Updated: Jan 23
OTHERED As a person of color, growing up with my "white sisters and brothers”, I did not know why I was “othered.” Not much more than four years old, l went out the door to make my first friends. I spotted two boys who threw rocks at me and threatened me with the police! I didn’t know why I was othered. My first day at school, a teenage boy threatened to de-pants me, and fly my underwear on the flagpole. I didn’t know why I was othered. Flunked for the first time in the third grade, I found a friend named Keith. We played with trolls and dominoes. Behind our backs a white teenage girl threw our troll house in the trash—I saw her. I didn’t know why I was othered. In first, second and third grade I was the last to get attention and sometimes I got none. I don’t even remember the teacher sitting with me, teaching me how to read or write or spell. I was an an island in a sea of white. I didn’t know why I was othered. At nine or ten I took ice-skating lessons, and my teacher asked me a question. I answered correctly. There were three or four teenage boys standing by who actively disagreed with my answer. He asked me again, and again I answered correctly. Then he asked me one more time; I doubted myself, and I changed my mind and answered incorrectly. They all laughed to see if I would cry. I didn’t know I was being gaslighted and I didn’t know why I was othered. Because my mom worked two jobs, she was forced to get babysitters. Her choices were white teenage males. They told me if I could guess the ingredients in a candy bar I could have it. And when I didn’t guess correctly, they took a cap gun and shot it next to my ears. I didn’t know why I was othered. As a fifth grader, somehow I talked too much. The teacher took me to the office and gave me three wacks with a razor strap—minor offenses were met with corporal punishment. I didn’t know why I was othered. (HE WAS A RETIRED POLICE OFFICER!) I didn’t know I was facing hate, I tried to be positive at any rate, I just knew that the world was wrong, and I could stand up because I was a strong boy of African descent, with my childhood gone. I didn’t know why I was othered! We moved to an undeserved, over-policed, distressed neighborhood, and a boy with a knife was sent to fight with me. We were like rats in a cage fighting for crumbs. I didn’t know why I was othered! At a Christian school with two rooms, we were out at play, snow was on the ground. I was down at the bottom of the hill and two white boys were at the top, so they decided to gang up on me and threw snowballs at me. I didn’t know why I was othered! One day when mom was away, the white babysitters pretended to play with my younger brother. They threatened to put him on a cross. They hung him by his hands...I didn’t know why we were othered! Another day, out of nowhere, the DHS came to find us home alone. We caused no trouble, our mom was at work, so we hid as best we could. I did not know why we were othered! At 13, my parents were gone, my siblings and I were home alone—the police busted into our house—pointed a gun at me, and claimed someone was being killed in our house. They had no warrant, they searched our house and never apologized. I did not know why we were othered! During eighth grade, my teacher was shocked and appalled that I scored above the 80 percentile in vocabulary. He thought that I cheated, so he told my previous teacher without my knowledge—then my previous teacher gave me an impromptu test out of the blue. I passed with flying colors. I didn’t know why I was othered! In the ninth and 10th grade I had two close white friends, but when I moved away, they said “don’t be surprised if we don’t write”. I didn’t know why I was othered. At summer camp, a white girl and her friends surrounded me for hours, coercing me to go on a date with the one black girl at camp. When I finally relented and went on the date, I felt regret for being manipulated. I didn’t know why I was othered! I was chosen as camper of the week—out of the blue I got some recognition, and then to bring me down, a white girl I knew said she should’ve been camper of the week. I didn’t know why I was othered! I went to a boarding school. it was fun and kind of cool to run for office of my class. I was voted in—then, the white boy who ran against me said it should’ve been him. I didn’t know why I was othered. Then, when I was trying to sleep, my roommate and friend decided to creep—and poured water in a glass to see if it would make me pee the bed. I didn’t know why I was othered. When I graduated from high school, I had a bill to pay, so I wrote a letter to my white church to see if they could help. Needless to say, I got crickets. I didn’t know why I was othered. In college, a teacher accused me of plagiarism, and demanded I produce the books I referenced, to prove I did not lie, did not cheat. After delivering all the books I got no apology. I did not know why I was othered. I came into this world without a debt, yet at every turn I’m told I must pay my debt to a society of hate, that they can’t stand my mere existence! I still don’t no why I was othered. How many times was I set up to fail? I don’t know, because I cannot know; I only know that I was othered ... my childhood was and is punctuated with the tacit awareness that abusing me and my brothers and sisters would be met with no shame, and no prosecution and no apologies—because of the skin I’m in. I say “is” because my childhood memories are a constant part of my every-day thoughts.
I did not know why I was othered!
© Derek Marlow Ewell
Speaker, Facilitator, Mentor, Life Coach