We, for a moment, were children.
I was born in Kings County Hospital, in Brooklyn, New York on January 16th, 1991. I later found out that this was the same date that George H.W Bush declared war on Baghdad. I always thought of this as a symbol of the world that I was coming into, a world that welcomes new life but also, a world that fails to value it.
Growing up In East Flatbush and in Crown Heights Brooklyn the neighborhoods had large demographics of, Afro-Caribbean, African-American, Hispanic, East Asian, and Orthodox Jewish communities. With the exception of the Orthodox Jewish communities who were majority descendants from Eastern Europe, there weren’t any white people, to be frank, who lived on my block. On the block, we played Double-Dutch barefoot and drank a shit-ton of 50 cent sodas. We ran down the street screaming red-light, green-light, one two-three!until our lungs were sore and scrapped our brown knees on the pavement and at the end of the day we always ended up playing with dolls at someone’s mom’s house. We, for a moment, were children.
In Elementary School every Black History Month we had to do a project about one of three people, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and Mae C Jemison, who was the first Black woman to travel into space. I knew their names and I knew what they did and that was it. In the mid-90s and early 2000s, there weren’t signs that said “no Blacks allowed”. No one ever demanded us to look them in the eye and call them “sir” or “Ma’am” My family is Jamaican immigrants who migrated to America. America or Brooklyn has always been a place that they aspired to be, in my mind.
Racism I thought, was something that should be felt? My world did not look like the world Dr. King had lived in and his dream was fulfilled, right? I remember my mother watching the Amadou Diallo case and I sat on the floor of her room, I didn’t quite understand the violence because the violence I thought was not happening to me. It took me years to realize that Black bodies were not valued in this country, and over the years my confusion came from the fact that Black people across the diaspora still aspired for America, despite this fact.
Later on, in college, I was introduced to “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin, and this book changed my life. White Supremacy was not something in the past it is here in the present. It affected the ways that we are taught in schools, it affected the areas that we lived in and why some areas were given more funds than others. It was the reason that the Black people in my neighborhood had to hustle to try to make ends meet and mainly ended up in jail.
Systemic Racism was the reason we could only afford to live amongst each other in the “ghetto”, where the schools were underfunded and the streets were filled with trash. To get a decent education required going elsewhere and “making it” exclusively looked like a world that did not include Black people which was not a coincidence. This is why White people did not live on my block, but still owned the majority of the apartment buildings. I was not safe, I was ignorant.
Racism even affected how we dealt with each other and how we valued each other. I remember a family friend, of one of the girls whom I hung out with on the block came to visit. She was very light skin and she had long thick red hair that was tied up in two tight ponytails. We went to the park and ended up back on the block. I noticed that one of her ponytails was shorter than the other, earlier in the day this was not the case. This caused a huge issue. I was accused of cutting her hair which I know for fact, until this very day is not true. I was with her all day along with everyone else. I wouldn’t have had time to do such a thing.
The girl’s mother was pissed and I don’t remember a lot, but I remember an adult on my block came to my defense, but the mother still walked away believing it was me because I was jealous which is what she repeated multiple times. And how could she have known this about me when I had just met her daughter that same day? In my young mind, I did not understand how layered this incident was.
The mother believed her daughter was far superior to us all. And we (I) must have wanted to harm her because “we were jealous”. Her daughter, who was much lighter than she was, was her “in”, her acceptance into a White world, and anyone who came to take that away from her was the enemy.
I saw her mother walking past my building one night with a guy. She had a can of beer in her hands. And she looked at me and said to the guy, slurring her words “that’s duh girl who cut my fuuucking daughter’s hair. Yea! Her hair was up to here!” and that’s why it grew back longer.” Someone did cause harm to her child and though it was not myself, this is the unfortunate truth. And because of colonialism many immigrants still aspired for this country because they had few opportunities in their homelands, an unfortunate truth as well.
We, for a moment, were children.
The world around us viewed darker-skinned Black girls with more textured hair as unworthy of grace and invaluable. I knew that I could never measure up to the girl who visited the block because she attained Eurocentric standards of beauty, but at that time in my mind, she attained “Britney Spears” and every Barbie commercial I saw on TV. So, this is when that seed was planted in my brain, this is the scale I used to measure my self-worth. This was the effects of White Supremacy. And this, and many other incidents like this I had witnessed, on “my block” where my mother rented an apartment.
The fact that I wasn’t taught honest history in schools was intentional and it took me well into my 20s to have this realization. My father, a Jamaican Immigrant, has a large painting of JFK Jr, in a gilded gold frame that is hung up in his living room. He always would tell me that this is the best country in the world. My parents idolized this country because they were able to live here, they couldn’t “warn me” of any harm because to them, this country had more opportunities than the former and I now understand.
America has failed to live up to her ideals and Black people have always remained loyal to her and in my opinion, have been more patriotic than many. White Supremacy in society and other words anti-Black racism is insidious and it’s not always easy to point out, which in turn, makes it even more dangerous. But I am glad that more conversations are happening. Listen to my discussion titled “It’s the White Supremacy for me” Link will be posted soon.