a customer service position. I came to this conclusion quite a while ago: There are some instances when no matter how kind, professional, talented, smart, friendly or pleasant I am, someone is just not going to like me…period. That is a fact of life and I’m more than okay with that. I get it. I don’t have to do anything more than just simply breathe and exist. For some, that’s enough to not like me. I no longer look for logical or reasonable explanations when this happens. It’s easily recognizable because dislike and hatred has its own unique odor and I can smell it a mile away.
No, I don’t try figure out if this person is having a bad day or not. Honestly, I really don’t care. I’m not interested in trying to make you like me by trying to get inside of your head and figure out what’s going on in there. Are you kidding me? Look, your attitude and feelings towards me is YOUR business and problem…not mine. I’ve got enough of my own business to deal with. You like me, good. You don’t, too bad…deal with or not. But the thing is this: My day is not ruined because you don’t like me. You can’t reason with a “hater”- they don’t even recognize that they are “haters.” They are usually blinded by jealousy, bitterness, feelings of inadequacy, inner turmoil, denial, and excuses. Whew! That’s too much negativity and I don’t have time for that, nor am I going to entertain those vibes and energy. Now, I get that there are times when someone may meet us, and just simply do not like us. They may not show signs of pettiness, jealousy or bitterness, but instead they may just stay the hell away from us and not engage at any level. I understand this because there are times in my life that I’ve met someone and did. not. like. them. at. all. No “hate” involved – just not a good feeling in my spirit about this person. So, I remove myself and do not interact or engage with this person.
Truth is: Many times when strangers – or even people we know – have unsubstantiated or unwarranted issues with us, and make a point of trying to belittle, disrespect, harass or provoke you, it’s really about them. Perhaps they see in me/us/you something that they wish they had. Maybe there is something in us that intimidates them or makes them feel inadequate. In any case, it’s their problem, not yours or mine.
The ugly truth is that there ARE people who do not like you for shallow and ridiculous reasons and to dismiss this is naive. There REALLY ARE PEOPLE who don’t like you for any other reason other than because you ARE pretty or handsome, because you have a nice figure/body, because you ARE smart, because you ARE light skin, because you ARE dark skin, because you HAVE a better job, because you DO earn more money and/or live in a better home or drive a better car, or have a good man/woman or whatever! There are people who don’t like you simply because other people do. There could be thousands of reasons that people automatically dislike someone and make erroneous assumptions about you based on what they see or think. But remember: THAT’S THEIR PROBLEM…NOT YOURS! They’ll get over it…or not. Either way, keep shining like the star that you are. Keep putting your beauty and creative and unique energy out into the universe and embracing the positivity and light that comes back to you. Live your best life – happy, loving and confident – that’s how you deal with your haters. Oh, and tell them to take a number and stand in line…or maybe stand in front of an uptown train!