When I think of “labeling,” I have a particular story that I remember as a child and young teenager that fits this paper well. Although the name I have chosen to use for this story is different, the rest of the story is how I remember it and also how I perceived that others spoke about it. My best friend growing up was named Mike. He was a black kid that I first met in the second grade. We quickly became good friends and enjoyed playing together at school, soccer practice, and eventually at our homes.
I lived in a middle class neighborhood and Mike lived in a lower class neighborhood that was very close to mine. We became quickly inseparable and generally rode bikes together in either of our neighborhoods. At such a young age I didn’t realize what family troubles were so until later in life I wasn’t able to put these things completely into perspective. I knew that Mike’s mother held a good job as that is what Mike told me and I also gathered the same thing from my parents.
On the other hand Mike’s dad I don’t believe had a steady job based on the same facts that I gathered about his mother. Mike’s mom when she was home generally engaged in conversation with us frequently as it was quite the opposite with Mike’s dad. At the time I really didn’t understand why Mike’s dad wasn’t around much and when he was I never really knew him to work although at the time it didn’t seem unusual to me. Most of the time when I was with Mike we generally played together as it was fairly infrequent that other kids played with just the two of us.
As time went on the little I was around Mike’s dad I did notice that there were times that he acted quite different, erratic, and sometimes he could be mean. I didn’t understand this because as of that time in my life I hadn’t been around someone like this. Mike always “played” it off about his dad’s ways when he acted like he did or if I would question it. I trusted Mike so I didn’t really think too much else about it. Although I mentioned that Mike and I generally played together there were times that we engaged together with other kids in the neighborhood.
I began to notice that those other kids although were friends with Mike sometimes acted different towards him. I still didn’t have a clue as a kid what was going on in his household with his family as that was yet to come. I know that when we came around sometimes I could see the other kid’s parents look at Mike and were talking more privately or secretly. Eventually, all of these things began to make me wonder what others really thought about Mike and his family. My family and I both personally felt that Mike was a really good kid and his mom was of sound mind and character.
We felt that his mom always wanted to make sure that Mike was doing well in school and that he didn’t get into trouble. I still didn’t have any other information about his dad to where I could make any different evaluation of him than what I already knew. Eventually Mike and I went to junior high and as we were getting older at least I knew a little more about life and family relationships. I began to question Mike about where his dad was at times and why I didn’t see him sometimes for weeks at a time.
Mike always played things cool as to nothing was going on and that there were times that his dad would “go off” to work and there was not any worries. I still noticed that the demeanor of our other friend’s parents changed when Mike came around and eventually they began to openly talk about Mike and his family when Mike wasn’t around. One day, a friend and I was riding our bikes over to Mike’s house. We were riding down his street and we noticed two police cars sitting in front of his house. When we got to his house we saw Mike’s dad in handcuffs being put into a police car.
I asked Mike what happened and he again played it off and not making a big deal about it. We both left Mike’s house quickly after that. I still continued to hang around with Mike as we were very good friends. Many of the school parents would comment to us that we shouldn’t be around Mike as he wasn’t a good influence on us because of his dad and the neighborhood that he lived in. I had a very difficult time understanding this because I never knew Mike to get into trouble at school and he even always made perfect grades.
We were both friends with his neighbors and I never knew them to be trouble either. This really upset me because I felt that many of the school parents were putting Mike into the “bad” category just because of the problems his dad was dealing with. Eventually, we graduated from high school and Mike went on to get a college degree and a very successful job. I know now that Mike was being “labeled” simply by the notion that he was a bad kid because of his dad and also because of the neighborhood that he lived in.
Mike and I are still very good friends and I know that he has always walked the straight line even though his dad chose not to I have spoken since to some of the neighborhood parents about what they thought about Mike and his family growing up. All of them admitted to me that they were wrong in the way that they treated and perceived him for many years just based on his dad. This makes me think about how they would have treated Mike if he had simply lived in a higher class neighborhood and if they would have felt the same about him.