Messages We Send Different People: Why Is Everybody Tripping?
Back in the days when I was growing up in South Central Los Angeles I had a healthy number of friends. Like most people my friends came in different shapes and sizes, with different views and approaches to life as we were living it back then. While it was the hood and no one was living much larger than anyone else, the way people chose to live was intriguing in itself. Some of the neighbors put all their money into their homes. Others put their funds into their automobiles. Many put their funds into their children’s education, sending them to private schools in an attempt to invest in a better life for their children. As an adult looking back on all those different flows my friends had I understand a great deal of the socio-political implications and influences on their parents behavior which ultimately influenced them greatly. But as a child I only knew that my friends represented a wide array of ways, and that it was my boy David who was a stone trip!
Now, when you hear people say someone is a trip, they probably have just bought into a slice of American slang that has become a cultural norm for the relatively cool. The use of the word “trip” without thinking about its’ true meaning is so matter-of-factly done that most people don’t unpack what it may actually mean. For me, when I call someone a trip, it means that experiencing them is like taking a journey, getting away from everyday type activities, knowing I may be headed toward a conversation or front row seat to something out of the extraordinary. So, when I say someone is a trip I really mean that engaging them is almost like going on an adventure! Feel me on this?
Back to David, yes my boy David was a trip! He was a brown skinned Latino who most of the people in the hood would have seen as Black, except his accent told another story. Life was a trip back then! As kids you think you know everything when in actuality all you really know is what you know, nothing more. (Damn, for that matter that would apply for adults as well, though we will argue against that point if pressed to defend ourselves. Oh yes, we are trips in that regard). For that matter, I was positive that David didn’t know who he was. Since his family spoke Spanish, and all the Spanish speaking people in our neighborhood were Mexican, when I got into a rag session with David, while he was calling me “nigger” or “Black chump” I was calling him “Stupid Mexican.” To this he would reply, “F-you Man, I’m Puerto Rican, not Mexican!” I would laugh and tell him he was really stupid, and insist that he was Mexican. I had never heard of Puerto Rico and so, since I hadn’t, it didn’t exist, and since he sounded like Mexicans sound, he had to be Mexican. But what was it in me, or you in a similar situation that would make us insist that we knew more than the kids we were forcing labels on? Is that what we do as kids? Why?
Looking back on it, it is obvious that he knew he was Puerto Rican! He was definitely very different from any other kid in the neighborhood, and I couldn’t figure it out! Going over his house always felt like I was entering a foreign country, yet he always was David. His mother would speak Spanish to him, and attempt to speak so-called proper English with me. His father, like most fathers in my neighborhood, wasn’t there, so his big brother and sister were like pseudo-parents to him. David, who ate different foods, talked different, even watched some different television shows, was always cool! He was always David! Later, as an adult when I realized that I had really embarrassed myself and shown my ignorance by insisting David was other than he was, I discovered that one of the worst things we can do to someone is commit to an opinion we have on them simply because they fit a societal image. As kids we can’t help it! What is our excuse as adults?
My daughter, in the local Wal-Mart at a very young age, saw a differently-abled child walk past her. She saw the little boy as very different from her. I also noticed the little boy. About a second later my daughter decides to turn to her older brother and let him know that the “different” little boy was “weird.” Hearing this, I took my daughter into the center of the store, and told her (and her brother) to stand there and watch all the kids that were/would be passing by. I asked her to “really” watch all the kids that passed by. After about five minutes (an eternity to a little four year old) I asked her if she saw any kids that looked like her. She said no! I then asked her if that made her weird! She almost started crying at the thought that her dad was suggesting she was weird. I then told her if she didn’t like being called weird, she shouldn’t call anyone else names like that, because since most of the time she would be the only black girl anywhere she went, that difference would kind of make her weird. She would go on to call other kids weird, geek, nerd for a bit of time after that, but she either doesn’t do it at all anymore, or hides it from me. So, either the teaching moment that I took full advantage of was successful, or she knows it’s wrong and still does it just because she can’t yet fully comprehend the hypocrisy of the moment. Of course I choose to believe she is enlightened about both treating people the way she wants to be treated (golden rule), is by her actions trying to set an example for others to follow (categorical imperative), or better still, just knows that calling someone anything other than their name is straight up wrong (doing the wrong thing). How many of you take the time to challenge your children about their perspectives, their “ways of seeing?”
I wonder if I had never had a Puerto Rican friend named David would I have even challenged my daughter about her name calling! I would make the argument that not challenging my daughter after realizing what a trip I must have been when I was young would have made me even more of a trip! If you think so, why is that? Why would it have been a trip for me not to challenge my daughter? More so, how much of a trip is it that you don’t challenge more people than you do?
Hey, don’t get mad at me for challenging you in this blog. You must want me to challenge you if you wander with me, which makes you as much of a trip as me, which is why you wander with Wiley!!!