The Invisibility of Color
It was a time where rotary phones hung on the wall, and VCR’s cost hundreds of dollars. There was Nintendo, then Super Nintendo, and you stole music by recording music off the radio with a tape deck. Kids weren’t glued to the newest and trendiest technologies that turned them into zombies slinging Angry Birds, and crushing candies. Nature was more important. Entire summers were spent outside. It was a life of adventure and beauty that taught you valuable lessons and brought you cherished friendships.
It all took place surrounding The Whitehouses, and Brownhouses; humble lower middle class neighborhoods where people from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions came together to form everlasting bonds that ignored what divided us, and embraced what brought us together.
The communities were public housing complexes that housed families whose parents slaved away at low paying jobs that barely paid the skyrocketing bills. We were kids of hand-me-downs who ate hamburgers on slices of bread, and a copious amount of Kraft Dinner and Hamburger Helper. We shared sports equipment, which included a pair of white goalie pads made from recycled pop bottles that didn’t bend; exposing your quadriceps to errant sticks and slap shots. During the infamously frigid Winnipeg winters we would clothe ourselves in layers and spend hours playing street hockey. After snowstorms we would shovel the parking lot; not allowing anything to prevent us from enjoying our lives.
Children wear rose colored glasses, and don’t usually think about their circumstances. They try to enjoy life the best way they can, with people who share a love for adventure. When it stormed during the summer and the neighborhood sandbox filled with water, the kids had pool parties, ignoring the demands of parents who didn’t want their children to splash around in what was a giant litter box. We rode our bikes without helmets to Assiniboine Park, and trespassed into the superior playground the military kids had.
We spent endless hours playing any sport imaginable drained our energy, and gave us stories to tell. We created those memories as symbols of solidarity that fought against the crap that made enemies instead of friends. We were kids of Aboriginal, black, Hispanic, Filipino, Middle Eastern, and white families who didn’t think of or care how different we looked. There was no segregation; kids of different races and backgrounds became best friends. Our parents raised us to be accepting of everyone; not tolerating any type of bigotry. No interaction was forced, no friendship was faked.
All of my best qualities were cultivated in the Whitehouses. My best friendships sprouted from the earth that grew the crab apple trees that dropped the glorious treats to the ground, we ate like candy. No God or genie could offer me enough money to change where I grew up. Despite the poverty and the lack of family vacations, I am proud of where I am from, and wouldn’t change a thing.
The stories, the events, the people, the green grass, the trees, the wall where I played dozens of games of wall ball, the tunnels, that pathetic playground; are all the minor and overlooked pieces of a childhood I wish everyone had. There are dozens of past events I think of when I need a laugh, or feel nostalgic.
One afternoon in the middle of summer, nearly the entire neighborhood got together to play a game of soccer. We played around the sandbox on a little hill that sat in the backyards of a portion of the community. When a Hispanic kid named Rene took the ball and aimed for the net that consisted of a tunnel, he kicked the ball high, sending it through the glass window, and into his own bedroom. All of us laughed hysterically knowing his parents were not going to be amused. Before that day, on the hill where we almost always played baseball and soccer, another huge event took place; a neighbourhood baseball game.
The setting was our favourite spot. It was the big neighborhood hill that connected Edgeland and Doncaster to the Brownhouses. At the back was an apartment building that sat on top of a child care centre. As one team stood in front of the tunnel in preparation to bat, Ric’s brother Lenny stood behind home plate. A kid Rollie was at the plate, who instead of dropping his bat after hitting, would throw the aluminum bat behind him. Despite us telling Rollie to drop the bat, and Ric instructing Lenny to stand behind the tall light post to the left of home plate, neither one of them listened and Lenny got the baseball bat above his eye, sending his blood shooting in the air. After Ric ran to his home that stood on the left field line, his dear sweetheart of a mom came darting out of her back door with a dish towel to sooth her distraught and hurt child as he cried on the ground. That event is constantly brought up whenever kids from the old, “hood,” get together and swap stories from the good old days. No matter where we are, or where we live our souls belong to the Whitehouses.
Everyone eventually moved out of the neighborhood, marking an end to all the street hockey games and massive soccer matches. Those days were lonely, and the Whitehouses lost a bit of its charm as the faces I knew disappeared. As I entered high school all of the issues awkward and shy kids face, hit me like a hammer. While living in the next area over, Ric would come back on random occasions to visit his old stomping grounds. Seeing him always brought me back to the good old days. He was always cool, fun, easy going, and enjoyed life. On one occasion he came to my house holding a piece of paper that was song lyrics he wrote for his then girlfriend. He wanted my opinion on it, and I responded by running upstairs to grab my black zipped up binder that was full of lyrics I had starting writing. I started writing as a way to deal with my life, but I kept it all secret until that day. Ric was always trustworthy and non-judgemental, and was the perfect person to read my stuff.
