When I read the article above, it rang so true for me.
My parents have post-graduate degrees (my father a pharmacist and my mother an attorney). My mother attended Harvard after receiving her bachelor’s degree. I was taught to read at age 3 and was studying vocabulary words everyday afterschool for years. Along with tennis lessons, voice lessons and swimming lessons, I studied classical music since the age of 7 and could tell you within a few seconds what composer created which piece of classical music.
By third grade, I’d won two district-wide science fair contests and had surprised my Reading teachers by actually correcting some of the mistakes they made on directions for homework assignments. I wasn’t allowed to spend time with school friends from unsavory backgrounds and could only listen to certain types of music.
I’d never had the “race talk” from my parents. I now understand that they believed that with a great education and a certain type of environment, I probably wouldn’t have to experience discrimination or racism. Surely, they believed, when I spoke, even the most racist person would respect my intelligence and background. Like the author of the article I posted a link to – my parents were wrong.
I recall taking a road trip with my parents to Florida when I was 9 years old. We stopped during the middle of the trip to spend the night at a hotel in some itty-bitty town in Florida. I was swimming in the hotel pool with my mother watching on from a lounge chair when a little girl swam up to me. I was expecting to make a new friend. Maybe this little girl was traveling to Walt Disney World as well! Imagine my surprise when she opened her mouth and called out to her own mother, “Look Mom! A nigger!”.
I had no clue what this word meant, but I immediately felt ashamed. I ducked my head underwater and swam to the other end of the pool and told my mother I was ready to go back to the hotel room. I didn’t explain why, just that I was tired of swimming.
It wasn’t for several months that I finally admitted to my mother what happened and the pain on her face was palpable. She explained to me what the word meant, which confused me even more. I never met that little girl a day before in my life. She didn’t know about my good grades, the stories I’d written in my spare time or all of my science fair awards. How could she call me that without knowing me?
Even at that young age, I realized that to some people, who you are on the inside won’t matter. What you look like will always take precedence and for a person of color, this is a fact we live with everyday.