I thought I left my childhood behind me. Those insecurities born on the hot concrete playgrounds and sandboxes in Houston’s Fifth Ward were long behind me. In my mind at least. Most of my childhood memories are happy ones. Both my parents worked full-time when I was younger so every day of the summer I was dropped off at my grandmother’s apartment. And after vacation Bible school at the nearby high school, I had the rest of the day to roam the apartment complex and nearby park with my older cousins. I have fond memories of double dutch, hopscotch, basketball games, roller blades, snow-cones and “Kool Cups”.
And then there are the not-so-fond memories of girls that “didn’t like” us and let that be known through harsh verbal insults and the occasional fist fight. These are all memories that I left behind. But this summer has been a lesson in the difference between ignoring and overcoming.
A couple weeks ago, I walked through that same apartment complex with one of my older cousins’ daughters, holding the most intelligent conversation a person can hold with a seven year old. She told me that she played hide and seek in the same alley that I roamed when I was her age, jumped rope on the same playgrounds, and then it happened, a group of girls passed us on pink and purple bikes, screaming insults at my little cousin about her “nappy hair” and threatening to “kick her black ass”.
Now listen. All of a sudden, I was that scrawny little girl with braids and glasses and it was 1993 and some older girl was calling me “stuck-up”, “bald-headed” or “spoiled” and I was standing by while my older cousins defended me with words and if necessary, with fists. All of the insecurities that those insults caused rose to the top and I didn’t want that for my little cousin. I didn’t want her to spend years fretting over the state of her hair. I didn’t want her to grow up thinking that her dark skin is anything other than flawless. I realized at that moment that I so fiercely and passionately speak against this behavior in girls because I’d internalized the harsh words of my bullies and that those latent insecurities inform my behavior to this day.
Often times we don’t think about the lasting effects of the things that people say to us or about us. And sometimes no matter how many times we say that we don’t care, those things affect us. I always tell the girls that I mentor that the words of bullies and naysayers don’t matter if you have a firm grasp of yourself. And now I realize that I need to practice what I preach.