A short time later his family moved to San Diego, and after seeing Scary Movie in theatres we exchanged numbers, but lost contact shortly after. I wouldn’t talk to him for a couple years until a chance encounter with a friend of mine allowed us to reconnect and provide us with a new setting to give us more great memories.
Growing up I was in love with California. I watched shows like Malibu C.A, Baywatch, Saved by the Bell, and California Dreams all because I wanted to envision myself in that world. When I went there the first time to see Ric, along with Jay and Ozzy, we stopped in L.A for the first time to walk down Hollywood Blvd, see Rodeo Drive, Malibu, and many other sites. After seeing a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live, I received two passes to The Comedy Store, after I spent some time with Uncle Frank and got a hug. When we entered the comedy club we were stuck with a moniker that still sticks to us.
All the times we hung out in Winnipeg our racial makeup was never brought up by strangers. It seemed natural to others, and it was organic to us, but when we took our front row seats and the comedians hit the stage they did their routines and gave us a new name. A couple comedians whose names I can’t remember asked us if we were in the U.N. It was like they were amazed that two Central Americans, a Jamaican, and a white guy could be friends. We embraced the classification, and at one point considered getting tattoos. In subsequent trips we met all of Ric’s closet friends from California, and the K9 guys unofficially merged with the U.N. Granting me even more friends that are like family; people who I can trust with my life that have been characters in some of my greatest and most memorable adventures.
To think about these people by their ethnic characteristics is incredibly uncomfortable because it never comes up, and doesn’t have any bearing on who we are, and why we connected. The next year I went alone and was able to meet his Californian friends who welcomed me with open arms. Instead of being my normal self; shy, and quiet, I instantly sensed Nick, Mike, Bacani, Gary, and all the others were all just real cool people. I wasn’t some dumb white guy amongst some Asians, and Latinos, I became friends with people who got drunk in Vegas, and ate wings at Callahan’s on wing night. When we all returned a few years later for Ric’s bachelor party, we gambled, stayed up all night drinking, went to a pool party, and enjoyed each other’s company; company that is far too rare.
In a group of Asians, Latinos, white guys, and a black dude, we once again got attention, that time from two cool as hell black dudes from California who believed every white girl was named Wendy. As we strolled through the casinos, one of the guys whose name I can’t remember said something I will never forget, “We’re going to roll with you guys cause we’re safe.” I nodded because I was shocked, and taken aback by the comment. I wondered why they would feel unsafe without us, and why we made them feel safe. I know I feel safe around my boys, not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally. We don’t see each other enough, but when we do, every second is blast.
When I think about all the important people in my life and read all the stories about the increase of racial tension I get saddened and angry. I’m not friends with the U.N, and the boys in K9 because I have to meet a certain quota; I’m friends with them because they are easy going, kind, passionate, and fun. U.N member Jay is funny, chill, smart, and loyal; Ozzy is the entertainer with a heart of gold. Those are the parts of a person that should matter, but we are living in a world that doesn’t value what is inside of a person.
We search for the bad in people instead of looking for the good. We judge demographics instead of individuals. We never forgive, and refuse to forget. We play victims instead of moving forward with strength and grace. We have separated each other, instead of uniting under common goals. We do everything we can to express anger and hatred, instead of love and understanding. We let the media play us like puppets when they publish and spread race baiting nonsense, that does nothing but defied us further apart.
I may not have been a victim of overt racism; you may believe I shouldn’t write about race because you think I come from privilege, and should be shamed for not being victimized by bigotry, but I know one thing that sadly I don’t believe many people truly believe. Bigotry robs us of life; it steals great memories, and prevents us from meeting people who become your best friends. I know for a fact if I was a racist there would be a giant hole in my life that would never be filled, and I know the Whitehouses taught me all those important facts.
Studies have shown people who were raised in ethnically diverse communities are less likely to be racist, and I can personally attest to that. The Whitehouses will forever be my home, and will always considered the place I wish everyone had the pleasure to scrape their first knee, have their first fight, and sip alcohol for the first time. If we all had our very own Whitehouses our lives would be full of love.