was 7 years old the first time I was called a nigger and to say that it didn’t feel good would be another link in unsung, watered down history. Up until that point, my underdeveloped sense of time allowed me to think that racism and prejudice people were things that came and went ages ago when people hadn’t even figured out how to get color in pictures and movies. Up until that point, embarrassment was only when I would accidentally fart out loud and the scariest moments were when my brothers would jump out behind walls to scare me. Up until then, I thought I was safe from hate.
Coincidentally, that day had been fated to be one for the books a whole day prior. This was because instead of meeting my mom at the front gate of my school per usual, she had decided that I was now big enough to meet her 3 blocks down the street. At the time this was a huge steppingstone for me because my ultimate goal was to get her to allow me to ride my bike home like some of my other friends were already doing. It was of the upmost importance that I show her how able and “grown” I really was on this day.
With what was probably a TLC or Spice Girls song playing in my head as the soundtrack of my grown woman journey, I marched boldly ahead. I remember little lightning tingles of anticipation zinging my stomach and fingertips as I whipped past the endless flood of my peers on the sidewalks. You wouldn’t have been able to tell me that I wasn’t walking in slow motion with fire behind me because I could see the wisps of smoke drifting about clear as day.
Then just like that part of a movie when the record skips, the whole moment shattered into reality…
It was a very loud, aggressive, and angry reality. One that meant so much to the group of young men that were driving by in their faded yellow pickup truck that they felt the need to lean so far out of the windows and bed of the truck that I could feel the heat of their breath on my face and that word reverberate in my ear like a canyon. It was so alarming that myself and a few other kids next to me jumped away from the street while stumbling into one of the hordes of kids.
The truck drove on and was gone as soon as it had come leaving me to absorb what just happened. I was seven years old, but I knew what that word meant. I knew it was the mean word that white people used to make black people feel bad about being black. I also knew by then (thanks mom and dad) that I was no nigger and that just because someone calls you a bad name it doesn’t make it true. So, in that moment, I was only startled halfway out of my shoes and in no way considered that what they said was warranted.
It wasn’t until I looked around and saw every single set of eyes on me did my fear transform from being simply startled to being soulfully horrified.
Every. Single. Kid. Was. Staring. At. Me.
Me. The only black kid on the street within probably a 5-mile radius. I had been invisible just moments ago and now I was the center of everyone’s attention. The newfound silence on the street was deafening and their stares were piercing. I felt my throat constrict; my stomach disintegrate. My heart exploding over and over again with every beat. Each breath becoming harder to consume then the last and every pore of my skin was stinging.
Did they all think I was a nigger?
No, I wasn’t color blind. I knew I was the only black kid in my classrooms and in nearly the whole school for that matter, so I knew – if nothing else – that my skin would always make me different than most other people. Up until that point however, no one had ever outwardly pointed this out for everyone to stare at. Up until that point, all of my classrooms and T.V. programs had encouraged manners, friendship, kindness, etc. and most of my friends were white kids who didn’t treat me differently. So, up until that point, I had no reason to believe that I should be singled out.
Yet, here every single kid was staring at me. Whether they were just staring to see what I would do or just because they didn’t know what else to do wasn’t the issue. The part that hurt the most was that their attention on me confirmed that I was, without a doubt, an actual other. They didn’t need to look at each other for comfort or support because there was no possible way that slur was meant for them. Every single kid, big and small, knew the word nigger was for black people just like I did and therefore, this was my problem to deal with alone.
Being alone in a sea of kids just for being black was now the new most terrifying and embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. I marched forward much faster than I had before to get away from this reality. My mind was utterly blank. It wasn’t until I saw my mom waiting for me did I get my thoughts back. I wouldn’t tell her what happened. I didn’t want to worry her and give her a reason to confirm what I was now thinking for the first time. That maybe I wasn’t ready for big girl things like my friends. Maybe I was actually less safe just because I was different.
That was the first time I was called a nigger, but it wouldn’t be the last. It also wouldn’t be the last time that my body would constrict, explode, disintegrate, and sting due to feeling like an other either. It would happen every time we’d reach the slavery section in our history books which, for some reason, was always a greenlight for my classmates to stare at me as if doing so would help them understand the lesson better. It would also happen every time news of racial injustices occurring against POC would roll around and I would have to watch and listen to people actually try to justify those injustices or ignore them.
It wouldn’t be until I was 31 years old in summer of 2020 when I would get to experience what it feels like for my body to overcome one of these “POC PTSD episodes” as I have come to call them. I’d have to watch another other like me named, George Floyd, die senselessly at the knees of law enforcement, which would be the trigger. This time however, instead of hordes of silence and ridicule, I would watch as a world record of humans from nearly every corner of the earth came together to stand for George and all others like him. It would be nothing like I, nor my ancestors had ever experienced before. It would be a beautiful and unprecedented beacon of hope for me and others like me that we weren’t alone anymore.
We still have a long way to go, but I am positive that together we can continue the marathon towards the more perfect union this world was meant to have. I am eternally grateful to be alive in this moment to grow and be able to help bring about change with all of you. Please continue to stay informed, motivated, active, supportive, safe and united.