Negative Experiences Can Foster Understanding

It seemed like any ordinary day in my middle school experience. I had taken the two-hour bus ride from home, with my sights set on finishing my seven-hour shift and returning back to my PlayStation. Little did that young twelve-year-old know that the perception through which he viewed society and himself would on that day change forever.

Up to that particular day in my life, I innocently viewed my world as a place where other’s perceptions of me were solely based on my character. I had heard of America’s dark past, but I naively believed that we had all overcome the ludicrous sentiments that were prevalent in the time of my grandparents and earlier generations. It was not until that morning period in sixth-grade language arts that I realized my appearance was subject to being associated with cruel and demeaning stereotypes.

My teacher was introducing the class to a new research assignment. It was a paper in which we were to study the neurological effects of any topic of choice. The example provided, which the teacher read aloud, was on a street drug known as “crack.” In one of the sentences of the example, the term “crack baby” was used. I then found out that one of my classmates said my name to a group of kids when that term was read by the teacher. As one of two Black students in the class, it was apparent that this remark was made about my race. Though long ago, I can still recall the painful sensation that took place when I heard those words. I felt isolated from the rest of my classmates, consumed by a combination of anger and sadness. This event marked a dramatic shift in my mindset.

From that day on, I never truly felt accepted into American society. It showed me that no matter how intelligent, successful or well-mannered I thought myself to be, I could still encounter people that sought to confine my existence within their lines of distasteful preconceived generalizations. I was moved to discover how such generalizations could be made on something as trivial as skin color. I began to read books that elevated my consciousness of the Black American experience. It was comforting to see how others have encountered similar experiences to the one I had on that day in sixth grade. I became more aware of the atrocities that have affected Black Americans for centuries and I even viewed myself in a different light. With my life I was working to prove a more positive perception of Black Americans.

Though spawned from a negative experience, I consider my altered state of perception to have had a desirable impact. It motivated me to discover more about my identity as a Black American. It taught me that America’s dark history still seeps through the cracks into our current society.

This altered state of perception was vital for my growth towards viewing the society in which I live through a more enlightened lens.