Crossing the Chasm

What is an experience that affected you, and how has it?

A crowd of people forms at the entrance of the Eastside High School Gym. A five-foot-eleven, one-hundred-and-sixty-pound, curly-haired freshman shyly makes his way into the sea of faces. Today is tryouts for the Eastside basketball team. Eastside, my home for the next four years, lies in the most socioeconomically challenged area of Gainesville, Florida. It is a school with the highest number of students on free and reduced lunch in the county and also home to an International Baccalaureate program ranked in the top ten in the world. At this moment, however, I did not care about any of that. I had a passion for basketball, and I was ready to try out for the squad. I made my way through the crowd of athletes, searching for a familiar face. However, I was denied this comfort. I was stunned, and after a quick double-take, I realized that, along with being a complete stranger to the other kids trying out, I was the only white person in the gym. This did not bother me, but much to my surprise, as I navigated through the cluster of people, I could tell it bothered everybody else. I felt the blazing stares of the other kids as shouts echoed through the old gym. Never in my life had I felt like such an outcast. But I decided to ignore this feeling and focus on making the team. By the end of the day, I had achieved my goal and was informed that practice started tomorrow afternoon. Little did I know at that moment, but this day foreshadowed a theme that came to embody my high school experience. Practice was no different than tryouts. When we did drills, I was the last person included; whenever we scrimmaged, I never was passed the ball. If I was lucky enough to get the ball, and I decided to shoot it, “White boy!” taunts erupted from my teammates. No matter what I did, it was not enough. I became increasingly uncomfortable and frustrated. I began to have doubts about myself. Maybe I was just a lousy basketball player. Why was I only referred to as ‘White boy’? Did I do something to deserve this coldness and the invisibility with which I was cloaked?As much as I didn’t want to believe it, the answers to these questions were a direct result of my race. The harsh truth was that I was experiencing reverse discrimination. I had always read about equality and civil rights, but as a white male in America, I did not understand the depth of the feelings associated with racial discrimination until I was a living target of it. I was a perfectly nice person and a solid basketball player, but my teammates’ preconceived notions about people like me created a large chasm, and it was my challenge to climb out and become a contributing member of the team. The chemistry needed to change, and I understood that I had to take the initiative.Despite the way I was being treated, I decided to muster up the guts and go out of my way to show my teammates that our differences were only skin deep. Slowly I became more accepted. Soon enough, we all went out to dinner after games, I invited my teammates over to my house to watch football, and by the end of the season, after I made a basket, a shout of, “Nice shot, Curly!”came from my fellow players. I was finally something other than “White Boy.” I had a real nickname; I was accepted. The chasm was no longer so deep.We are all seniors now, and these guys are some of my best friends. But making close friends is not all that I gained from playing basketball at Eastside. My experience as the only white player on an all-black team put me in shoes I never could have worn otherwise. I was feeling what African-Americans had felt for centuries. This experience literally put me into the stories we read in history books. We preach about diversity and equality, but sometimes we overlook what it really means. My experience on the Eastside basketball team forced me to understand on a deep, personal level the importance of these values. I realized that as much as we try to ignore it, racism is still a problem. This realization inspired me to run for Student Body President, in the hope of fusing together the diverse populations of Eastside and bridging the chasm that divided us. My initial frustrations as the token white player on an all-black team catapulted me to a position in which I could unite Eastside students under our school colors of orange and green instead of black and white. Now, when I walk into the crowded Eastside gym, shouts of “What’s up, Curly?” echo through the old dusty walls. I am finally accepted. The chasm has closed.

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