Read that title. Read the title again. Read it one more time. Then, ask if you grew up the same way.
The kid in me wants to believe it was unintentional. The well-intentioned and educated grown up in me wants to believe it's not true. The human being who is tired of waking up each day to violence perpetuated against people who are Black knows that it's real.
To be a person in the United States (because that's the only place I have grown up) means that I have grown up anti-Black. From the moment I came into this world, I was told how pretty my "light skin" was. I was advised not to spend too much time out in the sun because I "shouldn't get too dark."
I grew up singing childhood songs that used the n*word so much that I didn't even realize it was "not a nice word to say". Back then, we didn't even call it "the n*word." We sang it on the bus. We sang it on the playground. We sang it while skipping home from a friend's house. No one ever told us not to say it. No one ever told us because, frankly, I believe they were using it and thinking it, too.
When I was in middle school, my friend dressed up like Ziggy Marley -- her favorite singer -- and we saved up our money to buy dark foundation from the local CVS and sponged on this dark makeup, twisted her light-brown hair, and "dressed up like a Jamaican." No one told her to change her clothes when we got to school. No one told her how inappropriate it was. No one told her it was offensive. I didn't know enough not to to think this was awesome.
I only knew two girls who are Black during my entire time in kindergarten through high school. I didn't have any relationship with them other than a brief shared stint as a cheerleader in 6th grade a bus ride and on a student council trip in 7th grade.
I was in honors history and English classes; went to a well-resourced public school; and was active in town sports. In school, I learned that people who are Black were slaves; that they picked cotton; that they sang field songs; that they were professional athletes and entertainers. Of course, I had learned in my formal schooling about Martin Luther King (but not Malcolm X) sometime in February and Harriet Tubman (again, when we were talking about slaves). I don't think I learned about Rosa Parks until I was in college.
The first time I had ever heard about Malcolm X was when the movie Malcolm X was released in the theaters. It was late in my senior year of high school, and all of my friends said, "My parents told me not to go to the movies when Malcolm X is playing because all the Black people are gonna try to beat us up after it's done."
I didn't see that film until I was a senior in college. I watched it by myself in my dorm room. I still have that VCR double tape sitting in a box in my living room.
I showed up to college and it was my first time meeting peers who are Black, and for the first time, heard about W.E.B. DuBois; Alice Walker; Zora Neale Hurston; Toni Morrison; Angela Davis; bell hooks; Cornel West. These names were strangers to me my entire life.
Now, you may be reading this and hating me. You may be reading this and knowing that I am part of the problem.
You'd be right. I am part of the problem.
I hate these parts of my story, too.
I'm angry that this is my personal narrative.
I'm angry that this is my journey.
I'm angry that, some days, I convince myself that it's not my fault that I grew up in an environment that was just so rooted in stereotyping of people who are Black. Oh, but it's not my fault that my early life was void of any messages that would affirm Black identity and Black culture and Black history and Black issues and ... anything, anything that had to do with people who are Black. Then, I remember that it's not my fault, but the consequences are my responsibility.
I'm angry when I try to make myself feel better and say, "But, I'm a good person...." My head goes there.
I grow even more angry when I realize that a system of supremacy created this. That, through ignorance and/or intention, the stories of powerful Black people were left out of my development and upbringing. The stories of slavery and dependence were the ones that were told to me. The stories of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" were the ones that were told to me. The stories of "don't go into the neighboring city after a certain hour because those people are all drug addicts and criminals" were the ones told to me.
And, I grow even more angry when I admit that, as a fellow person of color, anti-Blackness is part of my narrative.
I've tried to change some of those things. I am heavily involved in curriculum reform to include (and center) more accurate stories of people of color, particularly people who are Black. I moved into that very city that people said was dangerous. I have open conversations with my children, since they could walk and talk, about race, about the beauty of Blackness and parts they self-identify as their heritage, and work to educate people in my age group and generation about how we grew up.
As an Asian American, I own that my own community has had problematic approaches and education of our own. I have grown to understand just how my own community was set up to be anti-Black. Through systems of education, society, praise, "model minoritizing", being made to feel like I have to set an example, whiz-kid rhetoric, and honorary Whiteness, my very identity was pitted against Blackness. I was given messages that I should distance myself far away from Blackness and Black communities and Black people. I grew up knowing that I was me and they were those people.
I grew up with messaging that was so toxic and poisonous that I still have to check it every single day.
I check it every single day that I look into the eyes of my husband and his family who, through complicated histories of Puerto Rico, run shades from light to dark. I check it every single day when I brush out the tightly curled hair of my oldest child, feeling strands wrap around my fingers in ways that my own straight, smooth, flat hair does not. I check it when I tell my son, "No, I will not buy you that toy gun, even the one that looks like a neon play thing" out of fear that he will be in our front yard when someone calls to report him to the police.
I check it every single day I wake up.
I check it every single day I go to bed.
I remind myself that I am a product of anti-Black education and socialization.
I have traveled far from my days of sheer ignorance; but I cannot settle. I will never falsely tell myself that I have moved past prejudiced thoughts and biased feelings. I won't ever lie to myself about my own journey that includes anti-Blackness.
News stories and violence against people who are Black have already convinced me what happens when we do.