When I was a little kid, about 9 years old I think, I made the major mistake of using a word that I regret to this day. It was a word that I don’t think I’ve ever repeated since. The N-word.
At the time, I did not realize the ramifications on those I aimed it at. I was repeating a rhyme that I had learned with a cousin. Trying to be funny. But it wasn’t.
The boy whom I insulted had an older sister. She had walked up just in time to hear my sing song rhyme.
She walked right over to me. And I got an earful. At the time, I was mortified. She was a popular, older, smart, pretty black girl. I apologized to her and her brother. It was an important lesson that I never forgot. I was so embarrassed and ashamed.
One of the things she explained was that black people get labeled and categorically discriminated against just because of their skin color. And I knew this because of the occasional lessons in school about Martin Luther King but it was the first time for me to be aware of it in real life.
Tonight I was talking to my 12 year old about what happened in Ferguson. She has very strong opinions about what’s right and fair. We talked about society and racism and how blacks, especially young black men, have been suspected, arrested, and shot because they are seen as “thugs.”
We talked about what can be done to make life better in this country. That we have the responsibility to vote, to reach out, and even run for office to make a change. We talked about school social life. And how friends treat each other.
And I remembered Stacie. The neighbor that taught me that lesson long ago. And I was thankful. Because she spoke up, I learned to be better.
People are going to be racist. Because it exists socially and systemically. But we can’t just turn a blind eye. We have to do better. And speak up.