It was not yet rush hour so the streets were bare. Things were quiet, except for the light rustle of the leaves on the trees that surrounded us.
I saw a white pick-up truck in the periphery of my left eye. Two men shouted from the bed of the truck.
I attempted to continue my ride uninterrupted, but the tears forming in my eyes began to obscure my view. I dismounted the shiny, turquoise bike my parents surprised me with that Christmas. I began to walk alongside the bike, the tears now streaming down my face.
My mother called me, a tone of seriousness in her voice I rarely heard.
She called again. She asked me to stop. I did, releasing the handle bars from my grasp, allowing my new bike to fall to the grown.
I turned around and ran into my mother’s arms as she enfolded me in her bosom. I sobbed. She wept. And after a few moments, I asked her: why?
Our calm and serene ride home from our neighborhood park was suddenly broken. Shattered, too, what was left of my innocence.
Of course, this was not my first encounter with racism. Nor would it be my last.
In preschool, my teacher used to tell my parents that other kids wouldn’t play with me or hold my hand because I was no angel. One day two little White girls told me they would not play with me because my skin was covered in dirt and only boys are covered in dirt. My father arrived to pick me up. I ran up to him with tears in my eyes.
We were four and five years of age.
In kindergarten, I was spat upon and called the N-word by my White classmates. I have zero memory of this experience. It was so traumatic I blocked it out, but it has been recounted to me on several occasions. That same year, a White neighborhood boy told me other little White girls in the class wouldn’t be allowed to play with me because I’m Black.
We were five and six years old.
These incidences account for mere fractions of the racism – whether covert or overt, passive or aggressive – that my family, myself, and Black families around the country experience on a regular basis. From my parents being stopped seventeen times in one summer when they were young – never receiving a ticket, to being denied for jobs or promotions for which I was well or over-qualified, race has been an invasive part of my life since the very beginning.
I do not share my traumatic early childhood encounters with racism as a plea for woe. I need no one to feel sorry for me.
I want to illustrate that racism is taught. Toddlers do not understand the literary analogy or the sociological construct of race. They mimic what they hear from adults.
What many White folx, even the most well-intended, fail to understand that protests – even the looting and rioting – are symptoms of the progressive, degenerative, terminal disease that is systemic racism in America.
I was targeted and harassed as a Black student in an overwhelmingly White school. We considered other schools with more diverse student bodies. Unfortunately, at the time, schools with greater numbers of Black students lacked the necessary resources to give me the high quality education my parents knew I deserved. This is the same thing most parent would want for their child, regardless of race.
Why are many Black schools performing below the national standard? Because there was a time in this country when it was illegal for Black people to learn how to read.
Why? Because once Black people could read, we would be able to read the Constitution and find out that we have inalienable rights. We would demand to be counted and acknowledged as fully human, rather than just 3/5 of a human. We would insist that our schools have the best books and teachers education has to offer in buildings that are clean and free from mold and asbestos. We would learn that we, too, are made in the image of God. Black women would insist on earning the same exact wages as our White, male counterparts for the same work – not a mere 64%.
We would demand to be allowed to take a nap in a residence hall as a grad school student, watch birds in the park, or barbecue with friends and family without harassment.
Even more importantly, we would expect that we receive help during vulnerable moments like suffering from a PTSD episode following our service in the United States military, trying to get home to your family after experiencing car trouble, or even be accused of a minor, victimless crime without losing your life.
Some people argue that America’s racist history “happened along time ago,” suggesting that Black people get over it or move on. My father always says in rhetorical response:
Protests are not a response to a single murder, or even a series of them. It is a response to the systems that continually and consistently uphold policies and practices that oppress and suppress people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and the poor.
No one is asking for special allowances. All we are asking is for equality and equity. We want to go to schools with quality education and opportunities, land jobs with fair wages and benefits, binge-watch our favorite TV shows, eat fresh and tasty foods, play in the park with friends, travel to new exciting places, build families, and live long and healthy lives.
We just want to live.