Today’s guest post is from a former classmate in Detroit. She writes a letter I could have half written myself. The parts she writes to her daughter about what may be to come are things I have thought myself. The worries about the cruelties she may have to suffer in school without my protection. I can’t relate to the parts about being targeted, but I do remember hearing hurtful things in school. This is a letter that all parents to children of color will be able to relate to. The knowledge and worry about what your child will almost certainly endure at too young of an age.
As I write this, I think of you, my little love – tucked snugly away in your bed tonight. Cherubic. Dreaming.
You’re only four years old and so blissfully unaware of any feeling other than the love that exists within the walls of our home.
You are treasured. You are loved. You’re my baby girl.
As your mother, I wish I could shield you from all of the ugliness and injustices that exist in this world.
Someday, your peers or their parents, may comment on my nationality. They may ask why my eyes look more almond-shaped than yours. They could be kind about it. Or, they could be cruel.
I wish I could tell you that there’s no such thing as racism, bigotry and prejudice – that these are as imaginary as the monsters under your bed.
But, I can’t.
So, before I send you out into this big, beautiful world to secure your place in it– I want you to understand that there is also an unpleasant side to it. There’s a shadowy underbelly to our nation’s history—and to human nature itself. You will learn some of this from textbooks – in History class. And, some of this you will have to learn on your own.
I had my first taste of racism in kindergarten.
It was then, over paste and construction paper and finger-paints, that one little boy called another little boy the “n-word.”
At the time, I didn’t understand the true weight, the sheer hatefulness, of the word. And, most likely, neither did the little boy using it. But, the look on the other kid’s face told me all that I needed to know.
It wasn’t until I got home, and I asked my parents (your grandparents) what it meant, that I truly understood.
Of course, I got the watered-down, “after-school special” definition of the term, but the point was still made: Don’t ever say it. It’s cruel. It’s hateful. It’s racist.
The second dose of racism came in middle school. Only, this time, I was the target.
It came shortly after our class was required to present a “family tree” assignment that detailed both sides of our family – going back at least three generations. Until then, I don’t think many of my classmates were aware that I was of half-Chinese descent. But, they were after that.
And, after that day, they never let me forget it.
Words like “chink,” “Jap,” “slope” and “gook,” were spat at me by kids I had known most of my life.
Again, I had no idea what those words meant at the time. But, they were uttered with such venom, through gritted-teeth by my classmates. And, they were almost always muttered in hushed-tones – so that no authority figure would hear.
And, after I looked up each word, one by one, in the dictionary, I knew why.
These words – harsh and cold and cruel — were designed to wound. To label me. To marginalize me, strip me of my individuality and make me feel like less of a person. And, for a time, it worked.
Each day, every slur seemed to chisel away at my self-esteem. After a while, I faked illnesses to avoid going to school. I lost interest in my classes. I held my head a little lower.
It took me a long time to view my heritage – our heritage– as beautiful and unique and not as some sort of genetic curse that made me stand out as a subject of ridicule.
I never want you to feel as I had. And, my hope is to raise you to be the kind of person who would never make anyone else feel that way.
Be kind. Be compassionate. Be better than the people who, one day, may try to steal your light or those who wish to extinguish the light of others.
Stick up for yourself. Stick up for those who are too fearful to stand up for themselves.
Have the courage that I never did when racism was staring me straight in the face.
Don’t run. Don’t cower.
Know you are more than the label someone may affix to you.
Know your worth, because I do.
Bio: Andrea K. Farmer is a single mom living in the Detroit area who works for a major metropolitan newspaper. The loves of her life are her little girl, Jade, and writing. She is currently working on a fiction novel.
This guest post is part of a series for Black History Month where writers/bloggers talk about their feelings and thoughts about race and how it affects their every day lives. For more info on this see this post or see my Submit Guest Posts page.