I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts on racism in America, but it has been difficult to find the words. Yes, I am a blond haired, blue eyed, white American woman. I’m also a member of the Choctaw tribe. I lived in Central America for a few years. I’m married to a hispanic man from Nicaragua. My two girls are biracial. And I have a dream. So before you write me off based on my ethnicity, hear me out.
A week ago I was watching tv with my husband and a commercial for the movie 12 Years a Slave came on and I started crying. I think my husband’s first question was, “Are you pregnant?!” That was a negative by the way. Not pregnant, just an emotional wife. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Do you know what I think of when I hear those words from his famous speech? I think of my two beautiful girls. I hope to God that they aren’t treated unfairly because they are “brown” or “mixed”. I know racism isn’t dead. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve been hurt by it. I have wounds caused by it too.
I’ve never been judged personally because I am Choctaw. I don’t look Choctaw. Some of my family looks it a little more than I do, but not enough that you would assume it. I didn’t grow up around the tribe and their traditions, but it is my heritage and their hurt is my hurt. I hear people say things about the indians all the time. We are called lazy. Drunk. Jobless. Lifeless. A dead people. We have an unfair advantage. We are mean. We take advantage. We have much more than we could ever earn. We are poor. We are crazy. We are stupid. We are brutal. We live in teepees. We aren’t civilized. I hear it. I hurt for my people.
You tell me that racism doesn’t exist anymore, and I’ll tell you about one of my husband’s first experiences in this country that we call home. This was before my husband spoke much English. He didn’t even have a job yet since he was waiting on his work visa. We had a friend that owns a Jersey Mike’s give us some free sandwich coupons. We used to go into a local store and get sandwiches often until one day one of the employees looked at him and accused him of stealing them from behind the counter somehow while they weren’t looking. They were always all standing there when we walked in every day. There was never an opportunity for this to even happen. I told him that was crazy that we would never steal something like that, and he said, “I know YOU wouldn’t, but he did it. He’s sketchy.” Really? I stood up for my husband and the employee changed his story. “Well, maybe he didn’t steal from our store, but there’s one in Edmond. He stole them from the Edmond store. He used to work there and he stole all the coupons when he left.” I explained that he didn’t even have his work visa, hadn’t been working anywhere—least of all there, didn’t speak any English and had just arrived in the country. He told me that was a lie. He was fluent in English. He worked at Jersey Mike’s in Edmond (my friend’s store that gave us the coupons by the way) and that he was a thief. He told us he wouldn’t serve us because my husband stole from them and from other Jersey Mikes. He looked at him with disgust, but somehow I was okay. I was white. I was white and he was not. Racism is alive and well. It’s not just some old people. It’s everywhere. By the way, I haven’t been back to that Jersey Mikes.
People say, “It’s imagined.” “It’s not real.” “Only some people’s grandparents are like that.” “You assume the worst.” Let me tell you something, I often assume the worst. I admit it. That’s true. But when you’ve been in situations where people call you out because you are married to someone of a different color, where people make comments directed at your kids because they are biracial, when people say hurtful things “whispered” loud enough that you can hear them, you start assuming the worst. Every person that points, sneers, or gives you a disgusted look becomes connected to racism. It could be that I left my house with curlers in my hair and in my bath robe (okay, so that has NEVER happened) and I might associate it with racism. The reason I do this is not because I’m necessarily looking for racism every day, but because I’ve had so many bad experiences in such a short time that I ASSUME (just as you ASSUME that racism is dead) that someone is giving me a dirty look because I’m part of a biracial couple. I have good reason for assuming, and I’ve only been married for five years. We dated in Central America, where we didn’t have any problems, and I never dreamed we would have them here. I was unprepared for the looks and the hurtful words. I. didn’t. know. I couldn’t have. I grew up where differences, especially in color, were not pointed out to me. I didn’t see it. I didn’t see black people, white people, or brown people. I just saw people. I expected the same. I was so unprepared. So naive.
My baby girl broke my heart the other night. She has a Figaro cat that she got at Disney World and she loved him. He’s from the movie Pinocchio. When we asked her if she wanted to sleep with him she kind of sneered at him and said, “No. He’s black. He’s different.” (She obviously failed to notice that he’s white too.) I just wanted to cry. It’s happening. It’s started. It’s at school. It’s real now. We had a long talk about it and someone at her school had told a black kid in her class that he was different so they didn’t want to play with him. My heart broke for this kid in her class. For the kids that were mean to him, because they are young and impressionable and this is what their parents are teaching them, whether they mean to or not. It rubbed off on my daughter. One day it will hurt my daughter. She hasn’t even realized that my husband and I are not the same color. She hasn’t seen or understood the implications of her having darker skin. She knows that we are different because we speak Spanish. She knows that she is different because she has “crazy curly hair”, but she hadn’t begun to understand that people may judge her because of the color of her skin. We had a long talk, but I still dread the day that someone says something to her because of her heritage… Worst still, the day that she will understand it when it’s said…
And it all comes back to this, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I have this same dream. Sometimes it keeps me up at night thinking about it. The white people (note: me five years ago before I married a hispanic man) who have never experienced racism are ignorant to the hurt it causes. They aren’t usually trying to ignore it or pretend it’s not real. They. just. don’t. see. it. It’s a hard thing to grasp when you haven’t experienced it first hand. I’m still the white girl, but I’ve now experienced it too many times through my family. I think that we have come so far since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made that famous speech, but I don’t think we are there yet.