“You can’t play with us because you’re dark and we’re light.” These words of rejection, isolation, and segregation hit my young ears in just kindergarten or first grade. Before I even knew the name of my racial identity, I knew I was different. Before I could even comprehend what this difference meant and that there was such a thing as race, I was being discriminated against because of it. I learned about race at a young age, but unfortunately it wasn’t in a positive, loving way. I learned about race from the way white people treated me. I learned about race from a white prospective at such an early age, that by the time I was conscious enough to understand, damage had already been done. By the time my parents talked to me about race, society already had.
My earliest memory of facing racism was the one I mentioned above. I had a white friend named Elizabeth. She was my best friend; we played in the neighborhood together. She even invited me to her birthday party skating. One day at school, it was time for recess and we were going to play power puff girls. As we got ready to play, another little girl told me, “You can’t play with us.” I asked her why not, and that’s when she hit me with the, “You can’t play with us because you’re dark and we’re light.” As a kid I didn’t know how to take that. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t that upset. I was just very confused. I mean, yea our skin was different, but I’d played with Elizabeth several times. And of course, she went along with her white friends. I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t play. So from then on, I no longer had my friend, and I no longer played with those kids at school. I remember I punched one of the girls a while later because she was always messing with me and even pulling my hair. I got in trouble. She never did.
My next childhood experience with racism that I remember happened in fourth grade. I still don’t recall anybody telling me I’m Black or anything about Africa by this time. But I just knew, and then what I thought I knew knew was confirmed in the classroom. We were learning about slavery, and I was the only black kid in my class. The horrific pictures in the book resembled me. I remember the hot tears rolling down my face as I learned about this atrocity. I was sad and upset and maybe even embarrassed that this happened to me. I took it personally. I saw myself on those pages. The way I was whooped was in a textbook. Brown people who looked like me were slaves. I couldn’t believe it! I was hurt. I was sad. I was angry. On top of that I didn’t have anybody else in the room who could understand the pain I felt seeing images of black bodies with lash marks across their backs. Not even the teacher gave any regard to how this could make a nine year old black girl feel, especially as the only one in the class. Then something even worse happened. A white, blond- haired boy, whipped an invisible, pretend whip and made a “wapishhh” sound, acting like he was hitting me with a whip. Of course I cried. At a young age, right in the class room of a Virgina public school, we learned our places in society. Right there, I learned that I was African American, and by the history taught to me, inferior to my white classmates.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of my racial dealings in the school place. Being the only black kid in the majority of my classes throughout middle and high school, I dealt a lot with racist jokes and comments. Honestly I’ve dealt with too many to even recall or write about in this post. Growing up and being one of few black kids can be tough. It’s even harder first learning about slavery in a white school system before your parents teach you about Africa and where you come from before slavery. I feel like a lot of parents don’t talk about race to their children. Either they don’t think about it or they feel like they are too young. Unfortunately this absence of teaching at home leaves it to society, often dictated by whites, to define little black children for them. Before we can have knowledge of self and pride in our heritage, we’ve already been dimmed and learned inferiority by our teachers and peers.
Despite the miseducation that I received at a young age, I’ve been able to un-learn and relearn more about our history and culture. I’ve been able to overcome the negativity that society tried to instill in me as a child. The reality of today’s racism is that it’s been passed down from generation to generation, so before we are even adults, we already have racist ideals instilled. Racism continues to live because that’s part of the foundation of this country. So, teaching little black kids about race, who they are, where they come from, and the greatness of their history is so important. Because if we don’t share our history and experience from our perspective, we’ll have the next generation learning it from the same little girls saying, “you can’t play with us because you’re dark and we’re light.” And we’ll have another generation of lost children, not knowing who they are, but knowing that something just… ain’t… right.