“We’re all running the same race and jumping over the same hurdles – so why are tripping me up?” – Carlton Banks
Does anybody remember “Just Do It” bags? From around 2006 to 2010 these bags epitomised cool – the days of huge rucksacks were gone, and for just £10 from JD Sports you could be rocking the bag that everyone who was anyone was rocking. These bags were literally my life – as soon as one broke I would instantly recycle it with a new one and just switch up my choice of colour. That said – one time when my bag broke, I decided to try something new. A few girls around school has started using handbags around the time, so I decided to borrow a friend’s handbag for some time just to test out how this new look would suit me.
I wasn’t a fan. I’m not sure if any of you remember using your first handbag (if you’ve even used a handbag before, that is) – but it’s actually something you need to get used to. It was super uncomfortable, I didn’t know how to hold it, it was way too big and that weekend I went back to JD Sports to pick up a brand new JDI bag. I was in year 9 or 8 at this point (~12-13 years old), and figured I’d revisit that whole “handbag” situation when I was a bit older, and felt a bit less silly.
The following week at school, a guy came up to me and told me that I had been the subject of a lot of laughter on a train journey into school that morning. Apparently there was a girl in the year above me that was calling me a bounty – and if you don’t know what that is, it’s the same as being called a “coconut” or an “oreo” – brown on the outside, white on the inside – get it? When I asked him what had sparked it all, he sort of implied it had been the handbag I had worn – it’s safe to say I was absolutely mortified.
Everyday from that point on, new comments would be filtered through to me regarding what new things this girl had said. One thing that I distinctively remember her supposedly saying is that I “acted as if black people were a disease” when I was around them – which made absolutely no sense to me.
So I put a plan in action – plan: try to do everything in my power to prove that I am indeed “black”. The 14 year old me thought that meant adjusting my accent (who needs to pronounce the “t” in water? It’s wa-er out here), taking “badman” pictures, and creating a MySpace page where I went into details about who was part of my “mandem” and “galdem”, and of course posted up all my badman pictures. Once I had completed what I thought was transforming myself, I added this girl on MySpace. In my eyes – I had done it. I wasn’t a “bounty” anymore – I was hella cool and had proved to the world that I am as black as it gets. I awaited the results of my task, and although she accepted my friend request, I was disappointed to hear from someone the next day at school that she had complained that the “bounty” had added her on MySpace and “only had like 12 friends… pfftt.”
With my new JDI bag not being enough to shut her up, and my renewed persona doing nothing to change her mind – I decided at that point that I was totally done. First of all, I didn’t think me adjusting the way I spoke and trying to seem like some sort of “badman” online was going to do me any favours in the future when it came to looking for jobs (yep – I was thinking far ahead); second of all, it was a losing battle, she was loving the laughs and didn’t want to let go of the running joke; and third of all – why was I having to prove that I was black? And why did “acting black” have to be associated with all of the above?
I moved on. Anything else I heard from her after that I brushed off. I did shoot her evil looks around school for some time, but I even got tired of doing that after a while. Once some time had passed, she stopped with all the jokes, and ironically I saw her the next year with her own little handbag. I had no hard feelings as I got older, and I forgave her without her ever needing to apologise. A few years on, she actually started striking up conversations with me, and now that school is over, I never see her aside from a few photos on my Facebook feed maybe once a quarter.
We were pretty young and pretty dumb – but even at this age (now 23), I still hear people using this stupid word. I always think back to the Carlton Banks quote on The Fresh Prince – all of us, as people in general, are running the same “race”, and as black people, we have hurdles to jump over in this race – we all face adversities. So how comes we can’t just support each other, instead of tripping each other up?