“Hey, white people!”
It wasn’t something I expected to hear, let alone on a quiet Sunday morning in an apartment complex parking lot.
I wasn’t even sure I had heard it, so quiet were the words.
It was as if the caller was testing them out for the first time. He tasted them, not really sure if he could get away with it.
He came into sight in my peripheral.
It was a young black boy around ten and his two friends, possibly younger brothers. They shushed him as they lugged three, heavy trash bags to the dumpsters.
I was off balance as I carried unwieldy boxes from my car, and frankly, couldn’t look at them for long even if I wanted to. My boyfriend was flustered and not paying attention. He muttered something about his keys.
I was the only one who heard.
“Hey, white people! I don’t like your color.”
His companions shushed him again.
“Man, that’s disrespectful,” one of them whispered.
The instigator laughed like he didn’t care. They dumped the bags and ran for the door to our building. They didn’t know that I was watching them out of the corner of my eye.
There is a first time for everything, I suppose, and my first personal encounter with racism was when I was twenty-five years of age and living in a crappy extension of a suburb across the bridge from Trenton.
I thought about it for hours. I tried to decide where a kid that age would have heard such things. His parents? People at his school?
Years ago we subjected an entire race to ridicule, to spite, and we allowed our small white children to hurl insults at them. Is this payback? Is this fair?
No. It’s just racism. And you won’t hear me throw around the term “reverse racism” because that’s just dumb. It’s racism. Period.
This is a case of cruelty, towards grown adults, from children. Cruelty is hurtful, whoever it’s aimed at. I know it’s totally controversial, but isn’t it about time we stop making things about races and start making them about, well, people?
Must we all be little check boxes on a Census form?
Is it really necessary at a job interview to have to think to myself: “Well, I am mostly Hispanic, but I’m secondly German and thirdly Irish and actually have some Native American so which one will get me hired because I know this company has diversity requirements?”
What bureaucrat decides this stuff, anyway, that we end up thinking that? Isn’t it confining ourselves to a race even more? That “race” is a term mired in such gray areas of morality as to who is “bad” or “worse”, even though the fundamentals of human nature have nothing to do with color of skin.
I see racism every day.
I quit a group not too recently and one of the biggest reasons was blatant racism.
A little black boy had come by to hang out and hear us play, and hadn’t said anything aside from: “What kind of guitar is that? Can I stay here? Can I play?”
After he left, the member in question shook his head, picked back up his guitar, and said: “He’s going to grow up and steal stuff.” Just like that. I mean, who knows, maybe the kid might grow up to steal things, but he might also grow up to become the world’s first man on Mars. Let’s not assume based on race. And it was totally based on race.
He then threw around racist terminology for quite a while and I was too chicken to say anything. I regret that, still, because it was wrong, but I’m not one to start arguments. I’ve always been of the view you can’t change a person’s behavior if they are already so hateful like that.
Or can you?
Is awareness the answer? Proper schooling? Or is it all a factor of what happens behind closed doors at home?
It doesn’t mean I have to like it, whoever it’s coming from.
Now, in the quiet confines of my apartment before the blue glow of my computer screen, I think of things I should have said.
“I don’t like my color either, frankly, I’ve been trying to get tanner, but it’s a bit late in the season.”
“Actually, my color is Soft Ivory #1 if you ask Estée Lauder, but you’re only what, like, ten? So you couldn’t have known that. I forgive you.”
Or the more obvious:
“Hey kid, I’m not a crayon. I do have a name, you know. Now take me to your parents.”
So now I want you to think about the worst thing a person has said to you about your race.
I know my story is probably nothing in comparison to yours.
Now I want you to take your story, think about it, and tuck it away.
There will always be shitty people in this world, regardless of the color of their skin.
Don’t let it ruin your day.
I’m only twenty-five. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to make it right.
But I do know not to let it get me down.
Even though they would have just laughed, what I should have said, was:
“Let’s not make this about a color. Let’s not make this about a race. You are just a bully.
I am not a checkmark in a box.
And neither are you.”