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Cultural Autobiography

David White's picture

I was born in New York City in 1995.  My father is a professor of economics at the NYU Stern School of Business and my mother is a family therapist.  Even though my mother was Protestant and father was Jewish, we celebrated Christmas with my mom’s side of the family and Passover and Hanukkah with my dad’s side.  I actually asked them at one point, “Dad, you’re Jewish, and Mom, you’re Christian.  So what does that make me?”  They responded, “Sweetie, you can choose whatever you want to be.”  Looking back that really meant a lot, because religion wasn’t a big role in our lives, and frankly I liked that.

In actuality the major “religion” of sorts that we practiced was baseball.  It pretty much consumed my weekends from age seven onwards.   Together we would get up on Saturday and Sunday mornings, sometimes as early as 6:30 or 7:00 for 8:00am games.  Had my family been particularly religious, I wouldn’t have been able to play as much baseball as I wanted to.  

I loved playing baseball, especially for the league that was available in my area.  For the first nine years of my life I lived solely at 1 Washington Square Village, in Greenwich Village.  My school was five blocks away from my home, and pretty much everything else I needed was in a quarter to half mile radius of my home.  Since I lived in Greenwich Village I was eligible to play baseball in the Greenwich Village Little League (GVLL).   GVLL was probably one of the best things from my childhood.  The culture the league created around baseball was one of one of teamwork, inclusiveness, hard work, and the idea that if everyone gets a chance to play, no matter what the score, everyone should be having fun.  I absolutely loved that last idea.  Of course I loved to win, but frankly I just wanted to have fun playing the sport I loved, and that’s exactly what GVLL instilled in every game.  The league was never super competitive, at least not the older groups.  

It’s actually interesting how the younger divisions, mainly the nine to twelve year olds, are the most competitive, and it’s not really the kids that are competitive.  They’re like me, in the sense that they just want to play.  It’s more the parents who are the competitive and sometimes (a lot of the times) irritable ones.  During the summers I umpire little league baseball, and watching some of these parents flip out over a call that I make is astounding.  They’re not the ones playing, and yet they’re getting way more upset than any of their kids.  It makes me appreciate how my parents didn’t care much about the outcomes of games.  They were happy if I had fun, and that made me feel a whole lot more comfortable playing and putting myself out there.  Don’t get me wrong, if I messed up they were unhappy, but it wasn’t because I messed up.  It was because I was unhappy that I messed up.  Though as I got older, and my father started coaching my teams, he would become unhappy when I messed up specifically because I had messed up.  However at that age, around thirteen to sixteen, I was at a place where I could take my dad being unhappy with my performance, and it spurred me to push myself harder and become better at baseball.  

Playing in GVLL was a great experience because not only did I get to play baseball, but I also got to meet a bunch of kids my age who lived around my area that I might not have gotten to meet had I not been playing baseball.  I still have friends from teams that I played for over a decade ago (yes when I was nine years old).  We all lived around Greenwich village, so we knew where we had all grown up and knew each others’ respected neighborhoods.

Growing up in Greenwich village was an amazing experience.  I had pretty much everything I needed in a 15-20 minute walking radius of my home, including friends’ houses, school, many many restaurants, supermarkets, parks, clothing stores, toy stores, and so much more.  My father worked one block away from our house, and while that proved to be a hassle when I got older and wanted to bring a girl over, it meant that when my parents split, he could still walk me to school every day (something he did until I was in eighth grade).  Having my father walk me to school 2-3 days out of the weeks, and then being able to take the train with my mom to school those other days made my parents’ separation really easy.

My parents split when I was nine years old.  I remember I was watching television (I forget what) in my dad’s bedroom (or what used to be their bedroom).  They called me into the living room and sat me down and told me that “mommy was going to be living in a different house for a little while.”  I was nine so I didn’t really understand the significance of that statement.  All I understood was that mom was going to be living somewhere else, and that I was missing important television watching time.

My parents were fantastic when they split.  They really embodied the idea that once you split up, it no longer becomes about you and your feelings regarding your partner, it becomes about your children, and making sure that they feel loved by both parties.  They created a schedule of when I would be at each house, and if one of them had to be somewhere, they would coordinate so that one of them didn’t get more time than the other.

It was my mother who had left my dad.  My dad was a champ, and he still is.  When my parents split, my dad wasn’t angry at my mom, he didn’t hold a grudge, he didn’t ignore her.  No, he turned around and made life for me as easy as possible.  He still drove my mom any time they needed to go somewhere together (usually for me), he talked with her all the time about me, about presents, about scheduling, about school.  There was the saying, “I’m not sure, let me talk to your mom about it,” pretty much anytime I asked for something, or needed to change something.  I know that it must have been excruciatingly hard for him, but he did it all.  

