My first encounter with the race-relations/troubles in the U.S. was when I was "fresh off the boat" so to speak. I was 12, and soon 13, and new to the U.S. and new to my school and new to everything.
The missionary house that we started out living in, being hosted by our church, was sort of in the "city" if you will, on 17th Ave. South in Nashville. My bus stop was several blocks away, so I walked into "the projects" every day to catch my school bus.
I mean, on an academic level, I knew there'd been trouble. I knew about the slavery (my mom had read us Roots when it came out, and we'd even procured a TV so that we could watch the show...dubbed into German...when it came on TV) and that is was wrong and the Civil War, and the emancipation proclamation. I'd heard about the KKK and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. All that stuff.
So, somehow, I thought America has been FIXED. I thought it was a better place and that stuff was in the past.
How wrong I was.
I was unprepared and mystified at the raw hatred that rolled my way from the other girls at my bus stop...who happened to be African American. I thought that if I don't hate them, they won't hate me, right? I'm not a racist because I know it's wrong...so that leaves me with a "not a racist this one's cool" sign flashing above my head, so that all those girls at the bus stop would somehow accept me? Right?
So. Did. Not. Happen.
No, the hatred rolled on like a river....rolled eyes, mocking tones, derision. It was palpable.
I learned how to be afraid. I did not understand the aggression or the bravado that I was encountering in my busmates/classmates.
I learned to cower and to be shy.
But to be fair...all these really really bad vibes, and a few verbal jabs...that's as far as anything ever went. I was never physically assaulted or harmed.
But the bad vibes were enough for me to learn fear and to put up some serious walls.
THEY didn't know I was "fresh off the boat" and new to this country. THEY didn't know that I felt that my own personal story sort of made me a clean slate to the whole "American inter-racial dynamics" thing. They just saw me, a white girl, at their bus stop, in their territory, and reacted in a normal way based on their own life experience...and judged me negatively.
I could feel the hatred and anger.
It's not much fun being judged by the color of one's skin.