I was introduced to the N word at 10 years old, in 1991. I lived a predominantly white neighborhood of a city in western NY. My family was one of two black families on our street. One of the few in the entire neighborhood. We moved to the mid-sized city from the Virgin Islands where my race was never a topic of discussion. I was playing on my neighbor, and friend’s swing set. My friend went inside for a moment and another kid we didn’t know asked to play on the set. Because it was not my yard, or my swing set, I told the kid, I can’t say yes. I told her to wait until my friend came back because it was not my swing set. The child became distraught. She ran to her mother and told her she asked if she could play on the swing set, and I said no. Her mother told her not to worry about what that nigger bitch had to say.
I had never heard the N word before that moment, and I did not know what it meant. But, I knew it was horrible by the way it was said. I cried and ran home. I told my mother what happened. I saw her become someone I had never seen before. My mother was a dignified, educated, and respected woman. But in that moment, I saw a rage in her I did not know existed. She was ready to go to jail to protect her child from the ignorance and hate that was spewed at me. Not only did she successfully strike fear in the heart of the people who so viciously attacked me with their hateful words, she also showed me that no matter who tried to attack me, I would prevail. This confidence stuck with me when I encountered racism when I lived in Boston, Atlanta, and as an adult in Upstate NY.
Fast forward to February 2017. It’s Black History Month. I’m preparing to assign my daughter’s annual report on a significant black figure. Every year, I struggle to choose a person that will ignite a fire in her, and cause her to want to learn more about her heritage. It is also important that she learns about a person that she will not learn about in school. This makes the possibilities endless, and the decision harder. Even with people like Frederick Douglass “becoming more and more recognized”, this year’s choice is pivotal. With racial tensions higher than they have ever been in my lifetime, and our country consistently making decisions that further white supremacy, how do I assign a project that will give my child the knowledge she needs to feel empowered, while still navigating comfortably through a predominantly white school district? How do I prepare to teach my 4 month old son?
The day after Election Day, my daughter and I had the great pleasure of meeting Angela Davis, and hearing her speak at an empowerment event. The timing of her presence was perfect, and her words were needed. I patiently awaited to hear Ms. Davis give me instructions on how to move forward. My daughter on the other had, did not understand the significance of having access to someone like Ms. Davis at such a pivotal time in our country. Despite my attempt to educate her on who Angela Davis is, her response was incredibly apathetic. To say I was disappointed by this reaction would be an understatement, and so this year, she is tasked with reading and writing a report about Angela Davis. It is my hope that her story will be empowering to my daughter as she navigates through a world that is still divided by race, among other things.
My daughter is a 7th grade student in a suburban school as part of a desegregation program called The Urban Suburban Program in upstate New York. You read that correctly. A DESEGREGATION PROGRAM IN UPSTATE NY. She is fortunate to be in a district that is the most diverse and tolerant of the suburban districts in our area, but blacks are still a minority. She is typically the only black child in her classes but I can honestly say, that the district makes an effort to ensure she is not treated differently because of her race, or zip code. That does not mean that she does not recognize that she is different. She is incredibly observant, and this “new” political climate scares her too. On January 20, her English teacher asked the class to write how they were feeling. This is not typical, but was a necessary task on inauguration day. Being a fairly liberal area, the town mostly supported democratic presidential candidates. Which meant that these students had likely heard much of the rhetoric denouncing Trump’s presidency at home, and probably felt a decent amount of the fear their parents felt as he prepared to be sworn in. Mine certainly did. She heard my disgust of the entire system well before Election Day. So I asked her what she thought about the inauguration. Her immediate response was “He needs to get out of office”. I had to ask her to elaborate. “Why do you think that?” “Because he wants to make America “GREAT” again!” “Well, what do you think that means?” “Slavery. He wants black people to lose their rights. And I think we’re going to have to go to war.” Despite knowing that my children are going to hear and soak in what their parents think, this was not something that we discussed at home, and so her response shocked me. The idea of Trump becoming President was never real to me. Because he was on the ticket, I knew it was possible, but in my mind, the same country that twice elected Barack Hussein Obama, could not seriously consider his hateful rhetoric as presidential. But they did. I was numb leading up to inauguration. I suppressed my anger and fear because I did not know how to make my feelings productive. I focused on trying to make my children feel safe despite not being sure we are. After all, I am concerned about losing my rights too. I’m concerned that the progress that we have made in regard to race, and women’s rights is going to move backward. Trump’s America has proven to be hateful, and I fear my daughter is going to begin to see people for what they really are sooner than I did. She is going to see the ugly and have to fight it without the safety in numbers I had when I attended school in an urban district.
She has a valid concern when she speaks of her fear of war. She fears a civil war, and I don’t think she’s far off in her thinking that it is a possibility. When I consider how young this country is, and what other countries that liberals admire have gone through to be as progressive as they are today, another big fight is eminent if we really want to be a forward thinking, people driven country. People are going to have fight government. People are going to have to become incredibly uncomfortable. We have to fight for a government that that denounces hate. Our future depends on people recognizing that we need each other. That people are more important than corporations. That people are powerful, and caring for each other should be our priority. I pray and hope for a country that allows my daughter to wear her afro without scrutiny. I pray and hope for a world that accepts people of color as equals, and our cultures as valuable to the fiber of the flags we contribute to. I am ready to dive in and make sacrifices for the generations that follow, and equip my children with the tools to do the same. It has taken years for me to get to that point. But if now is not the time, when is?
28 Days is a project about perspectives of people whose lives intertwine with the black struggle either personally or through others close to them. Along with their perspective they entrust us with what they hope for moving forward.
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