Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Racism Does to the Young

There are things that are painful to know about myself. Reminders of who I once was flash in my mind.

The shooting of Michael Brown and our reactions to Ferguson have brought my life to the forefront.

Some say that the goal for a society is to be color blind. I love the different colors that we are and the gift of cultural difference that we bring into each others' lives. I don't want to not see your brown, yellow, bronze, beige, coffee, and all the tones in between.

When I read of this abomination of hate toward people because of the color they are, it takes me back to when I was a child. I don't like remembering myself at that time. When I would let people say things to me and allow them to ask me questions that were personal and rude, and how I said nothing. By not saying no, I was letting them do the very thing that we are allowing people to do now. To dismiss those that are not white.

This week, I am broken, unable to do much more than think of times in my life of when I was silent. I was seven years old when my school began serving tacos for lunch. The kids would throw them on my tray, laughing, “You must love today! It's your kind of food!” I would say nothing, my face burning red that I could feel the sweat prickle on my scalp. But I never spoke on my behalf and that of others. I was learning that to not be like them, was deserving of ridicule.

I am different. I am less than.

When my high school boyfriend's parents told him he couldn't date me anymore because his father's advice, “Stick to your own kind, Chris,” was more of a command.

I am something less than what a parent wanted for their child.
Driving with my brothers when we were teenagers, we were used to being pulled over for no reason. I would want to ask what we did wrong, not understanding yet that what we did wrong was ride 3 and 4-deep.

I am powerless at the hand of the law.

I remember these stories, and I am ashamed of my silence. A lifetime of being treated as lesser, and accepting it.

By not saying anything, I was saying it was acceptable.

I have learned to be complacent, invisible. Even to myself.

Racism over a lifetime will do that to the young.

It makes you question yourself, because you're told You're too sensitive. We were just kidding. You imagined it. Stop making a big deal.

I had been taught to not even be right about my own feelings.

But with Ferguson and the ensuing dialogue I'm seeing the truth. Stories aligning with mine, like being teased about my name growing up. About clerks at stores asking me for an I.D. when I use a credit card after I've just seen three white women in front of me use theirs without being asked for the same thing. When I would go to a walk-in clinic, and the receptionist handed me a card for a Spanish interpreter assuming I didn't speak English.

The racial injustice in our country is not a delusion of people of color. Neither is prejudice and bigotry. Talking about race in our country right now is the most highly charged I've seen this nation in years. We are finding courage and validation in the sharing of our stories. This year has become the defining year for many of us, the line is drawn, on what we will and won't take any longer in how we are treated and spoken to.

These times are ugly, and they are beautiful. I see the grand actions of ours, of coming together, and I feel how it all begins with a decision.

For too long, I learned to feel ashamed of who I was because I was desperate to be accepted by the world I lived in.

It's not happening any more. I'm no longer the scared, sad, seven-year-old girl, that racism taught me to be. And today, I speak for her. The one who wanted nothing more that to find love and acceptance from those around her.

One of the worst things about racism is what it does to young people.

~Alvin Ailey
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  1. sadly yes, it perpetuates....my first understanding of the differences and aof racism were at church...i remember an older african american gentleman walking in...and the gasps...and wondering as a child, why...

  2. I wish I could hug little Alexandra, but I see clearly that grown-ass woman Alexandra has it all in hand. Great post.

  3. It is injustice heaped on injustice that you must do the work of educating those of us who've benefitted from the privileges denied you, but I am so grateful that you are. We can't do anything about the things we can't see. I think many of us need to see that racism isn't just about poor, young, black men. That should be enough, but it isn't. We can't seem to step foot on the bridge of understanding until we see someone on it who is like us in at least one way. Your voice is so important in this. It is voices such as yours that opened my eyes.

  4. Brian -- so sadly true. Through the eyes of a child. Children don't know racism, they only know curiosity.

    Sister Big: I love you.

    Rita: It's been such a gift to me, finding you. THANK YOU for all of your love and support, since the beginning. xo

  5. i hear you. i see you. i will not look away. not ever.

