“I want to see something: Black people, when was the exact moment you realized that your skin color was the reason you were treated different and your innocence was ripped away? How confused and hurt were you?”
As I started to think about this, I realized it needed more than just a Tweet.
Don’t get me wrong….I’ve always known I was Black. I grew up in a relatively afro-centric suburban home. I proudly sported my afro, and the pick with the fist on it. I had dashikis. We ate black food. We listened to “black” music. We had a “Black is Beautiful” poster framed in the living room, where the words were formed into the afros of a loving black couple. And like most suburban black families, a picture of MLK, next to the picture of Jesus.
Additionally, I had grandparents that came up in the South. So, I knew I was black. I knew what it meant. I knew our history. Being black was just a thing. Like being a boy or a girl. Like being a kid or an adult.
But, I didn’t know that being black meant I was “the other”.
Not until 4th grade.
In 4th grade, we lived in a little neighborhood in Colorado Springs. My mom and dad were SO excited when they bought this house, as was I. It was OURS. Not rented, not an apartment, not someone else’s property. OURS. Typical suburban house, with our own front and back yard. The American Dream. We even had a little doghouse in the backyard that the previous owner had built to look exactly like a miniature version of the house itself.
Only two kids my age lived in our section of the development. Both white. This boy named Kevin and a girl named Leslie. Both white. I didn’t hang with Kevin much, mainly because he had been left back…so he was still in 3rd grade, but, also because he was a troublemaker and I wasn’t going to get in trouble WITH him.
But, Leslie was my BEST friend. She was fun, she liked to read books just like I did, she was pretty, she was well liked by all the kids, and we liked all the same TV shows. We walked to school together every day. I lived a block further away from the school than she did, so in the morning, I would walk over and she’d meet up with me, already walking down the street and we would finish the walk together.
At recess, we would always hang with the same group of kids. On the swings, on the monkey bars, talking about things kids talk about. I can still remember our shared disgust when Jane, a mutual friend, told us that “grown ups kiss each other on the privates”. Which was quite possibly the most disgusting thing we had ever heard. And our little group all swore we would NEVER do anything that nasty when WE grew up.
We were CHILDREN.
In fact, in name and in mentality.
One day, when I met Leslie on the way to school, she was in tears. Her house was right there, so I could see her step-father, who she called her “new dad” standing just inside the screen door, watching us.
She told me she was no longer allowed to play with me. Her new dad told her he didn’t want her to play with black kids anymore. “I don’t understand,” she said to me, “You’re not even black. You’re brown.” And she walked away from me, by herself, headed towards school.
I didn’t understand. Really didn’t understand. I didn’t even cry until later that evening, until the sheer gravity of it hit me. I spent that day, and many weeks after, watching as Leslie had to go make new friends. White friends. To appease her new dad.
When I told my mother about it, of course, she wanted to talk to this man. Give him a piece of her mind. But, I was so afraid my best friend would “get in trouble” I wouldn’t even tell her Leslie’s name or where she lived. She was just “this girl at school”.
I lost my best friend, my innocence and my sense of equality, all in the same moment.