My Truth.

Friday, June 5, 2020

I  have spent the last week with a heavy heart, outrage, and empathy for those currently in pain. As I call out the faults and truths of others -- I must also hold myself accountable.
I want people to know that racism does not reserve itself for solely those that are white VS. solely those that are people of color. This is a misconception I continue to see and will continue to debunk because it is false. Sadly we are all capable of racism or prejudice. Racist against our own race and racist against others outside of our own race. Racism can exist in strangers, acquaintances, and family interactions. And with that, I need to share my truths and my own story. I want to start off by saying that I am proud of who I am, what I have grown from, and all the change that has occurred in my heart in my last 29 years of life. Coming from a family that is multiracial is extremely complex. Complex for me because not only was I from a multicultural family, but I was also a product of divorced parents. This meant that the bulk of my childhood was not spent with a bulk of my family that represented my African American heritage. I make note of this because the behaviors and interactions that were had with African Americans on my mom's side were not always positive and did not mirror behavior that is morally acceptable.

Growing up, I was never treated differently by family (minus one incident I'll address a bit later)... but the presence of prejudice against African Americans was always there. The stereotypes or preconceived notions was the bulk of where prejudice came from in my family. I had a mom, who was well meaning, but who would spew off ignorant comments like, "I hate white people for what they did to black people" and in the same breath could criticize or insult a boy I liked by calling him "black, crisp, dark," followed by a slew of insults. Mind you, my mother was neither white or black. The hypocrisy was something I ignored, but I always knew was there. Inevitably, I grew up carrying some of those same prejudice ideals. I sometimes heard family members using the "N" word to describe an African American when they felt as if that person was ignorant, foolish, sinister, etc. It was something that was used so naturally. I never questioned it.

As I grew, so did my pool of friends. I remember going into my 9th grade year and having more black friends than I had ever had before. It was diverse and it was eye opening. I remember changing the way I dressed, the music I listened to, and really diving into this unknown culture face first. It was then that another form of the "n word" -- a socially acceptable and widely used amongst African American "n word" came about. I heard it in rap songs, I heard it used in my friend group, and I remember talking to my father on the phone once and I told him I was heading to the mall with my "N-----s"... he paused... and he said in a stern voice, "Call me back when you stop being ignorant." He hung up on me. I didn't know why he had gotten so mad. I honestly thought he'd be proud that I was finally embracing something outside of that "oreo" persona that I had been referred to so many times in my life prior. But to my dad, no form of the word was acceptable. I wish he and I could have had the talk about race much sooner than we did.

That friend group was short lived and had fizzled out by my junior year of high school. I remember when things came to a head. I was having a bad day, I was walking down the lunchroom and I heard someone yell, "What's wrong with the Barbie girl? Hey Oreo!" ... I threw down my things and I went straight to the girl who was yelling and I just starting yelling back. Her face, acne ridden, I puffed my chest and yelled, "Do you want me to fix your F***'n face for you, huh? I slammed my hand against the wall, walked away, and then went about my day.

Several weeks went by and truthfully, I didn't dwell on that situation anymore. I was walking home from doing some cardio with a friend of mine and I kept looking back because I felt like someone was watching me. There was a car going really slow down the street but it was in the school zone so I didn't think too much of it. A few moments went by and I turned around quickly once more but this time I saw that same girl from the cafeteria running toward me along with familiar faces that I had once called friends. Two of them male.

They started holding my hands behind my back, punching me in my head, tearing my headphones out of my ears, and kicking me in the legs. I tried to protect my face -- I don't even remember how long it happened for or how long it took for someone on that road to come out and defend me. An older white man had come out, gun in hand, and he had said, "Get off of her! Get out of here! Get off of my property!" Somehow we ended up in the yard of this man and it was with that that my hair was let go, headphones abandoned on the ground, and they ran back to their car. I was left with so much hurt in my heart. From that day forward, for a very long time -- I did not befriend a black person. Here I was, after experiencing new friendship.. bleeding and on the ground. This is where my prejudice truly began and rather than being hurt by the situation from those people, I blamed black people.

