There’s a lot of talk on the internet and most especially on my Facebook feed about racism. It’s bringing a flood of memories up to the forefront of my mind. It’s funny how you don’t see racism for a while and then it just sucker punches you in the face. You would think that we would be more evolved as a society to have abolished the color barrier. But here we are, still fighting.
When I was maybe 13 or 14 years old (I’m 42 now if that helps give you a time frame), my mom and I were at the local library in a small town in New Mexico waiting in line to use the printer. It was a very long line and moving slowly on a hot and sticky summer afternoon – I think it was a Saturday. I remember the order in which we were standing like it was yesterday. I was standing behind a gentleman who looked to be in his mid to late 50’s (he could have been older – at thirteen I wasn’t the best judge of age), slightly off to the side but about an arms length away from him and my mom was behind me. We were standing there quietly chatting with our heads together when the man in front of me suddenly whirled around pointing his finger at my mom and says, “You need to BACK up! We have something in this country called ‘personal space‘ which you obviously don’t know anything about!” He then turns to me, looks me up and down and says, “You’re fine, but YOU need to BACK UP!” Spittle flew from his mouth as he shouted at my mom (who was behind me, mind you) and jabbed his finger aggressively in her direction.
You could hear a pin drop in that library… No hushed murmurs. No page turning. Nothing – just a bunch of shocked faces turned to look on at what was taking place before their eyes. The man then storms out of the library leaving a stunned silence in his wake. The librarian, who had been standing behind the counter, walked over and timidly asked my mom if she was okay. My mom nodded her head “yes” but did not speak. I, on the other hand, was shaking. Why was it OK for me to stand closely to this man but it wasn’t okay for my Korean mother to be two persons behind him? Did I have enough white blood in me to not be offensive? I didn’t understand, and honestly, I still don’t. My mom feeling my fear and anger quietly reaches over and takes a hold of my hand. Giving me strength. And I’m sure getting some for herself. Looking back, given his age, he probably fought in Pacific Theater or maybe Vietnam. I don’t know. But,that’s another post altogether.
Although I’ve encountered racism before, never has it been so violently angry. These are things that form a person into who they are. This has always stayed with me. I remember telling this story to a black friend of mine years ago. I remember his words to me, “When things like that happen, you can’t let them see that they’ve rattled you. You have to have a thick skin. You have to be strong.”
Those word stuck in my memory because he lives with this type of bigotry every day. It’s not just an occasional lash out. It’s his life.
Hopefully my children will never experience racism, hopefully they will never witness it happening, and if they do, hopefully they will be strong enough to stand up and speak out.
I bring all this up because I was on Facebook today and one post in particular caught my attention. It really hit home because it somewhat mirrored my memory only it was a Korean woman and a half White/half Korean girl.. It’s a video called, Cracking the Codes: Joy DeGruy “A Trip to the Grocery Store”
I’m not comparing my life to that of a Black American, because we walk different paths. But if we don’t stop to notice the minor events (like my memory), will we notice the major ones when they happen. Will we think it’s okay because no one stood up to draw attention to the injustice?
My husband is of Lebanese decent, and our children are the quintessential American melting pot. We are very proud of our diversity. With the world in turmoil right now, I fear for our children’s future. I wonder what will happen. Because it seems that we have regressed in our country. We are moving backward instead of forward in our fight against racism. I hope that our children will be better people than what we are now. I may be a dreamer, but I have to believe… for their sake.