I was livid. I honestly don’t believe there is a word for what I was when my daughter came home from school crying and refused at first to tell me why. I figured maybe there was a bully or a group of mean girls who were excluding her. I was prepared to deal with that. Sitting in the back of my SUV, eyes filled with tears, her answer to why she was crying broke my heart and filled me with rage all at the same time.
I’ve tried to create a home that is a safe space for my children. I want their home to be a refuge away from all the craziness that is happening out in the “real world.” They have always been aware of race in some respect; from the moment they were born into their multiracial family, they were different. They believe it’s the norm for all races to live together in love, peace, and harmony. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. When my daughter asked me, “When my brothers grow up, will they hate me?” I was unprepared for her explanation as to why she thought that way.
My daughter’s first-grade class had just finished a unit on the civil rights movement. They learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and had touched on slavery and what it was like for minorities during that time. She was being taught in school that white people did not like black people. Her 6-year-old mind took that to mean that her brothers who look white will hate her when they grow up.
I tried not to cry. I paused. I bit my lip and tried to hold it together in front of my daughter who for the first time in the back of my SUV had discovered that she was different from her brothers — not only that she was different but that there was something about her, something that she couldn’t change, that made her less than everyone else. It made me remember the first time I discovered I was less than when I realized that the first thing most people will see is the color of my skin and judge me thus.
I was 14, and honestly, I’m surprised it took me that long. I was walking home from school in the rain through a neighborhood that was all white. A police officer stopped me at the corner and asked me what I was carrying. I was carrying my violin case; it wasn’t mine I had borrowed it from my school. He asked me to open it up because for some reason he didn’t believe me that I only had a violin in a violin case. I knew that it couldn’t get wet, but I was honestly too terrified to talk back to a cop. With trembling hands, I opened the case. He took out the violin, looked through the case, and then sent me on my way. The only thing I did wrong was to have the audacity to walk through the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time.
There were other occasions over the years, times when security stopped me in stores and asked about items that I picked up to look at and put back on the shelf because I didn’t want them. I learned at a young age to only pick up stuff you’re going to buy. I learned not to go into stores with a large purse or a lot of shopping bags because you will get followed. They will embarrass you by making you stand in front of everyone while they look through your purse. I’ve never stolen a thing in my life, but I’ve been accused of it more times than I can count. I learned that I needed to alter everything I do in public, so I won’t get into trouble. That I need to blend in, so I’m not noticed. And now my daughter is learning the same thing at the age of 6.
When I turned to my daughter and wiped away her tears, I told her that her brothers would never hate her. She asked me, “Why do people hate people that they don’t know?” I told her that I didn’t know because it was an answer that I’ve been searching for my whole life. I have never understood racial hatred, and I don’t think I ever will. I just wish that my daughter didn’t have to live in a world where she would ever think that her brothers would hate her for anything more than perhaps stealing their Legos. Never for the color of her skin, never for that.