Saturday, September 21, 2013

My Relationship with Rap: When I was little

I grew up in what some people would call "the hood." It was once a "good neighborhood" and live oaks laced with Spanish moss line the streets. However, our town was badly prepared for late 20th century economics. The employment rate went down and the murder rate went up. In the 80s and 90s, crack cocaine was a booming business. In the last 15 years, meth has replaced it in popularity. And so it goes.

This was in the South, so it's not the Bronx - there are so many azalea bushes that in the spring it looks like a painting. Besides the huge live oaks, we had dogwood and pine trees - old ones, big ones - so many trees that the light barely got through their shade. Beneath their branches were mostly old, dilapidated houses from the 30s and 40s (we lived in one of these). I won't lie: our house had some charm. The bathroom was still tiled in the original art deco black and white. There was a hole in the hall where a stove pipe used to be, and I guess nobody ever bothered to fill it in. We had a mud room that opened onto the concrete patio: as a kid I loved the cracked and broken concrete because it was more interesting than plain, flat patios. We had a dining room separated from the kitchen by a swinging white door like they had in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Next door to us was a group of duplexes. Imagine that a kid scattered a bunch of deep red blocks on the dirt: that was the duplexes. They were separated from our house by a screen of trees and vines, and I wasn't allowed to go over there. But you can't cut out a kid's eyes and ears, so I heard and saw plenty anyway. I was an only child without friends, so I used to climb the vines and play with the kids in the trees. We all knew the same hand games so it was all right that they had rotten teeth. But they never stayed: their parents were always running from something, so the turn-around was quick.

I remember when I realized that I was white. I was talking to a girl about my age and her little brother. The brother touched one of the freckles on my face, asked if I was sick. I laughed, but his sister called him an idiot. "He's not used to seeing white people."

I think most white people have it the other way: at some point in life, they realize that the other person is black. I had to learn that I am white, that I myself have an ethnicity too. We don't talk that way though do we? The black women's hair section is "ethnic." The white women's panty hose are colored "nude." Y'all, we act like "white" is the default, and that all these other people are a departure from the norm. I hate to break it to you, but we're the aberration. Look around the world, and you'll mostly see people of color.

The norm was rap; the norm was 1980s Cadillacs (we had an old car too, because we were fly like that). The norm was poverty and broken homes, whether people were white or black. My family was super weird because my parents were married and college-educated.

The public high school for our district was down the street, and on Friday night it was a street party. Cars lined the streets, and the whole world was loud. I hated the rap but I loved the marching band, so I would push my way to the high school to watch them march around the stadium. My two white friends and I would stand on the concrete wall across the street and above the fray, and we just thought we were the stuff. This was ours! It wasn't much, but it was big and bad and it was (at least) not as ghetto as the county school. We weren't like those kids in the county over, with their small-town peanut festivals and such. We were downtown.

Oh how I hated rap then. It was the reminder that I would never fit in, that I was different. It was the soundtrack day and night, from boom boxes and car radios with busted speakers; it rattled and doors and windows. It was scary and different, and I thought that it encouraged the violence and crime. What I didn't understand I hated.

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