And now you all know. I have not spent my life free from prejudice, and in this case, my own ethnic group. I have used derogatory terms in my life, that I once used to justify the pain or confusion I felt but it was never okay. I kept thinking that my family was right. They were right to call out these stereotypical thugs. Until it happened to me.

Less than two years after that very incident, my Nana passed away. My dad's mom, without prior warning was here one minute and then gone the next. She had beaten breast cancer and for some reason I always thought that's what would take her life? In the end.. it happened during an unrelated E.R. visit. Life is cruel sometimes. Anyways. My Nana passed away but the day before I had been in the middle of a quarrel with my mom, grandma, and my sister. My grandma was visiting from Eastern Washington and she had been staying with us during her visit. My sister was walking out of the house in an outfit my grandma didn't approve of and she spoke up. It resulted in me defending my sister and essentially disrespecting my grandma with my show of defense. I left my house that day thinking I felt bad but that I'd see my grandma later and we could work through it. Except later never came because I was racing to the hospital to see my Nana one last time. She was cold, my dad's eyes filled with the saddest tears, and I decided to go home with my dad instead of back to my mom's house that night.

When I woke up the next morning, I checked my Facebook, my myspace -- the usual typical teenage social media line up. I had a new Facebook message and I clicked on it. It was a message from one of my grandma's sisters. I didn't know her very well --- she had visited Washington before but never lived here.. so a message from her was a little strange.  In it she expressed that she could not believe that I would disrespect my grandma. She called my an ugly, black, nigger. And she said now I had no grandma or Nana. Her last sentence was, "How does that feel?" and I read that message over and over again. Tears falling down my face.

I remember shaking. I remember my skin feeling like it was on fire. I remember focusing on that word that I had heard so many times before but now it was being directed right at me. She saw me as an ugly, black nigger. It was then that I realized how deep that word cut and how much weight it held. I was flooded with regret when I thought about how often I heard it and allowed it to be used in my presence. I thought about all the ways in which the word was used socially that people don't seem to mind.. and at the end, I was reminded of what my dad said during that phone call we had. The ignorance rooted in using such a painful weapon is inevitable to ignore. I was seeing that full circle.

Even after that incident I would go on to use that word on three separate occasions. I can recall them all. I pooled myself in this group of unworthiness and whenever I felt like trying to make other black people feel low, I used that word to hurt them, too. It's heartbreaking because I have never felt ashamed of being black, or a person of color.. but here I was feeling unworthy because of my color and allowing myself to hurt other black people the way that I had been hurt. I had this moment shortly after where I just cried, and I cried for quite a few days. I hated being this person. So, I had to do the work in rebuilding and understanding. I read books, mostly about the beginning of black culture, oppression, the fight for freedom, and literature about the "n" word. I wanted to know why this word was still around for the hate to leave my lips and the generations that would come after. With a lot of soul searching, worthiness, and appreciation of culture, I made a change. I hate that this is something that is apart of my story but I am glad that it won't be apart of my kids and their stories.

One of my favorite Aunts recently said to me this year that when we know better we do better. And it is forever engrained as one of my mantras. I know better, and I DO better. The things is, I haven't found it in my heart to forgive and forget being called that. I also don't expect those that I have spewed that hateful word to, to forgive me either. What we do to people and how we treat people can be long lasting. The initial blow may heal but the pain you cause when you use a weaponized word like that remains.

I hope sharing this with all of you doesn't make you think less of me but instead bring about more understanding that racism, hate, and divide doesn't just occur between white people and black people. I hope it makes you realize that there are white people who have never used such hateful words of racially motivated actions, but there are black people, like me who have. The complexities will remain but the one thing we can do is educate ourselves, do better, talk about race, call it out when you hear the prejudice, and remind ourselves not to box people in, simply due to their color.

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