I spent the earlier part of today doing my first in-depth reporting at a middle school in Oakland. I observed a sixth grade math class, and on top of feeling dumb as shit for not remembering a damn thing about algebra (except for PEMDAS: Please Excuse My Dumb Ass Sister).
Lots to observe, of course, but what I couldn't get over was how tiny the kids were. I've been racked by a serious case of nostalgia recently. Maybe it's the fact that hella people from my middle school days have somehow found me on Facebook. But with all the adult pressures of jobs, bills and housing, I've been yearning to get back to when shit was relatively simple: make the basketball team, do my homework, worry about what to wear to school the next day. I know retrospect is a biatch, 'cause in reality I know middle school was filled with bubbling insecurities and the helplessness of seeing friends and fam struggle while feeling powerless to help out.
But what struck me today is looking at the boys (I hope that doesn't read as pervishly as it does in my head). The class was filled with kids of color, and it looked a lot like I remember mine looking, back then I wasn't worried about what white kids might think or how state standards defined me. When I saw the boys in this class, they looked engaged, even excited. Even when you could tell the math was pushing their nerves, they didn't necessarily buck authority.
I remember how much changed for me in middle school, especially in terms of how I viewed race and gender. In sixth grade, two of my best friends were guys. One was Black and Japanese, the other was Chinese, and all we'd talk about was football, Southpark, and Mrs. Vorsanger's science experiments. By the time we hit 8th grade, they weren't friends; the former seemed to understand what it meant to be Black at a San Francisco public school, and the latter only kicked it with the kids in the local Asian Gang. Meanwhile, my awkward ass was giving up on basketball and trying to figure out how to walk comfortably in skin-tight flare jeans. They went to the same high school and, as far as I know, never spoke again.
I know it sounds hella cliche, but when exactly does innocence fade? To my recollection, none of us experienced any dramatic, life-changing encounter that made us look at how we related to one another differently. It was gradual. As far as we knew when were entered middle school, we all had the same dreams.
It seemed like the most profound transformations happened in the boys I knew. Sure, the girls changed too; some played stupid, some got pregnant, some fell off, and some I still kick it with to this day. But it seems like the boys understood intuitively somewhere between sixth and seventh grade that you don't usually earn cred by being smart or kicking it with girls you're not trying to get with.
"... So now I pout like a grown jerk, wishing all I had to do now, was finish homework."
Aaanyway, in typically cheeseball fashion, I'll leave with you with a classic: