Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I thought my first name was White & my last was Boy. That’s just the way it is when you are damn near the only white kid for a thousand square miles. Our neighborhood was made up of Blacks, Mexicans, Filipinos, Samoans and us, the pasty people that belonged to Betty Crocker’s extended family. I didn’t understand why they constantly referred to our whiteness, because we were well aware of this painful fact.
The ethnic diversity caused constant tension that lived just below the surface even when we were getting along. When we first moved to So Cal from New Jersey, I faced a stress test on a daily basis. They wanted to see how tough I was and how far they could push the new white boy. The bully of the block, a massive Samoan kid that would give Hercules a run for his money and assaulting people was his favorite hobby. One summer he kicked my butt up and down the street because I had the nerve to disagree with him about something. I ran home to tell my dad and hoped that he would protect his first born, me, by ratting out Junior by informing his dad of his son’s potential for criminal celebrity. To my astonishment, my father proclaimed his old school Philadelphian philosophy by fiat. Dr. Spock never got off the bookcase at our house.
He said to stop being such a baby, stand up to him and fight back. He said that until I fought back, Junior and everyone else would continue to take advantage of me interminably. Needless to say but I will anyway, this “old school philosophy” scared the crap out of me. How was I going to fight the toughest kid on the block, especially since he convinced me that being white was a weakness I could never overcome? I didn’t sleep at all that night.
The next day we were all playing baseball in the junkyard near our hood. Junior was on the other team and I was nervous but ready to stand up to any racial slur he might throw at my head. I came up to bat, and as if on cue, Junior bashed me as good for nothing white trash that wasn’t even good enough to be thrown into the junkyard we played baseball. I calmly walked up to the pitcher’s mound and punched him in the mouth. I followed up the first punch with a combination to the body. He fell to the ground a bloody mess. Two weeks later Junior and I were blood brothers BFF’s and my homeys stopped making fun of my whiteness. They found thousands of other things they could use to make fun of me.
The “Junior incident” became a turning point in my life. No longer would I allow my brown buddies put me down due to my white weakness without an argument or physical fight. I would now stand up for myself.
As the years passed, athletics became a huge part of my life and racial stereotyping reared its ugly head once again. White boys can’t jump, hit home runs or score touchdowns. Of course, for every rule, there is an exception and I became the exception. You see, when a brown brother told me I could never compete because of my obvious whiteness, I no longer hated this person. I waited for my opportunity to destroy and humanely humiliate him on the court, saying as little as possible. You see, trash talking doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t back it up, because it’s all about the scoreboard. I loved the scoreboard because you didn’t get points from your pale or brown skin but from your ability to execute on the field of play.
As my athletic ability spread from Compton to South Central L.A., my name took on new meaning for my friends and me. The White Boy was now the best player at any park, and everyone wanted him on their team. In fact, this newfound respectability even got me noticed by some important gang members that ran the parks, which amounted to a V.I.P pass. I even was christened with a couple of cherished street names. The Crips called me White Ice and the Cholos decided on flaco, which means skinny in Spanish, I think. I really didn’t like the Cholo name, but I couldn’t say a thing because the leader’s name was Gordo that means fatso so I didn’t have a choice anyway, besides any street nickname was a honor far beyond the grasp of any other white boy.
High School opened my eyes to the fear of the unknown. Catholic High School is situated between the super-rich Palos Verdes Peninsula to the south, Redondo and Manhattan Beach to the west, and the good people of Compton ten miles east. I may have lived seemingly close to such unimaginable wealth but I felt like an alien in another world. The parking lot looked like a show room for an exotic car dealership. BMW, Corvettes, Porsches, Mercedes, Suburbans, and convertibles were all represented. Of course, these cars belonged to the students not the teachers.
When the Richey Rich kids from school asked me where I lived, I told them. The perfect “Dear in the headlights” syndrome occurred. They concocted some of the most incredibly stupid questions, about my neighbors, that were conceived by the human species, “Don’t a lot of Mexicans and Blacks live there? My dad said Compton was like a concrete jungle, is it? Are you afraid to live there?” I said I wasn’t afraid at all, but if they lived in Compton, they would probably be dead by now. They believed me.
These experiences culminated in an epiphany for me, and taught me why my brown blood brothers put me through the glorious suffering of my youth. They feared the unknown, a simple white boy. The rich kid’s ignorance of my friends from the hood caused the same exact reaction in them. It’s easier to stereotype a group then attempt to learn about each individual person and love him or her for who and what they truly are.