I remember being in second grade, sitting in the lunchroom. Across from me was a little girl and a little boy who were both in my classroom. Before this moment, that’s how I saw them: a little girl and a little boy. My seven year old brain did not classify them past this point. The little boy gets up to sit in another seat and the little girl says to him, “You can’t sit there because you are Black“.
You are Black.
All of a sudden, I classified this little boy as Black and this little girl as White and apparently there was something the little boy couldn’t do because of his skin color. Because of his skin color he could not sit in this seat but since the little White girl could, she must be better.
This was my introduction to Racism as a child. Almost twenty years later, I still remember this situation as a pivotal moment in my learning of what it means to be of a certain race. As the years went on, I experienced more forms of Racism. Most notably from the mother of my best friend.
We had been friends since fifth grade but once we reached middle school, things changed. My friend was no longer allowed over my house but I could come over to hers. When she asked why, her mother told her it was because there were Black men at my house – these Black men, being my 16 year old brother, my 8 year old step brother, and my step father. I am sure my friend was not supposed to come back and tell me that but as children, you don’t know discretion. I was allowed to go to her house but I was not allowed to spend the night.
As a child, I knew something about this was wrong. But I also knew that I could not tell my mother or I would no longer be able to hang out with my friend. By the time we reached high school, I guess her mother figured we were old enough to hear the truth: she banned her daughter from hanging out with me all together. No, it wasn’t because I was a bad influence. I was a straight A student, involved in many activities in school. No, it wasn’t because of anything I had done something wrong. It was because I was Black.
We would sneak around together over the summer as if I were a boyfriend she should not have. One time, I was in the car with her and a friend of her mother’s pulled up beside us at the stop light. I had to let my seat back and pretend I was not there.
As a child, even as a teenager, I was not aware of how the color of my skin would affect my relationships with other people. As a Black child who had mostly White friends growing up, I did not realize exactly how different we were until we became adults and would recant stories from childhood and I could see just how drastically our experiences, that we shared, were different. I am sure my friend whose mother ostracized me as a child does not view that experience in the same way that I do. She may not even remember it. Because we tend to block traumatic experiences, especially those where we or someone we love are the ones acting in a disgusting manner.
These types of instances continued on in my life with this same friend. Her parents threatened to send her away for having a Black boyfriend in high school. A few years ago, she was visiting me at my home in Decatur and we passed by a White cop patrolling the local grocery store and she says to me, ” I bet they must pay him a lot of money to patrol this neighborhood.” I immediately became offended and asked her why she felt like that. I had never expressed to her the dangers of my neighborhood. I never talked about crime to her. The only thing she saw was that she was the only White face in a neighborhood full of Black people. Now, I know my friend isn’t racist. I have known her my entire life but her subconscious spoke before she could think about what she was saying. Her inner self, was biologically scared of Black people- even she didn’t realize it. These small experiences have shaped my views on my friends, have shown me that my experience as a Black woman are different. And because I have always been the Black girl that White people have felt comfortable around, they have also been comfortable expressing their ignorance without even considering how silly it all really sounds to me.
A few years back, I was helping an older White woman at a retail store I worked at. A young Black man walked by the store with a backwards hat and his pants sagging. The White woman looked at him then turned back to me and expressed how she feared for me working alone. I had an acquaintance tell me another time that she felt uncomfortable visiting a popular jazz club here in Atlanta because she and her husband would be the only White people there- she says this as we are sitting in a restaurant where me and my then fiance’ were two of the only Black people present. Each of these situations reflect the ignorance White people can have for the Black experience in America.
Because I have always been an Oreo kid, I was viewed as safe. I was Black but to White people I fit comfortably into their idea of what Black people should act like. I was Black on the outside but White on the inside. Educated, proper, submissive, willing to succumb my Blackness to fit their mold of comfort.
As I have gotten older and I reflect on the state of our country and the blatant disregard for Black life, the killings of Black men like Terrence Crutcher, it scares me. It scares me because I am raising a young Black child who may share similar experiences as her mother and not know how to handle it. She may not know how to stand up for herself or not know that it is ok to talk to me about Racism she experiences as a young child. What does she see when she looks in the mirror?
As a parent, my only advice is this: Be Aware. Be in tuned with your children. Talk to them about Racism. Talk to them about embracing their differences, their heritage, and culture. Sit down and really remember your Black experience growing up and know that even though decades have went by, nothing…I mean absolutely nothing has changed.
As a parent, how are you molding your children to understand that their Blackness is beautiful?