I remember sitting in the backseat of my dad’s 1987 Dodge Omni, and I had just seen a Volkswagen Beetle, and I had punched my mom in the arm (we played the punch-buggy game).  I had expected her to then go and punch my dad in the arm.  When she didn’t, I asked her why and she told me that she didn’t really feel like doing that.  That was when it hit me.  My parents didn’t love each other anymore.  That was when the separation became hard for me.  Not as hard as it was for some of my friends when their parents split though.  When my best friend from grade school parents split, he had to go to therapy because of the split.  He was also just three years old, around the same time I met him.

I met Thomas at the Beginnings Pre-School when we were three years old, and he is still one of my closest friends.  Together we went through the Little Red School House, from kindergarten all the way to twelfth grade.   The Little Red School House or LREI (Little Red Elisabeth Irwin) is a private progressive pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade school.  I absolutely loved my thirteen years I spent in that school.  Yes, there bad times, but doesn’t everyone have some bad experiences in school?

What I loved about LREI was that they were extremely progressive. While I don’t exactly remember the pedagogy of my lower and middle school teachers, a lot of the time, my high school classes were centered around a dialogical approach to learning.  Me being the social learner that I am, I absolutely loved it, and it made learning a much easier and enjoyable activity for me, compared to say some of my classmates.  Everyday I woke up ready, willing, and excited to go to school and that was because I enjoyed the learning and classroom environments that my teachers put forth through their dialogical teaching.

Looking back on my time at LREI though, I realize that while they were extremely progressive when it came to social issues such as homophobia, classism, sexism, and ableism, but it felt like there wasn’t as big of an emphasis on racism as I think there should have been.  I don’t consider myself a racist, but yet I had reactions to certain race related incidents that older David is not happy about.  LREI didn’t really enlighten me to the fact that there were real racial issues happening in the world around me.  I was traveling through life in a blissful ignorance about microaggressions, and the fact that I was engaging in microaggressions through conversations I was having with my friends.  I honestly had no idea my actions were in fact microaggressions.  I feel like had I had the opportunity to engage in more conversations about race during my high school years, I would have been more informed, less ignorant, and would have not made as many microaggressions during my high school and even into early college years.

I hate to admit it, but I think that pop culture had a profound effect on my unadaptive consciousness.  When I was younger I watched two movies, Step Up (the first one) and Take the Lead.  Both of these movies had black individuals as the antagonist with the guns.  This stuck with me, so much that until I turned fifteen or sixteen, I would feel uneasy leaving manhattan (a mixed race area, but majority white) and traveling to Brooklyn, Bronx, or Queens (again a mixed race area, however with sections with higher concentrations of persons of color).  It wasn’t that I thought that all black men were scary and had guns, but these movies affected how I saw race, and in a terrible way.  It wasn’t until I got older and started traveling more outside of Manhattan that I was incredibly wrong, and that my unconscious feelings, my unadaptive consciousness was racist.

It wasn’t really until I met my mom’s current fiance, Jan that I realized how wrong I had been with everything regarding race.  Jan is Black, and through numerous conversations with him about race and his experiences about being a Black man in America, my eyes have been opened.  Listening to the microaggressions, and regular aggressions, he has to go through every day of his life was mind blowing, I honestly had no idea that he had to go through so much just because of his race.  It changed how I saw race in America, and it changed the way I spoke about race and racial issues.  I feel like Jan has made me a more racially conscious and aware individual.

The final thing on my cultural autobiography that I want to mention is my love for music.  This has always been a part of me, and a part of my culture.  From ages two until now there has been one album that I have listened too probably over one hundred times.  It’s the Beatles #1 album.  My parents got it for me when I was two and taught me how to load and unload the CD stereo in our living room.  I would sit and read books and listen to the CD from start to finish; I absolutely loved the Beatles and I loved that album.

I think that album shaped who I am today and the way I act around others.  All the songs are very uplifting and many of them talk about love and being with your significant other and loving them, and it’s all mushy gushy.  I think because I listened to that album so much, some (a lot) of the sentiment from the songs rubbed off on me.  I consider myself a mushy, gushy, kinda emotional guy, and I think a part of that has to do with the Beatles.

All of this, baseball, the beatles, Jan, my parents, they all come together to form my culture.  From this I can take my culture and apply it to when I teach.  I know that none of my future students will have the exact same experiences I had, but I can use my experiences to help guide theirs.  I can use my enlightenment with Jan to help me interact with and empathize with students who are both the same race as me and different.  I can use my baseball experience to help instil hard work and motivation to my students.  And finally I can use the fact that I’m a goofball, all thanks to my parents, to help me put myself on the same level with my students, and we can explore learning and topics together, much we did at LREI.  These are all parts of my culture, and for me, I see culture as a composition of all the different life experiences that I’ve accumulated over the years.  It’s what makes me, me.