It was the year 1999, and I was only four years old. I could remember sitting, looking out the window, waving to my grandparents because my mom and I were now on our way home. The streets were long and narrow and the car jerked every so often because of the bumps in the road. We were on the east side of town. Within a couple of minutes I saw red and blue lights reflecting off of the windshield, and I witnessed something I had never seen before. My mom looked out the rearview mirror and became nervous, almost as if she was scared. She pulled the car over and two police officers approached my mom with their guns drawn out at her. I immediately screamed and began to cry; as a four year old I connected guns with words like “bad” and “death”; and there they were, pointing those “things” at my mother. When the policemen realized that there was a child in the car, they drew back their guns and gave my mom the okay to continue on her way.
At a very young age I was exposed to the human nature of mankind. The same stereotypical policemen who unlawfully pulled out their guns and aimed them towards my mother, were the same policemen who had the compassion to draw them back when they saw that there was a child in the car. I was protected. But the little girl that sat in the back seat of that car would not be protected forever. She would grow up and be exposed to the same evil, the same hate, the same injustice, and the same un-acceptance that her mother experienced on that day.
It is bad enough that society categorizes you because of your ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; but I never knew that I would experience that feeling of un-acceptance within my own race.
I uploaded a picture of myself to Facebook once with my caption reading “Black is Beautiful”. To my surprise, someone of my own ethnicity commented and said “But you’re light skin”. Does my being light skinned make me any less Black amongst my people? Does it make me any more Black in society? Growing up, I never thought I would have trouble being accepted between the two.
It is hard enough living in a society where there is a set hierarchy in relations to one’s ethnicity; expecting the day to day ignorance and injustices from hateful people because this is what we are taught. We are taught that if you are a certain race it is okay to live by the stereotypes. We are taught that Mexicans are not good for anything but stealing our jobs in America; that Middle Eastern people are only capable of holding jobs at your local convenient store or being affiliated with terrorism. We are taught that a man walking down the street can be looked at as suspicious because he is black, that they are violent, that they are criminals. Why is it that if you are any ethnicity other than white, one person’s faults can generalize for that whole race? No two people are the same. My brother was not the same.
My brother was a scholar, an athlete, and a young high school student on the rise to be scouted to any division one school in the nation he wanted to be a part of. Yet, all of that could have changed even though my brother was not the same. Last year, most of our senior class went out for a field trip into China Town, which required public transportation (the Metro Train). While on the way back to campus the train got stopped; and two policemen paraded through and snatched two students; one which of which who was my brother. “What are doing?” Those are my students!” said Mr. Hyland, the teacher in charge. “Calm down sir, we’re just doing our job, there’s been a robbery at the local convenient store, and these two boys fit the description.” answered one of the policemen. ‘Impossible! They have been under my supervision the whole time.” But regardless of what Mr. Hyland was saying, they had their minds made up and they pulled my brother and his friend off of the train. The description of the robber which we later found to be; black male, braided hair, jogging sweat suit, fit neither of their descriptions. But there they were, pointing their guns at my poor brother and his friend while their knees sat upon the cold concrete ground with their hands up. They aimed those “things” at my brother, just like they did my mother. After quite a while of humiliation, they were let go. But those policemen knew that they were innocent; they knew that they had the upper hand. They knew that if one of those boys did not comply, that they could have taken matters into their own hands, because they are after all “above the law”. But where would that have left my brother and his friend if things did get out of hand? Dead or in jail? The thought that either one of those things could have happened if those two boys did not “behave” accordingly, regardless of how unjust those policemen were, scares me. So if you ask me what it is like to be a young black woman in America, I will tell you that I am scared, I will tell you that I am vulnerable, I will tell you that I do not feel safe.
There are certain things you learn in school, but there are more important lessons to be learned throughout life that academics cannot prepare you for. At the age of four I was exposed to how hateful the world could be if you did not look or act a certain way. Every day I worry about my safety, the safety of my family, and my friends. I am my mother. I am my brother. I am my cousin, who was unlawfully gunned down by an unjust policeman. I am my uncle that lost his life due to gang violence, who was not even a part of a gang. I am my aunt, who was raped by a man who shared the same skin as her, because of his insecurities and self hate. I am all these people and more, because every beating, every death, and every unjust act, kills us all, a little bit, every time.