Updated: Jun 17
Guest post by Abbe Hanley, Language warning
My earliest memory of racism is from elementary school. A boy told me my skin was “dirty like poop” and I believed him. I was maybe five years old and the only black kid in my school. This boy told me my beautiful brown skin was “dirty like poop,” and I believed him. I cannot imagine my mom’s heartbreak when I came home and asked her about it.
I am a Black Woman and I am also Jewish. I have been the butt of jokes for longer than I can remember and I just accept it; I take it on the chin because I have been conditioned to know that I must be more resilient than the bigots I will undoubtedly encounter. Some of my earliest memories are about how to deflect and ignore hate.
But I am tired. I am so very tired and I am fucking angry.
A few weeks before George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police I suffered two separate heinous and racist experiences. I told only a few of my closest family about it because even then, I knew I “got away unharmed” and felt foolish for being angry. Then, just a couple weeks later George Floyd was murdered by four members of the Minneapolis Police Department and his snuff film went viral. I decided my experience was totally insignificant because I got away. I was emotionally traumatized but I was alive.
I am biracial and have light skin. I am still a Black woman. My daughter has fair skin. I still remember the searing pain when some family mentioned how they “thought she would be darker” hours after her birth. Our complexion is all that is different in our appearance. This beautiful baby has my wild and curly hair, my little button nose, my thin upper lip, my broad and contagious smile. She is my twin. That being said, she looks white and you would never know her mom is a Black woman. Unfortunately, I have come to learn this means that racist people will target us.
When I bought my home, I chose a neighborhood that was walkable, close to her future schools and our place of worship, near to emergency services, and vibrant. I picked a “nice” neighborhood. Unfortunately, it is not bigot proof.
The first racist to approach us in my neighborhood saw me toting our wagon with my daughter and our takeout order in tow. He slowed down to pull along side us and remark that “you can buy anything at the store.” Luckily for all of us, he was satisfied by his one liner and rolled away.
Not even two weeks later, a white man stopped his truck, jumped out of his vehicle, snatched the handle of the wagon from my hand and shouted at me that “the nanny should not be taking a baby out without wearing a mask.” I was paralyzed. I am not one to back down from confrontation but this was different. It was a long trained and frankly instinctual and primal response: STAY CALM. STAY QUIET. GET AWAY.
I didn’t tell him that my twin is my baby. I didn’t rip his throat from his neck and shove it down his mouth like I wanted to. I was obedient and quiet. I took back the handle of our wagon and walked briskly down the street, around the corner, and half a block down to our home. My baby never knew I was angry or scared. My sweet baby even waved goodbye as we rounded the corner.
I have been so angry that I did not punch him square in the throat, not even for the insult of assuming I was the paid help, but because this stranger put himself in between my baby and me and I did… nothing. Still, I know that as a Black Woman I needed to just get away from the situation without making the racist more uncomfortable. I also did not want my three-year-old daughter to see Mommy being violent, and most likely arrested, for defending my family.
I was already feeling so defeated and then... George Floyd. How could I possibly complain about these relatively minor transgressions? So I didn’t. As I mentioned, I had told only a few close family members and then just clammed up. I decided I just would not take the wagon out. We would walk a different way. I would once again choose to change my behavior to minimize the chances of another encounter like this. After all, I’ve been preparing for this my whole life.
But the other night I broke down. I finally shared my experiences with a friend. He did not fully understand his white privilege and I think he believed these overt acts of racism were pretty far removed from his circle. He was in tears for my daughter and me when I explained what had happened to us. He asked me why I hadn’t shared my story and I tried to explain that every time I talk about it, I have to relive it and it cuts so deep that I am not sure how I will recover.
I still am angry with myself for being complacent even though I know it was an act of self-preservation. I know that had I flipped out on that man, the police would have been called and (even if I were not arrested) the experience would have been traumatic for my daughter.
I know all this, but I am still overwhelmed with guilt.
After sharing this story with my friend and family, all of whom are white, they just kept saying how they would have probably gotten into a physical altercation with the racist and been okay. Honestly, we all understood any one of them could have been walking with my daughter and not been challenged in the first place, but in the unlikely case they were, they knew they could react violently and it would have been “okay.”
I will not lie; I know it is true and it just adds a layer of rage and guilt because I can’t.
I called the police and tried to file a report but what he did wasn’t actually a crime. He was driving a “company truck” and that is all the information I can know.
I watched my white friend have a moment of realization. I watched him break down and I felt “bad” for making him cry. He asked again why I hadn’t shared my story and I realized that if it could have such a profound effect on him, maybe I do owe it to other potential allies to share this local story and experience.
If you have a story like this, or anything at all you would like to share with a wider audience, my space here is also yours. Openly, freely, without judgement, and with confidentiality if that is your request. -- Heather