Like a lot of people, this is a topic that I’d rather not address in my day-to-day life. It’s painful, messy, and uncomfortable. But I can’t escape it, because I can’t just walk out of my own skin. I’m reminded every day of how much of an outsider I am, even in the family I married into. People with good intentions still don’t realize how pervasive racism is and how it has infiltrated this culture so deeply.
I’ve had to explain to my older daughters why their friends call me weird names during recess. Or why people think it’s funny to mock my pronunciation, never mind that often my English vocabulary is double theirs. Or how these same people can’t be bothered to pronounce my name correctly, and address me by another name just because it’s easier for them.
But I love living here, keep to myself a lot, and have had the joy of meeting many, many people in this area that are loving and caring, and truly try to understand. The things that have happened in the last few months have made me think more about what I need to model for my girls. I’m reminded of what I want them to learn from their mother, and why I came here. I’m very vocal, so they know where I stand on racism.
White Shade of Privilege
I’ve been privileged to be under my husband’s shade, in a way. It has saved me from many uncomfortable situations with people. He’s also very vocal about his support, and would readily use his voice and resources to help. But sometimes he can’t recognize it.
The remarks sound fine to him, because he’s so used to them that they are normal. That’s what we need to change, and that’s why it’s taking so long. We forget that some of our neighbors were around in the 1960s, and were on the wrong side of history then. It all seems so far in the past, yet a marriage like mine would have been illegal just a few decades ago.
People have told me, in instances when comments have gotten to me, that I need to understand that these people are old, ignorant, or that I misunderstood what they “really” meant. Somehow I’m always the one that needs to understand.
Racism Still Exists
We think that racism is just in the big things, like racially-profiling a black man, or assuming that a person of color may steal from you, or complaining loudly about you speaking another language to your children. I’ve had people hold on to their purse when they see me. These are the obvious acts of racism, usually done by strangers. And even though I might feel upset when it happens to me, it doesn’t really affect my life very much, for I’ve lived in a happy bubble, safe under my husband’s white privilege.
Reality has the bad habit of creeping back in, even when you stop reading or watching the news to avoid it. The killing of so many innocent and unarmed black people is horrifying, no matter what they were doing, for everyone deserves the same chance to live, to feel safe, and to run in a park without fearing for their life. Everyone deserves to play with their friends without fear of profiling, and to shop at the supermarket they choose, and to be safe in their own home.
Everyone deserves to just be, without fear.
“Little” Comments = Big Effects
That said, it’s the little comments (often called microagressions) from people you know that hurt the most. What I remember most vividly is not always what is said to me, but the reaction of the people around me. They laughed at the small “joke” someone made. Often, they’d rather ignore my discomfort and pretend everything is fine. Some perpetuate the myth that racism is something from the past, or that it doesn’t happen here. Or if it does happen, it’s mostly misunderstandings between people, and nothing more.
Like that time that I forgot my membership card at the gym (where I have gone for years), and made me wait 15 minutes while they looked at their computer and talked to several people. They eyed me and my ID suspiciously, for I don’t look like my name sounds. This same thing happened to my white husband, several times, and he walked right in.
Or the time a man almost assaulted me downtown because I refused to tell him the candidate I voted for. Some people on the street physically grabbed him away and told me to leave. No one called the police.
Or the time a relative spent 17 minutes explaining how to use shower gel, as if I didn’t know what soap was. People routinely explain to me the most menial tasks, as if I am somehow impaired. I used to think it was just weird, until someone else told me their story and I realized it’s a common occurrence for a person of color.
Or that conversation someone started with me about how people shouldn’t have children with people of other races (she thought the children would be born “with spots”). She’s not the only one that has said that to me either, just the most insistent. According to her, she is also “not a racist.”
Or the people that assume that I married my husband because I was desperate to come to the US. I had my own life before meeting him. My job actually paid me more than his when we first met. I was raised to follow my partner to the ends of the earth, if that’s what makes him happy. Yet still, there are times that I have people ask me if that’s why I married him, and it’s hurtful. If after 15 years they don’t believe I love the man, I don’t think they ever will.
Or the time in Target that a very friendly man said how “girls like me” are always good to white men. Nothing else feels more soul-crushing than being objectified by random strangers because of the way you look. Why he felt I needed to have this information remains a mystery.
I could fill several books with my experiences alone. And they’re not even that bad.
Learn Through Love
Being a person of color in this country is hard. Being a woman of color, married to a white man, with three mixed children, is not a walk in the park either. We need more people of color in office, more women elected, better laws, and more accountability.
We need to vote and continue to peacefully protest. Because it will change, I can promise you that. I’ll raise my girls so they continue to be anti-racist. And I know many other mothers in our community that are also doing that. In the end, all we have is hope.
We need to start somewhere. Like my other mother once said: people need to learn, either by love or by pain. And it seems to me that right now we’re are in pain and learning. Let’s try and shift it to love, for a change.