I started writing because I was a painfully shy kid. Small children can make friends so easily. Five year-olds don’t care that your skin tone is different they just want someone who will play board games with them or share the green crayon. Friendships were great until I got closer to middle school.
Once I made it to middle school people cared that I was different. I went to a Catholic school from 6th – 8th grade. This transition in my life was difficult. Apparently it was perplexing to people that I could have dark brown skin but be articulate. My hair texture was curly and not straight. I read lots of books and didn’t know all the popular rap songs. I wasn’t even Catholic. My father is Catholic and so is most of his family. He was determined his kids would experience some Catholicism. I was Christian but raised in the Baptist denomination.
Catholic school was an interesting experience at that age. Friendships were not easy to make anymore. Not for a shy girl. I have to thank John Paul. He was the reason other girls starting talking to me. John Paul was the socially awkward boy. He was a little chubby with glasses. John Paul liked to follow me around. He did it all the time my first few weeks at this school. The other girls started to notice how he had to always sit next to me.
When I was younger I didn’t think much of these girls and their sudden desire to want to free me of John Paul. Every time they saw him come near me they would yell for me to join them at their cafeteria table, the seat next to them at Mass, or on their team on the playground. I was happy because I was only 11 and just excited to have them finally talk to me.
It was years later I really started to think about everything. These same girls who claimed to want to be my friend were always puzzled by my behavior and my look. How do you get your hair like that? Why don’t you wash it everyday? Oh…Lisa…what’s the name of that new rap song? I know you know it. Is your name really just…Lisa? Isn’t that a white girl name?
My answers were always the same: this is my natural hair texture…yes…I could straighten my hair if I wanted to. No, I don’t wash my hair everyday because I don’t have to. My hair texture is different than yours for a reason. No, I don’t know all the rap songs or all of the rappers. Yes, my name is just Lisa. I didn’t know the name Lisa had an ethnicity attached to it…blah …blah…blah.
My response was on repeat for at least most of that year. I should have just recorded myself and played the tape everyday.
These girls were not that cool. I don’t know why they felt they needed to “save me” from John Paul. I give him credit because at least he apparently liked something about me for genuine reasons. These girls weren’t really all that nice in reality. I was never going to be apart of their group – I was too different. They sought me out because I was the strange new bird in the cage.
I started seriously writing when I was thirteen. My 8th grade English teacher told me I had so much potential and constantly encouraged my writing. Thank you to you, Ms. Bolt. She made me enter writing contests and perform my work in front of the class. She “forced” me to enter into the 4-H Speech contest. I won for my school, county, and city. I lost at the state competition.
I remember crying after winning at the county competition. My Mom was like “what’s wrong…what happened.”
“I don’t like winning. I don’t want to do this anymore. Do I have to go to the next competition. Can’t I just skip it? I get scared doing this in front of people.”
My Mom just simply said, “So stop doing a good job.”
Ms. Bolt was the highlight of my experience at the Catholic school. The 13 year-old me started writing because of frustration with my situation at school among other things. I was too shy to talk to anyone about my experiences.
The 30-something Lisa started looking back over those middle school years and saw something darker. As I went through grade 7 and then grade 8 I came to a realization. Many of these same girls later came to me and told me they didn’t know many black people. Some told me they weren’t supposed to have black friends because their parents hated black people. One boy in my class even called me a nigger as I stood in front of him. They didn’t know there were “other types” of black people until they met me. Well, I guess I’m glad I showed them the “positive image” of a black person. Please note: all black people are not identical and no one person represents the whole.
What also bothered me about these girls is that it became obvious they were confused about how the awkward white boy could like the black girl. Taboo. Then again I guess it made sense the awkward white boy would like the weird new black girl…because only awkward white boys like black girls, right? What were these girls really pushing me away from? John Paul was different for sure…but at least he was genuinely nice to me. He didn’t pretend with me. I wish 11 year-old Lisa understood that at the time.
I’m just glad I learned some lessons that prepared me to move on to high school. I had to really find myself when I went to high school. Luckily, I did find the balance between my shyness and later becoming somewhat of an extrovert (time and place for everything).