Since I grew up in a small town in the “Bible-belt of Kentucky, I never realized how “sheltered” how was until I moved away. At one point in my high school years, I remember being in one of two places – the Band room at school or the Youth area at my childhood Baptist Church. This is the kind of town that is the epitome of the saying from the TV show Cheers, “Where everyone knows your name.” The tight-knit community worked well and came together during my sophomore year when a fellow band member died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. I suspect that experience would have been different if it happened in a larger community or even in a metropolitan city.
As I went off to college at a major university in Kentucky, I lived on-campus for my first three undergraduate years. This was my first time out my nuclear family and on my own. Who is going to be my roommates, where are they from, and what are they like? In my first year, I lived with three other white girls with probably similar upbringing. However. I still never felt like I belonged or like anyone could “get me.”
Over the next two years, I lived in a different dorm and it was more like an apartment. I had 3 black room-mates and. This was the first time in my life that I was the white “token” girl. I was lucky to have been grouped with similar “geeky” personalities. Meredith, who stayed in the same room with me, even made fun of a certain word and would call me her “favorite white nigga!” At first, it threw me off to hear the saying but after awhile it became our inside joke. Nearly seven years later, Meredith was a bridesmaid in my wedding.
Also, perhaps it is because I lived on campus but I was lucky and grateful to be around so many international students. I got to know many folks from Portugal and several south Asian countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Up to that point I don’t think I knew where Sri Lanka was on a map. I remember the first time a few friends made some Indian-like food to share and I was confused when there was no silverware. Of course, there is the wonderful naan bread. Then, at the end of 2004, the Indian Ocean had an earthquake and it resulted in a tsunami to all the surrounding countries. Many of my friends were then distraught to make sure their families back home were safe and were recovering. As much as I wanted to empathize, I don’t think I could really show since I was only a few hours away from my family.
When I enlisted in the military in July of 2011, I was thrown into a world and culture I had never known. The military is the only lifestyle where each person probably comes from all walks of life, ages, and locations; and we are forced to work together. I have always looked up to my husband for his many years in the Marine Corp and Army. In 2013, I promoted from E-3 to E-4, and I had both my supervisor and my husband during the process and ceremony; who are both black. In my professional career, I have more instances where I have looked up to leaders who are black.
In the last six months since being at Southwestern College, I have a small group of friends who are also all white. I miss having voices from other backgrounds. Then when I get home and see my husband – then it is different than what I see at school. About a week ago, I found myself spending a few hours catching up on the life and death of Stephon Clark. He was a 23 year old black man who was shot in his grandmother’s back yard. As my husband left for work, I hugged him and tears rolled down my face, hoping that he would be extra safe.