As somewhat of a joke, I rep my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware seriously. I can't help but remember the place I spent the first 26 years and three weeks of my life before I embarked on this current journey in October. If you've come in contact with me offline, online, through Blogger, whatever, you can tell that I'm not exactly what Plies would call "street-approved." Considering where I grew up, you'd never believe it.
Much like Anyhood, USA, Wilmington's East Side is faced with deterioration after being pounded relentlessly by the drug game, jobs lost and/or cut along with the White Flight back to the city. Wilmington, once predominately white, turned into a black town during the 1968 riots following the outrage over Dr. King's assassination. Now that Wilmington has become a force in the banking world, urban renewal and gentrification are at an all-time high, and East Side seems to be next on the list for places to be torn down, blacks to be pushed out and whites to be ushered in with a police escort.
I was privy to watch this development, this multi-layered happening from age 10 on, and I was usually the one of the few kids who had a strong family structure that cared what we were doing. My mother, a social worker who dealt with people who felt like her agency owed them money to turn their lights on even though they would spend their money on other things, felt like her kids were not going to be another statistic, so she kept me and my younger sis in after school programs, playing sports, and encouraging us to basically do better.
While we were fortunate enough to have things to distract us from the war zone, my mom did NOT shelter us either. She would tell us about folks she went to school with, use to be pretty/handsome/sharp/slick/fast, and now they're asking folks for a couple of bucks for the next high. It was shocking to see in a lot of cases, and to this day that's why I've never had a drink, much less smoked or sniffed anything.
Before I go any further, this AIN'T a Bill Cosby situation. Never in my wildest dreams will I be removed from inner-city and black life for DECADES, then come running back and telling my people what's wrong with THEM, as if I'm not a part of them or not one of them. I was just fortunate enough to have a mother who cared. I know a gang of kids with the right guidance could be in better positions than I'm in right now.
Such is the dichotomy I'm faced with. I'm proud of where I came from, I'm blessed to have been afforded an opportunity to improve myself. So where do I stand? What side of the fence am I on? Quite frankly, the black side. That's who I am, that's what I'm proud to be, and that's who I want to see excel in the world. The only reason I'm so unsure about these ramblings is that from time to time, my blackness comes into question because of two things; my voice and my upbringing.
My voice, well...Those of you who have heard me on Utterz (blame Jameil) know that despite my heavy stature, dark complexion and strong features, I sound pretty much like a mouse. Or an emo gothic white chick, whichever you prefer. I can't tell you how many times I've either been called Ms. Stevens on the phone or have people's jaws drop when I open my mouth to speak, and that's fine. It's the random "damn you sound white," and "you talk like a white boy" comments that irk my life. Of course that only comes random phone conversations with women I haven't met in person before and it just makes for more self-esteem issues when the "white" thing comes up.
My upbringing, once again I'm fortunate, but I can't help but wonder what life would be like if my mother wasn't as active and involved in our dealings outside of the house? Would I have stayed the course after high school and find my way to DSU and journalism? Would I finally have the courage to speak up and handle my business like an adult should? Sure I might've discovered sex a little quicker, but that's about it. So why do I feel guilty that my mom gave a damn? I have no idea.
The rare times I am back home, I see some guys I grew up with and all they say is "man, you're doing big things, keep it up." And my heart aches for them. Those dudes feel like their lives are over because they're stuck in something right now. I want to say "look, I got lucky. I just was too chicken to do what you guys did, but it ain't over for you yet." Yet and still with a failing economy and laws designed for young black men to fail after making mistakes, I can't help but wonder if I'm hoping against hope.
I've never looked at myself as an Oreo or being special or different because of my voice and upbringing, but I do feel like I question my own blackness because I've never seen my mom strung out on drugs, I didn't have to work odd jobs to put diapers on my younger siblings, and that I never have had the cuffs put on me *knocks on wood*
Another part of me doesn't question it however, because I'm bold enough to check my co-workers on any borderline racist spiel that might be tempted to throw out there, I still think God's greatest creation was the black woman and I'm in love with the idea of the rebirth of a black community (commerce, church, schooling, etc.). I want to see us succeed in the faces obscured by Klan hoods.
So I guess I contradicted my title. There isn't a price to being raised right -- just benefits. Ones that I hope future generations will reap from for a long time.