Although I can articulate it better now, I knew when I was ten years old why Carrot Wilkins and I would not always be as close as we were then. He was white, and I was black. I lived on the outskirts of Winston-Salem, North Carolina in a predominately black neighborhood. Carrot lived about a fifteen minutes' walk away in a largely white rural town called Walkertown. We met in the third grade on a school bus that took us both to Thomas Cash Elementary School. Being country boys at heart, we shared a lot of interests. We fished together -- a lot -- hunted squirrels, and played Robin Hood in the woods that separated our neighborhoods. But like kittens and puppies, we were being raised with very different perspectives of the world. And we were being oriented towards what society believed should be our roles in it.
Those different orientations revealed themselves in many of the innocent activities Carrot and I shared, things we talked about, and even games we played. We often played superheroes. We would each choose a popular superhero and either do battle with each other or perform some heroic feat like rescuing a neighbor's cat from a tree. (It's probably not accurate to say we "rescued" the cat from the tree, since we always put it in the tree to start the game).
On one particular day, Carrot chose to be Aqua Man because he had found a comic book that pictured Aqua Man with the same orange hair that he had. After debating the color of Aqua Man's hair, he produced the comic book and proved to me that the hero was indeed pictured with an orange crop. Having seen this, I was determined not to be outdone. I was going to be a superhero who looked like me. But running down the list of heroes that I knew,...
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... In 1984, Carrot told me that Jesse Jackson just wanted to be president so he could give Mr. Wilkins' job to a black man; later that year, Carrot's mother and father were part of a movement to change the name of the local high school from George Washington Carver because they felt the name implied an inferior education. It was shortly thereafter that Carrot and I stopped playing with each other for good.
By our senior year in high school, Carrot and I were in fierce classroom debates concerning everything from the lack of black history in the school curriculum to the L.A. riots of 1992. We had come to assume the roles for which we were bred. Carrot would always argue for the viability of the American Dream, because it worked for him. And I would always argue for change, because without it I expected that achieving my dreams would be a tiring struggle.
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