Before I go one step further, I really need to clarify somethings.
When I say that I was a “White girl” in law school and basically doing all the right things and at the same time a “Black girl” smoking blunts and basically doing all the wrong things, that was my mindset, not reality.
Because I was smoking blunts with plenty of White people back then and I went to law school with plenty of Black people.
I say these things to show how dangerous my mindset was at that time. How narrow my view of life was at that time. How I wrongly perceived My People as being one dimensional and how easily I assigned a negative narrative to my life and then labeled it “My Black Life.”
This was the time in my life when I was learning what it meant to “be Black” – this is something I should have know all my life. Not something that I had to learn at age 22. And definitely not something I should have to learn from watching Tupac videos and listening to Snoop Dogg. Because that only showed a very one dimensional view of Black life. The fact that my job placed me automatically out in the Projects, where all I saw was a specific class of Black people, skewed my view as well, and supported the distorted worldview I had been fed all my life. So when I say I was “Black” doing “this” and “white” doing “that” – this was my distortion of my mind and not reality.
In reality, there are no “Black” things or “White” things. If you grocery shop in your all white neighborhood, do you call it “White grocery shopping”? No, you call it “shopping”. When you go swimming at a pool in a Black neighborhood, do you call it “Black swimming”? Again, no, that would be silly. My point is that we tend to do things in the neighborhoods in which we live surrounded by our neighbors, so to label our lives and activities as being “Black,” “White” “Latino” “Asian,” etc is limiting and just ignorant.
And I was ignorant.
I’ll be the first person to stand up and say that Sara at age 22 was a very ignorant person. I was just starting to come out of my bubble of my sheltered life and I had A LOT to learn. Especially about what it meant to be Black in America.
Because while there are no “Black activities,” there are definitely “rules” that Black people must learn or understand to get through life. I will get to those later, but for now, I just wanted to clarify that I do not think that Black = bad and negative activities and White = good and positive activities.
So on with the story. Knoxville was a strange to me at first. The first thing I noticed about it was that it was clean. Everything was so clean there. I guess when you grow up in the North, you never realize how grimy and dirty everything up there looks. It must be because of the 8 months of winter. It just seems so much more dark and grey and dingy up North. When I moved down south, everything seemed so light and bright and the sun was out all the time.
The second thing was that everyone was so nice. I mean like greet you as you walk into Walgreens and ask you how your day is going while you stand in line at the grocery store nice. My initial reaction was “why do you want to know?” – my New York defensiveness. “Why are you all up my business?” Then I realized that people were just being friendly, that they smiled as they walked by and held open the door for you – even if you were four of five steps behind them. Who were these people?!!!! It was amazing how friendly and kind people were in Tennessee.
The third thing that become apparent is that they loved their Tennessee Volunteers. And I don’t mean just “Yay Rah!” kind of love, I mean obsessive, everything is orange, everything stops on game day, everything says “Go Big Orange” or “Go Vols” – Everything! Coming from a school that wanted to be division 1 (They’ve finally made it – GO UB!!) it was strange to come to a place where the sun rose and set on their college football team.
But I liked it. I liked it all.
The first couple years were pretty uneventful.
Well, except that I got pregnant. And Jon didn’t want me to have the baby and I really wasn’t ready to be a mother and I definitely wasn’t going to put my child up for adoption, so we decided on abortion. Which messed with my Catholic mind big time. (Funny thing about Us Catholics – birth control is ok, but abortion is not… hmmmm. My stance morphed on that too – one of the reasons I have six children).
I don’t know if I ever really forgave Jon for that. Not that I think that I had to forgive him, because it was a mutual decision. But I think somewhere inside I believed that I did it to please him and if he had said, “Hey, let’s get married and raise the baby,” I would have. But because he didn’t, I resented him. It wasn’t like we were strangers. We had been best friends from four years. We had been having sex with each other for about two and half of those, even if we hadn’t been “dating” until recently. So, this wasn’t the issue. So I resented the quickness with which he made this decision. And that’s the biggest problem with me. I let resentment build until I find a way to get back at people. And I did… get back at him. Later, when he was at his most vulnerable. More on that later too.
I still think about that baby. I even named her Isabella and imagine that she is in heaven with Jon’s mom. Even though Jon is Jewish and they aren’t supposed to believe in heaven, I still believe that Isabella is there with Jon’s mom, eating ice cream sundaes. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Before I went to law school, I was in the Master’s program for Sociology at UT, which I really loved. This was how I got the job at the office of student life and this is where everything really started to change.
Up until that point, I was still straddling that fence between both worlds trying to figure out what it meant to be this mixed race person, this adopted person, this “I don’t know what I am” person. I had been learning from one of Jon’s co-worker’s girlfriends how to do my hair and skin. She was Black , but she had hair and skin like mine- people often thought we were sisters. This was also when i started to learn about the Black middle class.
My friend, Lisa would take me to meet her family and they just accepted me and loved on me and taught me all about how to take care of myself. They took me to do my nails and taught me which hair care supplies to buy. They taught me which makeup would look best with my skin and which clothes would compliment my skin tone.
They didn’t live in the projects. They all had jobs and nice cars and intact families. They had family barbecues that didn’t involve gunshots or someone getting arrested.
I was learning something completely different about My People and I was even more confused than ever.
But then Jon’s co-worker broke up with Lisa and she disappeared. At the same time, I took a job at the Office of Student Life at the University. This meant that I would be tutoring football players in sociology. So my influences on learning about Blackness shifted from Black women to young Black men. Specifically young Black men playing football at Tennessee.
I guess no one ever thought that it would be a bad idea to put the light skinned mixed girl who had never had a boy really like her before with a bunch of football players who specialized in game. I was like a prime target and i didn’t even know it. If I had been raised in the Black community, I would have recognized game, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t. But I was a quick learner.
And I can’t say that some of these boys weren’t legitimately interested in me, because some were. But they were football players, at a Division 1 school. These boys could get any girl they wanted.
And some of them set their sights on me. A bookish, green girl from the country. Who just happened to also be engaged to a White boy. I was a prime target, I was highly sought after, because of several things, I had money, I was unobtainable (a challenge), I was light skinned (which I was told several times is a commodity – my first introduction to colorism) and I was from New York.
The education I got from those young men is priceless. There’s probably some things I didn’t need to know about. There’s somethings that they let me be witness to because I was “down” and friends with many of them, that I am glad I know about because I have daughters – so now I can say “don’t you EVER date a football player!” In the end, it ruined my relationship with Jon and this part of my life was the most unfair to him.
I don’t even really know how to write about this part of my life, because i have such a different view on what went down and how it went down and whether I was complicit or confused or just angry. I don’t know – probably a mixture of all three You’ll just have to read and see what you think.