The other day I saw something totally random about the 80's show, The Facts of Life. Because it ran for so long, there were a ton of episodes that ran in syndication in the after-school time slots. These were the years where I started, uh, getting urges as I headed toward teenage hell. So naturally, I noticed girls on TV, and this was a show about girls, so I watched it pretty religiously. (Also, there was nothing to do in winter after school in those days. I watched a lot of TV.)
When I got to thinking about the show, I remember how obsessed I was with Tootie, played by Kim Fields. Even when she had braces. It was that weird time of life where, if girls are your thing, you stop chasing them on the playground and start wondering why it's so hard to talk to them. It's not a sexual thing, or at least, I don't think it is, but infatuation seems to come easy. So yeah, Kim Fields might have been one of my earliest celebrity crushes.
What stands out about those feelings is that I wanted to tell people I had a crush on a TV girl, in that way that you test for what constitutes as appropriate conversation at that age. I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone at that age, which is something I've unpacked quite a bit over the years talking to therapists, but in this case it was worse. I felt like I couldn't tell anyone because she was black.
That wasn't the last time I felt that. In grade 8, I was passing notes with a girl I had a crush on, who insisted we had to try and find a lesser used hallway between classes to make out. Weird thing about schools... those places usually don't exist! It never happened, but I remember the same feeling of guilt, wondering what certain family members would think if they knew my first kiss was with a girl from the east side of Cleveland.
I grew up around a lot of racism, which was pretty weird for a kid who was becoming a product of Cleveland's court-mandated school desegregation. I remember people talking about it more in the context of "busing" than anything else, and I didn't understand it was about racial equality, I mean really get it, until we moved out of Cleveland to an entirely white suburb.
I can't do anything about that past, but I can make sure that my own child never feels bad about who he likes. I think we've been fortunate that, especially in Orange County, diversity is his normal scene. We still need to be proactive though, as we've recently learned a couple of kids in the neighborhood have adopted racial slurs as their latest thing. As he's started to learn about slavery and civil rights in school, it's encouraging that he identifies these as illogical human issues, but I know we have work to do to teach him about how people feel when their physical attributes cause people to exclude them.
Also, Tootie grew up to be very pretty, but it's sad that she was on a Real Housewives show.