Youth Opinion : Home Ground, Schoolyard: a Double Life
During my elementary and middle-school years, I was a well-behaved, friendly student at school and a tough, hard-nosed “bad girl” in my neighborhood. This contrast in behavior was a survival tool, for I lived in a part of South-Central Los Angeles where “goody-goodies” aren’t tolerated, and I attended school in Northridge, where trouble-makers aren’t tolerated.
Beckford Ave. Elementary School was in the heart of a middle-class suburbia, and I, coming from what has been described as the “urban jungle,” was bused there every day for six years. That it was a privilege for kids like us to be bused to a good school like Beckford was drummed into our heads by our teachers and principal so as to induce us, “the bus kids,” into behaving like the young ladies and gentlemen they wanted us to be, instead of the uncontrollable delinquents they thought we were.
In a roundabout way, I was told from the first day of school that if I wanted to continue my privileged attendance in the hallowed classrooms of Beckford, I would have to conform and adapt to their standards. I guess I began to believe all that they said because slowly I began to conform.
Instead of wearing the tight jeans and T-shirt which were the style in South-Central at the time, I wore schoolgirl dresses like those of my female classmates. I even changed my language. When asking a question, instead of saying, “Boy! Gimme those scissors before I knock you up you head!” in school, I asked, “Excuse me, would you please hand me the scissors?” When giving a compliment in school I’d say, “You look very nice today.” instead of “Girl, who do you think you are, dressin’ so fine, Miss Thang.”
This conformation of my appearance and speech won me the acceptance of my proper classmates at Beckford Elementary School, but after getting out of the school bus and stepping onto the sidewalks of South-Central, my appearance quit being an asset and became a dangerous liability.
One day, when I got off the school bus, a group of tough girls who looked as though they were part of a gang approached me, looked at my pink and white lace dress, and accused me of trying to “look white.” They surrounded me and demanded a response that would prove to them that I still loyal to my black heritage. I screamed, “Lay off me, girl, or I’ll bust you in the eyes so bad that you’ll need a telescope just to see!” The girls walked away without causing any more trouble.
From then on, two personalities emerged. I began living a double life. At school I was prim and proper in appearance and in speech, but during the drive on the school bus from Northridge to South-Central, my other personality emerged. Once I got off the bus I put a black jacket over my dress, I hardened my face, and roughened my speech to show everyone who looked my way that I was not a girl to be messed with. I led this double life throughout my six years of elementary school.
Now that I am older and can look back at that time objectively, I don’t regret displaying contrasting behavior in the two different environments. It was for my survival. Daria, the hard-nosed bad girl, survived in the urban jungle and Daria, the well-behaved student, survived in the suburbs.
As a teen-ager in high school I still display different personalities: I act one way in school, which is different from the way I act with my parents, which is different from the way I act with my friends, which is different from the way I act in religious services. But don’t we all? We all put on character masks for our different roles in life. All people are guilty of acting differently at work than at play and differently with co-workers than with the boss. There’s nothing wrong with having different personalities to fit different situations; the trick is knowing the real you from the characters.