  6. You have a special gift in the way you express yourself forcefully but kindly.

  7. Thank you for these words and memories. They are important. I remember sitting in SanJose with you eating burgers and talking about this very thing... before Michael Brown... because it's not just about Michael Brown. It's about who is treated lesser and who isn't based on their race - not their humanity.

    1. I am going to requote part of your response, while sharing this article. STL is my metro area and it's breaking my heart. My head and heart are heavy. Thank you all for this.

  8. I REALLY love what you said here. And I was just thinking about you yesterday. Will PM you. :-)

  9. Wow. Thank you for writing/sharing this.

  10. You have a beautiful way with words. Hugs

  11. Despite everything you've been through Alexandra, you have not let any of it get the better of you. Instead, you are strong and kind, generous, giving, and eager to make a difference, and to those who would only see color, the lesson in that is, Look - this is the kind of person to strive to be.

  12. I've never loved you more than I love you right now, and that's saying a lot. Because I love you: fierce and kind, passionate and giving. Wounded and strong.
    I'm sorry hateful people raised hateful children who said hateful things to you. And I'm sorry this country has done such a horrible job of calling out the hateful things so that people think racism is okay and normal.
    And I can't even with Ferguson. I'm up every night watching Twitter, slackjawed with astonishment. I knew, and I know, but I had no idea.
    And I can't believe that all the work and the pain and the love of the Civil Rights movement seem to be for naught right now.
    Because children grow up thinking they're less.
    Good gawd I'm sorry.

  13. I love what Neil said, he's so right!

    And I am glad you put your amazing voice out there on this topic. I am sorry that you've had to endure these things in your lifetime. That anyone has.

  14. I can't thank you all enough, for reading, for listening. For considering and for growing aware. There are painful stories to tell, for certain, but it's in the telling that we don't accept what happens. But without someone to listen, how does change happen? Thank you, all.

  15. Oops. I think I just hit enter too early...the reactions have been alarming. He was a human being, someone's son, someone else's future husband. It's is sad. Very sad that in 2014, we are still working toward a better way of thinking. Thank you for such a lovely post.

  16. Thank you. for always being so honest. and clear. and kind. even when it's hard. especially when it's hard. Just: THANK YOU.

  17. I second Neil. Off to share.

  18. YES. This is what I was trying to get across today. It's NOT just Michael Brown. This one man has set off a bomb, for sure, but it's only the result of years and years of issues and racism and things NOT getting better, despite the changes that the original Civil Rights movement brought about.

  19. Thank you, Tracey. These are frustrating times, and times for us to step up and no longer be quiet. We've got to say something, because living like this and allowing what we see, is just wrong.

  20. Oh, Alexandra. I so wish you lived closer so I could give you a big HUG. I've been following Ferguson for the past week now too and I... it just makes me so sad. Empty. I can't believe that in this day and age, such racism is still so pervasive in our society.

    Growing up I was actually the token white girl on the bus. And my friends were from all backgrounds/socioeconomic backgrounds... and it taught me so much. Like you, I want to see colors, because I think they are all beautiful and deserve to be recognized. But I don't want to pigeonhole anyone or ever think that someone is deserving of a certain fate because of the color of their skin. What age are we living in? Why is this still happening?

    I can't believe anyone would throw tacos on your tray. And I'm sorry you were pulled over so much. And that you're handed Spanish speaking pamphlets at the hospital (seriously, WTF?!). But thank you for saying what so many of us are thinking. And for sharing that Alvin Ailey quote; I've never heard it before.


  21. I wish there weren't so many reminders of how naive I apparently am.

  22. I love your view here, because despite the racism you've experienced personally, you don't separate "us" from "them." We all have the responsibility to combat racism, no matter who we are. xo

  23. This is an amazing post. I grew up in a not-so-tolerant household. There wasn't blatant hate, but plenty of slurs and comments and jokes, and that's just as bad. I'm thankful that my girls attend a pretty diverse school, with all colors of skin and various income levels and even a mohawk or two. :)



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