Jonathan Rentie, junior kinesiology major, isn’t an average college student as he navigates around people on his skateboard. He has thick, black corkscrew curly hair that is almost as wild as his hobbies.
“I like extreme stuff,” he said. “Extreme sports is all I do man. It’s all me.”
Rentie said he played football and baseball when he was younger, but felt it was too rule-regulated for him. He then tried ice hockey and ultimately discovered snowboarding around four years ago through his older brother.
“I wanted to go above and beyond what I was allowed to do,” Rentie said. “Skateboarding, rollerblading and snowboarding allow you to make your own path of whatever you want to do.”
Rentie’s brother is four years older and they have always competed against each other in sports.
Rentie said he was always a little better than his brother at rollerblading and skateboarding, but since his brother was the one who introduced him to snowboarding he was already behind. Today he claims he is a better snowboarder than his brother.
Whenever he goes snowboarding, Rentie said he is usually the only black person on the slopes and is met with surprised looks by other boarders.
“People look at me like, ‘This fool is going to kill himself,'” he said. “People underestimate me because I’m black and because it’s a typical white-boy sport.”
Some may say being a young black man in America and trying to fit in with society can be tough enough as it is without having to deal with media constantly reminding them and everybody else how they should act.
“Society and media portrays the stereotypical black man as being lazy, having no ambitions and wanting everything being handed to him for free,” Rentie said.
Rentie said he is the least lazy person he knows and does not fit into any of the common stereotypes of a young black man.
“I don’t like to just sit around the house and watch TV all day,” Rentie said. “I like to go out and find out what the world has to offer me. I’m not here just to grow old, I’m here to learn about myself and others.”
Rentie has three Latino and two caucasian friends he boards with along with best friend Eric Johnson and his brother.
“We go up there looking like all the colors of the rainbow,” Rentie said. “You can see us from way up top of the mountain; we just stand out.”
Rentie said white people are not the only ones raising an eyebrow when they see him swooshing by on a snowboard or skateboard. After spending most of his upbringing in the San Fernando Valley, Rentie moved with his family to South Central Los Angeles when he was 17. There he would have all types of derogatory slurs said to him for simply skating to the bus stop.
“Every other word was either sell-out, white boy or oreo,” Rentie said. “It’s crazy how different it is from the Valley.”
Rentie said he disagrees with the saying that a person is a product of their environment. He said a person is a product of what they allow themselves to be a product of.
“Just because people are telling me that you’re a sell-out or you’re a white boy, why are you skateboarding? That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop doing it,” Rentie said.
Even some of the friends that Rentie has had since junior high have commented on his intense hobbies, but in a friendly way.
Some of them have even expressed curiosity in Rentie’s affection for extreme sports.
Johnson, who is also black, joined him for a trip to the mountains about three years ago and was hooked right away, but not for the same reason as his close friend.
“It’s mostly about the peace of mind you get,” Johnson said. “Some people might go to the beach to get away, we go snowboarding to get away.”
Johnson said fellow boarders and skiers might be a bit shocked at first to see a black person doing some things they can’t do themselves.
“They’ll probably see us coming up the ski lift and we will look like the stereotypical black males with jeans, white T-shirts, a hat on backwards or whatever it may be,” Johnson said. “Once we get up there and we’re better than half the people there, then (they are) like, ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.'”
Growing up in South Central L.A., Johnson was in a tough environment to attempt to defy the stereotype of the young black man.
For Johnson, the stereotypical view of a black man is someone who is either in jail or a gang, has a child with a girl he is not deeply involved with and is concerned about what other people think of him.
“When it comes to jail and gang banging and all other stuff like that, I’m above all that,” Johnson said. “I understand it’s a lifestyle and that you can become a product of your environment, but that’s something I just never got into.”
Johnson said what kept him away from the traps of growing up in South Central was learning from others’ mistakes and his strong family values.
“All the males in my family were either in jail, on drugs, sold drugs or did something along those lines, so I knew that was something I never wanted to do,” he said.
Kellvon Smith, senior sociology major, said he does not believe in stereotypes and that he did not want to become what was being perpetuated in several music videos. He said he realized the world was much bigger than just one person’s point of view.
“Personally, I don’t think people fit into stereotypes no matter what color, race, creed or age,” Smith, who is black and Jewish, said. “I think people over-generalize other people and that’s what leads to stereotypes.”
Smith said he does many things not generally considered black, such as surfing, learning how to play mariachi music and golf. He is also a member of a non-black fraternity on campus, Tau Kappa Epsilon – something he said had nothing to do with race.
“I joined a non-black fraternity because I felt that these are the people I feel comfortable with and expressed the same point of view as me,” Smith said.
Smith said people should try not to fall into stereotypes that have already been set and “learn how to expand and branch out to other things that are not expected of you.
“The world does not evolve around black people,” said Smith. “The world is black, white, green, yellow, orange or whatever color we want to label people.”
Johnson said it doesn’t matter if a person thinks they are a stereotypical person or not.
Johnson said he doesn’t care about what other people think of him when they see him, but he acknowledges that in the real world other people’s opinions could carry a big influence.
“If you don’t care about what other people think about you, that’s all well and good, but it’s still (about) how you present yourself. Because in the end it doesn’t matter how others look at you, but how you look at yourself,” Johnson said.
Johan Mengesha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.