When I was a little kid, I lived in Queens, NYC. Queens is a very racially diverse
place. I once read somewhere that over 200 languages are spoken there.
At my school, I had friends of all colors and races. However, there was one group who I was taught to hate: West Indians. That might sound like a strange group to single out, but let me explain.
I had lived in the same area for almost 12 years, and around the time I was 8 years old or so, my neighborhood saw a huge influx of West Indians from Guyana, and went from being very racially mixed to being a Guyanese ghetto (ghetto being an area where a racial minority lives in great numbers). Most of the Guyanans were very new to the country, and so they basically made my neighborhood look like Guyana to make themselves feel more at home, which made my family and I feel like we were living in a very foreign land. The Guyanans' culture was very, very, different from my own, and seemed really alien to me and my family. We saw the value of our house plummet because our neighbors decided to paint their house Pepto Bismol-pink and pastel green. They played strange music with women singing in ultra high-pitched tones very loudly at all hours of the day and night. Something in their diet made them give off peculiar odor that I found rather unpleasant. It was culture clash, pure and simple. Pair that with a language difference that made them seem rather separatist, and you have a perfect environment to breed racism.
My mother used to tell me horrible things about them, things like "They don't wash their hair," "They don't bathe," "They are all on welfare," "They're dangerous, they're always going around stabbing each other," and all kinds of other crap. I believed all this, of course.
In school, I was really mean to some of the West-Indian kids; I'd ignore them, call them names, and just generally treat them like they were stupid and beneath me.
When I was 13, I moved to California. I moved to an area where the Caucasian population dwarfed all the other groups in the area. At school, the white kids hung out with the white kids, the black kids with the black kids, the Mexican kids with the Mexican kids and so on. In NY, my two best friends were black, but when I sat down next to a group of black kids at lunch in CA, they all shunned me. People made fun of my extremely strong New York accent, they called me a heathen because I was Roman Catholic (my school was made up mostly of Mormons and Baptists), they made fun of the way I dressed (in NY, it was ok to wear sweat pants and shirts to school, in CA, that was seen as slobbish), and they made fun of my lack of skill for sports, which was something stressed much more in Californian schools than in NY schools.
For the first time in my life, I was an outsider, and I felt like a fish out of water for a long time. All I did was move from one coast of the country to the other, yet it took me years to adjust. It made me think what it must have been like for the Guyanans, who moved across the world where everything was different. They suddenly didn't seem so alien anymore.
Fast forward to my senior year in Highschool. I made friends with a girl from India, who, by just being herself, exposed me to her culture and made me realize how stupid I'd been. The music that used to irritate me to no end now fascinated me, the foods that I thought were disgusting turned out to be wonderful, and the people that I thought were crazy idiots suddenly seemed human.
I have to say that I'm really embarrassed about the way I used to treat those kids at school. I was just a kid, but I know I must have really hurt somebody. I find myself still feeling guilty about it all, even though it was quite some time ago. I guess all I can do to make amends is to do my best to put racism to an end when I have the opportunity, and to never forget that I am capable of harboring hate myself when I'm faced by others who hate me.