At the Playground, You Know

My cousin, my cousin ... (I actually have no idea if these little girls are cousins or not.)

My cousin, my cousin ... (I actually have no idea if these little girls are cousins or not.)

Is it just me, or did you always know that white people had cousins?

This is a truth I tell whenever I get the chance: I didn’t realize I wasn’t white until maybe the second grade. Well, let me be clearer. I didn’t know there was a difference between all the white kids in my classroom and me. I mean, sure I knew their skin was lighter than mine, but I didn’t know that meant something. That’s just the innocence of childhood. Well, by the time I knew for sure I wasn’t like all the other kids (white kids, that is), I was in the third grade when my at-the-time best friend’s (Tracey Sagely … are you supposed to use people’s first and last names on stuff like this?) brother called me a “nigger” when I called their house.

“Tracy! This nigger is on the phone and wants to talk with you.”

That was the first time I’d ever heard that word. I didn’t really know what it meant, but I was a sharp enough kid to know it probably wasn’t a good thing. Tracey and I didn’t talk much after that. But that’s not what this story is about anyway.

If I didn’t know it pre-nigger, I knew it post. “One of these things is not like the other,” they used to sing on Sesame Street. I am black. They are white. My hair requires grease. Hers does not. The list, of course, goes on and on and I started paying careful attention to our differences. And one of the differences I noticed was that white people never talk about their cousins.

When people on the playground would have their childhood melees, the people who looked like me would always say things like, “I’ma put my cousin on you” or “Don’t mess with her/him. You know Spike they cousin,” anything to that affect. But I never heard white people saying those things. Or when you’d come back from Thanksgiving or Christmas break, I never heard white people saying, “Me and my cousins went to ___ when we was out of school. What you do?” Nope. Every now and then someone may have gone to visit their grandparents, but it never crossed my mind that cousins might have been sitting at the dinner table with them because they never talked about them! Until fourth grade that is. Michelle Prisock, my classmate, had a “cousin” who ran for and was elected state representative. No one believed the woman was her cousin, but it was just the fact that she used the word was a part of her vocabulary that blew me away. Thanks, Michelle, for opening my 10-year-old eyes. (In hindsight, the woman probably was her cousin. They were both from Maben. I think everyone in Maben is cousins … even the parents, siblings and in-laws. It’s required.)

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~ by MsInklination on June 2, 2009.

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