When i left off in my story, I had just moved to Knoxville. I had just started working at the Boys and Girls Clubs in the projects of Montgomery Village. This was where I became painfully aware of the fact that I was a white person living in a Black person body.
I mean I always knew I was Black. That was a given. The people I grew up around always made sure that I knew that I was different. “accepted” but different. And I was ok with that.
But suddenly, here I was different, like really different. I talked different. I acted different. I dressed different. I wore my hair different. I thought different. I realize for the first time in my life that White people and Black people lived the same, but different. They thought the same, but different. They acted the same, but different. In other words, I wasn’t expecting the differences, and there were differences.
It was all very confusing to me. And the fact that I was placed in the middle of the projects legitimated my world view that all Black people lived in the projects. It would be later that I learned that there is a Black middle class. At age 22, I still had not learned this.
I don’t even know if you can imagine what went through my mind at this time in my life.
Up until this point, I had been very sheltered. I lived in the middle of the country before I lived in the academic bubble for four years. I never understood what life was like in the projects. I did not understand that there were girls having sex at very young ages. I did not know about boys engaging in criminal behavior at very young ages. I didn’t know about any of it. And at Montgomery Village, it wasn’t a color thing, because some white people lived there too and they were poor and involved in criminal activity and had twenty kids by fifteen different people. So it was more of a culture thing.
And it’s not to say all poor people act like that either, it was just that I saw a different side of life there that I had never seen before.
I don’t even know what i want to call it. Because it is just life. No matter what, it’s just the way that some people get through their lives. And it was a way that I had never seen before. Until this time in my life. And it shocked me. And it saddened me. It made me feel like I hadn’t “paid my dues” by being raised in a white home.
This feeling of entitlement made me angry. I felt like I had to shun everything white in my life. I started to only listen to Black music. I wouldn’t tell anyone that I had a White family.
But at the same time I started dating my White boyfriend. It should have been the greatest thing in my life, that Jon finally admitted that he was “in love” with me and that he wanted to be with me. But in a way, I felt like I had to hide that I was with him too.
So, this was my life in Tennessee, a double life. The beginning of the splitting of me. No longer could I live outside of myself and observe my life – I had now entered into my body, but lived two very distinct and different lives.
There was the white girl, Sara, who lived with Jon, her boyfriend and their two cats, who was in law school and toured around to see the Grateful Dead on school breaks.
And then there was the other Sara, the Black girl who hung around with her niggas and smoked blunts and drank forties and spent her school breaks in the projects of Bed Stuy Brooklyn.
Yes, both of those people existed at the exact same time. But no one can live two lives and eventually, those lives collided and that’s why I call this part of my life when the tornado hits the train wreck.