Graff Board: Share Your First Experience(s) with Race

Posted on June 7, 2010 by


I really really really like reading more of what people think and have experienced.  It’s why I spend hours reading message boards from sports to politics to science.  It’s why I’m going to study how people think.

Whenever I read what people think, I’m not really judging the intelligence or the quality of what people have to say, I’m just wondering about the worlds they’ve went to and through to arrive at their viewpoints.

When I was in college and organizing kids, my favorite activity was taking a piece of butcher paper and having kids write about a topic.  I saw it as getting people to give their 2 cents and helping them get engaged in a way that couldn’t be explained primarily through lecture or verbal conversation.

When I wasn’t in college and organizing kids, my other favorite activity during that time was mural and graff touring friends through LA even though I knew absolutely nothing and pretended like I was doing something innovative when it was little more than walking through Boyle and Lincoln Heights.

When I ran the LA Marathon in 2007 and 2008, I ran with T-shirts signed by people who just wrote whatever responding to the prompts of “struggle is…” and “what do you hope for”.

So between getting people to write on butcher paper, (loosely) following murals and graffiti, and getting people to write on my marathon shirts, I was just really interested in what people expressed or were willing to express in public.

And being in cyberspace, the interest remains the same.  The online message board or comments section on a piece of news or item of interest serves as that metaphorical piece of butcher paper.

However, the impersonal nature of that kind of communication doesn’t leave  much room for people you actually know to talk about their first-hand experiences on big topics.  On message boards and comments, unless there’s a developed community, there aren’t too many people sharing focused first-hand experiences on big topics like racism, politics, religion.

I want to change that!

I want to know more about those first-hand experiences and memories.   I think people form a lot of their world views early on in childhood and adolescence and it would be interesting to unpack some of our early childhood memories.

So now I’m using part of this website’s real estate to do something collaborative with the very few people who read my blog:  A collaborative Graffiti Board, full of original thought, first-hand experiences and early childhood memories.

Here’s how it will work:

I’ll start with a post about a topic.

Then, whoever else reads can join in.  In the comments section of my blog or this facebook note, you can either theorize about my experience or  share your own experience and memories (most important) or linking their answer in my comments to their own blog.

So for the first “Graff Board”, I’m asking people to share their first ever experiences with race as many important points as you could remember.

So here are my first ever experience(s) with race straight from childhood and adolescence.  These aren’t in any particular order, feel free to point out stuff.

1)  Singing U.N.I.T.Y’s hook (“who you callin’ a bitch”) at the Lucky’s supermarket at random as a 9-year old.  A middle-aged black dude was staring at me like “WTF are you doing”, either because he was shocked that a young kid was using profane language in public or because I was a whitish type kid.

Whatever it was, that disapproving stare was the first time I remember I felt like I didn’t belong doing a certain activity.  That was the first time I felt that hip-hop or rap, which I felt “belonged” to black people, wasn’t an activity I felt I could “belong” to.

2)  I remember thinking while in Daycare in the 2nd grade, there was no such thing as ugly black women.  I was like “wow, they’re all so beautiful.”  This was at a Catholic school where the population was a mix of Filipino, Latino, white, but not so many black people.  I don’t know why or how, it was just something I thought.

3)  The dude I considered my best friend in my early elementary school years was the one black kid in our class, Erik Wade and this other kid named Christian who had the coolest Ninja Turtles kick ball.

Erik invited me to his house for his 7th or 8th birthday.  Our elementary school was located in Los Feliz, but for some reason Erik lived really far away, which I didn’t “understand” was South LA.

I was wondering why no one else from school was there at his party.

I remember accidentally running into some other family’s house by mistake and thinking “oh, they’re black too…OK!”

In retrospect, knowing my dad as he is now, the political views he apparently holds steadfast too, and the racism that some Filipinos do hold, I am really surprised that he would go out of his way to take me to South LA like it was anyone else’s birthday and how he and my mom would both welcome Erik and his mom to my birthday parties.

4)  In Kindergarten at Commonwealth Elementary where initially I was bused to Pico Elementary because I wasn’t prone to speaking and had a Spanish last name, I was taken to an ESL class.

5)  In high school, the prestigious Loyola High School, I felt almost obligated to hang out primarily with the other Filipinos.  I knew coming into the school that it was the “white school”, pretty much the only school I knew in LA (which in my personal childhood geography didn’t include West or East LA).

That said, I also became privy to the racially-segregated geographic differences.  All the Filipinos were from Eagle Rock or Glendale.  Some Latinos came from the actual neighborhood.  The white kids came from either the Palisades or Pasadena, neither of which were part of my personal childhood geography.  Far as I was concerned as a non-driving 9th, 10th, 11th grader those places were each at least an hour away.

6)  When I was about 11 years old, I had just decided that I was going to be like my godsister, Cheryl and become part of the “cool teenager” category.  I was going to like rap and hip-hop.  My official entrance into rap and hip-hop started with Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, and I started listening to Power 106 and 92.3 the Beat.

When I went to Disneyland for my little sister’s birthday and I was standing in line waiting for a ride, somehow I got into conversation with a white person named “Doug.”  Him being a white guy, I assumed he was into rock and roll.

For the next 10 minutes, I went on to bash KROQ.

I sincerely thought I was “educating” him.

/First time I was really discriminating against someone.

7)  After I had officially declared myself “into” rap and hip-hop, I decided I liked all kinds of TV shows with black people too, whether it was In the House with LL Cool J, Wayans Bros, Fresh Prince, to Malcolm and Eddie, to Sparks, to Homeboys in Outer Space.

I remember someone actually brought up those shows in class.

The teacher said she wasn’t familiar with any of those shows.

8)  “Goody two shoes” was a marker of “whiteness” for me.

I marked the few white kids in elementary school as “goody two shoes.”  I wasn’t that, least in elementary school, but I had a strange affinity for drawing people with collared shirts and imagining what it was like to live in the suburbs.

So there you have it, my first experiences with race as a kid and as an adult.

Now either say something back about my experiences, your first memories, episodes on race.