Color Lines This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 5, 2012
My mother always told me not to judge a whole group based on the actions of a few individuals. I didn’t know it, but my belief in my mother’s words would be put to the test that one night.

My friend Thanu and I were sitting in the back of an empty bus, coming home from the movies. The bus usually dropped us off on the corner of our block, so you can imagine our surprise when the driver suddenly stopped the bus and said, “Last stop.”

“What do you mean ‘last stop?’” I asked, “Doesn’t this bus go to the airport?”

“Nope,” he answered, as he pushed a button to open the doors. “The ten o’clock bus goes to the airport. This bus goes to 65th and Elmwood.”

There was nothing else we could do but get off. “What are we gonna do now?” Thanu asked, as we watched the bus pull away, leaving us in the cold.

“We might as well walk,” I said, “We don’t live that far. It’s either that or wait around for the ten o’clock bus.”

We must have gone about two blocks when we saw a group of people standing in front of a restaurant. There must have been 10 or 15 of them. The skunk-like smell of marijuana filled our nostrils. None of them spoke, but they eyed us strangely.

We continued to make our way up the street when I realized we were being followed. I glanced over my shoulder for visual confirmation and, sure enough, there they were – not close enough to be a threat, but still following us.

Thanu noticed the same thing. “Let’s keep moving,” he suggested. If they wanted trouble, they could follow us right into our neighborhood. To get into a fight here – while outnumbered – was just plain stupid.

A voice rose from the crowd and made its way to my ears; only one word: “N_ _ _ _ _.”

I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around.

“Come on, man. Let’s keep movin’.” Thanu insisted. I knew what he was saying made sense; I knew I should listen to him, but I didn’t. It was like someone had lit a match inside of me that sparked a flame of anger. “Nah, I ain’t runnin’. I’m waitin’ right here.”

Looking back now, I don’t know what I was thinking. We were outnumbered by at least eight people and we weren’t close enough to home to expect help. I stood there and waited.

When they caught up to us, I asked angrily, “What are you followin’ us for?”

The tallest one answered, “My bud here said that you were talkin’ trash about him. I don’t care who you think you are, but you don’t come around our way and disrespect us.”

“Man, you better back up out of my face. I don’t even know any of you. What would I talk trash about you for?”

Believe it or not, I was trying to calm myself and think back on my mother’s words. But all I could feel was that spark of anger spreading into an inferno of hatred. It made me feel invincible. I felt like I could literally take all of them on. Before I could do anything stupid, Thanu jumped into the conversation, “Look, man, we don’t want no trouble. We’re just passing through.”

“Well, keep on walking, then.”

I stood there for a few seconds, wondering whether I should just ball all of my anger into a fist and unleash it. But, before I came to a decision, Thanu grabbed me by the arm and we left.

We walked for a few blocks in silence. I stopped at a nearby street light and began ramming my fists into the metal pole, screaming in anger, until my knuckles turned numb from the cold. Still angry, I sat on the curb and tried to calm down. I closed my eyes, but all I could see were their faces, taunting me with the “N” word.

Thanu spoke up, “If we had more people with us, they wouldn’t have tried that.” His words were supposed to comfort me. I was thinking back to the Catholic school when I was one of the only black kids in my class. Even then when we were young kids, I put up with this nonsense. “I hate them all,” I said angrily.

But as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to take them back. I remembered my mother’s words and I realized that if I allowed this incident to turn me into a racist, I would be no better than those who caused this to happen.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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