There are some things that I can't stand to know about myself. Reminders of who I was and how I once thought that come flashing to my mind, triggered by something I see.
Like the shooting of Michael Brown. Like everyone's reaction to this death of an unarmed black man. Reactions from people that are so vocal, I can't believe I know them. Surprising me so much, with their hate and the disregard for another human being, based on skin color.
Some say that the goal is for a society to be color blind. I'm not going for that. I love the different colors that we are and the beautiful cultural differences we bring into each others' lives. I don't want to not see your brown, yellow, bronze, beige, coffee, tones.
But when I read of this hate and anger toward people, purely based on a color difference, it takes me back to when I was a child. And I would let people say things to me that weren't kind, and allow them to ask me questions that were personal and rude, and how I did nothing, but accept that behavior from them. By not saying no, or refusing to be addressed that way, I was letting them do the very thing that we are allowing people to do now. To have disregard for those that are non-white.
This week has me feeling broken, thinking of when I was seven years old, when my school would serve tacos for lunch and the kids would throw them on my tray, saying, “Here, you eat them. It's your kind of food.” I would say nothing, my face would burn so red I could feel the sweat prickle under my hair. But I never stood up for myself. I was learning that I was different, and someone to be ridiculed.
Or when my high school boyfriend's parents told him he couldn't date me anymore, and so he stopped, telling me word for word that the reason his father gave him was “Stick to your own kind, Chris.” I didn't stand up for myself. I was learning that I was something less than what someone wanted for their child.
Reading the news of this week brings floods of moments, like when I was in college, shopping for a dress with my then roommate, I tried on a figure hugging stretch dress for a wedding. She said, "Oh, that's right. You guys wear your clothes tight," even when everyone was wearing lycra in 1984. I said nothing. I was learning that there were was only one way that the women of my culture were seen.
Driving with my brothers when we were teenagers, we were so used to being pulled over for no reason, that we didn't even feel the surprise when we'd see the police lights flash behind us. One day, we had a friend of mine with us. The police lights came on, she panicked and asked what we did wrong. Did we do something wrong? she wanted to know. We looked at each other, not believing she didn't know. My brother said, “This? This happens all the time.” I was learning that we were powerless at the hand of the law.
For every story I remember, there are fifty more that have gone to the wind. It's been like this since I was a little girl. Both the talking to me like I'm lesser than others, as well as my remaining silent.
I didn't say anything when these things were said to me. And by not saying anything, I was saying it was fine. That their behavior was acceptable to me. There are a thousand reasons that I was quiet for too long, but most of all, because it happened so much, over and over, that it felt like nothing would change, and especially, that my voice didn't matter. And I came to wonder if I was too sensitive. Or maybe I imagined it, I'd tell myself. Maybe it's not as bad as it sounds, I'd explain to myself. I had been taught to not trust my feelings.
But with Michael Brown and the dialogue and stories from others that are coming out, I'm seeing the truth. The truth is that when people in my town ridicule my children's names, it's racism. When the store in our town asks me for an I.D. card when I use a credit card after I see the three white women in line in front of me have used theirs without being asked for the same thing, it's racism. When someone hands me a card for a Spanish interpreter at the hospital by assuming I don't speak English, it's racism.
It's 2014, and we still have racism. We've had the same racism that I have known since grade school and the teacher asked me why I spoke English so well since wasn't my name Hispanic? Racism exists. As long as we have segregation and treatment of others as objects rather than people, racism exists.
Talking about race is the most highly charged I've seen this nation in years. People are still so blind to themselves. They feel their actions are founded and their reasons, sound -- people who won't look to themselves to see that they are part of the problem BUT others are beginning to understand. Some are finding courage in the collective sharing of our stories. Some may finally draw the line for what they will and won't take, in what they see as treatment of others. It is ugly, and it is beautiful. We're discovering a lot about people we think we knew. And they're showing us that we truly never did know them. Every grand action of ours, begins with a decision. I see people making their decisions, allowing no room for anything else, this entire week since Michael Brown's death.
For too many years, I had let people make me feel ashamed that I wasn't like them. I wanted to fit in so much in what was obviously their world, their rules, their control, that I let them get away with too much. It's not happening anymore. I am hyper sensitive but not in the way that people told me that I was. I am aware of stereotypes and assumptions and hate and no longer questioning whether they happened or not. I'm hyper vigilant in my reporting of it. I share my stories. I bring to people's attention how I'm treated differently than someone else. I ask people why they want to know something and what makes them think they know something about me or my culture.
If this makes them squirm and decide they don't want to know me, that's going to be okay. Because I am saying something. Playing the game of pretending that they're not basing their questions and treatment of me on who I am, a person of color, never did work for me. It only made me feel I was not part of the world I lived in.
The times we are in right now are loaded, and they're becoming as loaded as the times of 1965. Michael Brown isn't going to go away because the color of skin isn't going to go away. Nor the way it makes some people feel.
Human beings on this planet want the same thing: to belong, to have a home, to be kept dry and have food, to find friends and community, acceptance and opportunity for education, health care, employment. To be given the same fair chance at protection as anyone else.
And when meeting for the first time, to be treated, as a fellow human being.
One of the worst things about racism is what it does to young people.
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