One of These Kids is Doing His Own Thing

White Boy FTW

I’ve always been called a “white boy” by other black people for as long as I can remember.  It started with my own family.  My cousins would say that I speak too properly to be related to them.  Obviously, I learned how to talk just like anybody else, but I have to admit my parents don’t really sound like me either.  I am certain that attending Friends Academy had a significant influence on how I came across both to the ear and in personality but I can’t totally blame school.  I’ve lived with the label before I started school, to be completely fair.

I remember when the folks would come for visits and all the kids would gather and play as children do.  It was in those early interactions with black people, all toddling cohorts, that I realized that I was a little different.  I would never use “white boy” to describe myself, but when they had to stay on the beach, I was swimming to the float beyond the jetty.  Even at that early age my activities were different: I learned to ride a horse before I could fully talk.  I loved football because my dad loved football, but he also liked to swim.  In any case as much as I loved football, there wasn’t a means of playing it at that early age.  My town didn’t have Pee Wee football, and even if it did momma wasn’t going to let me play.  We lived in a private, gated, beach community so it made sense that all of the Cooper children were good swimmers. 

From the ages of six until about thirteen my activities would continue to reinforce the contradictory racial moniker: I played soccer, judo, American freestyle wrestling, lacrosse, golf, tennis and learned to surf.  Those sports were more a function of me being a kid from Long Island than me trying to mimic a culture.  At an early age I became acutely aware of black culture and white culture and most of the differences in between.  Of course, I do remember those times when I wished that I wasn’t the only black kid out on the ice off of Old Duck Pond Road trying hockey –which is incidentally another function of being a native Long Islander, particularly Nassau County.  I guess in those respects, I was unlike the most of the other black kids also from Long Island because I was willing to get out there.

What is more, my parents let me get out there, even if it meant letting a toddler swim out into the Long Island Sound because his siblings did it.  (Actually, mom just couldn’t stop me because she can’t swim.)  Dad was always encouraging.  I think that even he was aware that I was probably going to take a ribbing which is why he instilled in me a great sense of humor.  I’ve learned through the years to not let the “white boy” comments stop me from doing whatever it is that I wanted to do.  My older brother was an All American wrestler and I wanted to kick his ass.  All the cool kids played lacrosse in the spring and surfed in the summer.  Extra money could easily be made at Nassau County Country Club.  My great grandfather was an equine veterinarian and at one point he was my baby sitter during the day times.

If all of that stuff made me white, I’ll take it, but it didn’t do anything at all to change my appearance.  My skin is Caribbean dark-reddish-brown, and my hair is of the un-dreaded Nigerian sort.  I have always alternated between staunchly conservative and completely alternative in my styles of dress.  Depending on the day, I can either look like I have some sense or like I’m completely senseless, but I’ll definitely look like a black person either way.  (My brother, however, not so much.)  By the time I started playing basketball, I suppose I looked like any other kid out there just like when I would play football while spending summers in the Grenadines.  To me it was all fun and no borders but to anyone else taking it in, today I can see how they often came to the “white boy” conclusion.  I started winning in the game the day I realized that I could use that to my own advantage.  For white people I can be totally disarming, and for black people I can be an access point or at the very least a rather peculiar mirror. 

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