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Catch Me Elsewhere
While watching the news, last week as the space shuttle, Endeavour, made its way through the streets of Westchester, Inglewood and South Central Los Angeles (all my stomping grounds growing up), my son asked, “What or where is Inglewood?” I explained to him that Inglewood was a city near Los Angeles. At that moment it dawned on me that my son, at 9 years old is growing up so much differently than I did.
Currently, I live in the Inland Empire, which is about an hours drive east from Los Angeles. I guess it is what one would call the suburbs. It is quiet, no graffiti and if there are gangs here, I have never seen them. It is much different then growing up in Los Angeles and Inglewood, like I did.
When I was 9 years old, we lived on 61st street between Broadway and Main. The sound of helicopters and sirens were a constant thing. So constant, you learned to tune them out, unless the helicopters had their lights scrolling over the windows of our house or the police cars and ambulances were on the block. While walking to the corner store, we walked past graffiti telling us which gang was claiming the neighborhood that we lived in and who their enemies were. I was used to the gang members that hung out on our block and even knew most of them.
As I grew up in that neighborhood, until the age of 15, I became very street smart and could maneuver my way around the city on the RTD buses. Back then we called them, The Rough, Tuff & Dangerous because that was exactly what they were. I knew what neighborhoods to go to and which ones you had to be careful in. Even though I lived in a Crip neighborhood, I proudly wore my red vans and red tie from my All Girls Catholic High School uniform with pride. No one ever bothered me.
Back then, things were so different from the way they are today.
When I go to Los Angeles today to visit friends and family and I drive through the different neighborhoods, my son asks, “Why do they write on the walls in this city?” While driving through certain neighborhoods, he will say things like, “This city is a slum.” When I asked him if he would want to live here, he yelled out, “NO!”
I always said that I wouldn’t want to raise my son in Los Angeles because there are so many things that you have to worry about when raising a Black Male Child in the city. You have to not only worry about gangs but the police, as well. Contrary to popular belief, police are not always your friends! They can very much be the enemy of black males. Don’t get me wrong, just because we live in the suburbs does not mean that the police will not be a threat to my son. I am fully aware of that. I pray that he does not fall prey to a crooked cop because of his skin color.
From the ages of 7 to 17, we moved 8 times. Whenever an area got bad, we moved, especially when my brothers were in their preteens and teens. My mother feared them getting involved in gangs.
As I look at my son, I cringe at the fact that he may never have the “street sense” that I had. He has never walked, anywhere by himself, let alone the corner store (we don’t have a corner store, but you get what I mean.) He will probably never learn how to take public transportation, learn what to do when you see two groups from opposing sides start to clash, etc.
At school they teach them that when someone hits you, you tell a teacher. We were taught that when someone hits you, you knock the hell out of them. I have tried to instill this in Timothy but he is just not that kinda kid. He wants to be friends with everyone and will make a friend wherever we go. I call him, “The Friend of the Friendless,” because any child who is looking for someone to play with or a friend…Tim will find them. His feelings get hurt when someone doesn’t want to play with him at school or if someone doesn’t want to be his friend. He says, “I was really nice to them and they still didn’t want to be my friend.” Maybe it’s an only child thing, but I try to get him to have “tougher skin.” Hopefully, he will .
While there are certainly benefits to raising my son in the suburbs, as opposed to Los Angeles, i.e. better schools, safer neighborhoods, etc., the bad side to it is the cultural differences between Tim and his classmates. This school year, he has 4 other African-American kids in his class, when he is usually the only one. He talks proper English (this is not a bad thing) but is often questioned about the way he speaks when we visit friends in LA. He has been asked “why do you talk so proper?” To that question, he responded with a confused look on his face, because all the kids that he knows speak like him.
He is not familiar with “slang words,” the latest dance or the newest rap song but he can tell you about the structure of a cell, biomes, how to multiply 3 digit numbers and the latest, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book. Because of that, I have to say that growing up in the suburbs is not so bad and if my son never learned all the “cool” stuff that his counterparts in Los Angeles know but continues to get good grades, earn scholarships to college and becomes an educated, honest, respectful African American man, then I will know that I made the right choice in saying, “No Hood for Timothy.”