Since the death of George Floyd, the protests that followed, mandates for justice and for others to see us, people of color as real human beings, I have been thinking about racism in my own life a lot.
Almost day and night. All day and all night. It gives me anxiety.
The continual news onslaught of people dying in the streets 24/7 makes me curl up in my bed in silence some days because it’s just too much.
As violence against us continues, protestors are begging us to say the names of those gone too soon. The list of names is getting way too long and it’s making a lot of us sick. Literally.
Lately, I have had a situation that happened decades ago on my mind—a lot. In fact, I’ve thought about it probably most days if not every day of my adult life; particularly in recent years.
When I was in second grade, a beautiful little white girl with the prettiest golden blond hair in my class passed out birthday party invitations and skipped me and 2 other black girls in our class.
I remember walking over to her while she played with some toys during free time. The conversation went just like this.
“Hey, I can’t come to your party?” I said looking at her thinking she must’ve forgotten my name.
She looked up and said, “My mama said no niggers.”
I knew nigger was a bad word and now that I think about it, this happened in the mid 70’s so desegregation had just happened a few years prior.
I remember the painful feeling I felt that day. That was the only time I remember someone calling me that, ever. Although she didn’t actually call me that, it was implied that I was in fact a nigger.
Has the word been hurled at a group of us as our high school played a rival football team in South Carolina? Yes.
Did someone spray paint the word Niggers on the building at our high school in the 80’s and piss off all the black students? Yes.
Has someone yelled Niggers out of the window of their car at us in college while cruising around our small college town with my sorority sisters? Yes.
But to my face? Nope, that was second grade.
See, whenever I’ve had the talk with my children, I always mention this little girl by name and how she called me nigger in second grade. My kids know her name and I had held onto it unknowingly for 44 years. It was a memory that had made itself home or shall I say a sprawling mansion in my head.
It had been part of the fabric of my being until June 13, 2020 when I decided to use technology to see if she had any social media accounts.
Of course, she did!
I stalked her page a bit to see if there were any confederate flags, I hate black people memes or all black people suck rants. There were not. (At least that I could see from public view.)
Then I sent a request for us to connect. I told my daughter I’d reached out to “Jenny” and my daughter asked me why. She knew why—because I’m Daphine and that’s something Daphine would do, duh.
I second guessed myself and went to rescind my request, but she’d already accepted and responded positively. She said I was one of her favorite friends from school. (Really?)
Since the door was open, I responded and said I looked her up for a reason. I told her there had been something on my mind that involved her from way back and asked if we could video chat. She said sure and wondered if it was something bad. Since I am a cut-to-the-chase kind of person, we exchanged pleasantries and I told her what I’d been holding onto from the mid 1970’s. I explained how it shaped the way I talked to my children about race and how given the most recent racial events, it had been on my mind pretty much 24/7.
When I mentioned the incident, she didn’t remember it particularly, but did say she remembered her mom saying she could have a party but no n’s could come. (She did not say the actual word.)
We talked for an extremely long time. My daughter kept coming to my office asking if I was still on the phone with the “lady.” I introduced her and Jenny said, “Yeah, your mama is talking to that racist white lady!”
Tears were shed and she says her mother still feels the same way all these years later. However, Jenny says she never did and still doesn’t share her mothers’ views. In fact, their relationship is pretty much nonexistent right now and that made me sad especially after losing my mom earlier this year.
Jenny’s life is much different now. She’s married with kids of her own and one of her kids is in an interracial relationship. (Imagine that, grandma!)
Near the end of our almost 2 hour conversation, Jenny wanted to show me her tattoo and guess what?
How ironic is that? Of all tattoos, she has a semicolon like I do. When I showed her mine, she said, Daphine we have more in common than I thought. She was right.
Laughter, tears, regret, love and a host of other emotions I can’t explain were shared on the video call that night. I was so happy that I followed my gut and reached out. It certainly helped me to have the necessary closure I needed and to release something I’d held on to for way too long. (Words do hurt but they can also heal.)
I’m glad people are having more open conversations about race right now. I’ve had to disconnect from some people and embrace others. It’s ok. We don’t have to think alike, we don’t have to agree on everything, and we don’t have to be fake friends.
If you know anything about me, you know I am a woman of faith and many of you know my testimony. From a religious standpoint I wonder how others can praise God and not think about the countless lives lost at the hands of racism each year?
- Are you part of the problem?
- Is there a belief you’re better because you were born with no melanin? Are we to be discounted because we were? It makes no sense at all.
- How can you say you love me, your only black friend, but look at television and call black people monkeys? Ask why are they acting like that? The guy was resisting…bla, bla, bla, wonk, wonk, wonk.
We are tired.
Look deeper than the actual fight for justice.
Why do we have to F-I-G-H-T for justice at all? No other race of people in America are having to fight for justice. It’s called systemic racism. It’s time for a change and the change starts at home. What are you saying to your children? What are you saying about your coworkers behind their backs?
As for Jenny and me, I am glad we had the conversation face-to-face. It was life-changing for me and I believe it was for her as well.
Thank God for modern technology!