Before you read any further, NO, this is not some sort of political piece or bashing of other non-black peers. This is simply a brief recollection of experiences from my time as a summer camp counselor. (Note: I absolutely loved my time serving with such an awesome group of people with such beautiful hearts. They’re amazing!)
So here we go. From yours truly to you. Here’s what my last summer looked like:
- Being extra careful when teaching about days of creation (specifically about all of the wonderful animals that grace the planet…you don’t want to be compared to a gorilla by a 5 year old.)
- Water activities…oh goodness. When other counselors and campers aren’t mindful of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into taming your natural hair in the morning, and it seems like dumping a bucket of water over said hair is their one and only goal during water time. (Sooo…are you gonna help me rewash, detangle, and tame this beast all over again…?)
- Being extra conscious of not always sitting or socializing with other black counselors in order to avoid being perceived as someone who doesn’t want to mix and mingle with people who don’t look like me. (Cause there is no one who is comfortable with familiarity, right?)
- Having your experiences downplayed or laughed off by people who don’t share your heritage. (I mean, cause you don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by sharing a story of how campers unknowingly (or intentionally, in a few cases) make offhanded remarks based off of your skin color…).
- Having campers play in your hair because it “feels like cotton.” (I don’t remember giving you permission. Keep your hands to yourself.)
- This one’s for fun: when everyone else is comparing their tans and you hit ’em with the best comeback ever, “Oh yeah? My tan’s better. Got that natural melanin’ hehe. JK.)
- When you get that one camper that puts her arm up next to yours and says, “I wish I had your skin. It’s so pretty.” And then proceeds to kiss your arm…
- Having staff dance parties and feeling like you’re expected to know how to dance because, well, Beyoncé, Chris Brown and the like. Ya feel?
- Being assigned to a host home for the week with a family that lives out in the boondocks and clearly isn’t used to having a black person temporarily living in their home. So dinner time comes around and you’re bombarded with questions like, “So where’s home? Detroit? Is it as dangerous as people say? I’ve been to Detroit! Where in Detroit, you ask? Bloomfield Hills. Is wheat pasta with crackers and hummus okay with you for dinner?” (Because 1. Suburbs don’t count as Detroit. No street cred for that one, but nice try. 2. Apparently I don’t feel comfortable eating anything other than fried chicken…)
- When other counselors and campers confuse your name (and face) with another black counselor’s because, ha, you know what they say.
- Night time at host homes are exhausting! You take about an hour to moisturize and throw Bantu knots in your head, only to afterwards avoid any other non-black human being in the house at all costs so they don’t see you going to bed with a cactus head. (But the twist-out in the A.M though…)
And these are just to name a few. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything in the world. You come to learn a significant amount of poise and grace when placed in vulnerable, uncomfortable, or less than ideal situations. Camp is, after all, all about making memories. Good, bad. You take them as they come and you learn from them. Besides, you’ll have stories for days. 🙂