Hello, welcome to my blog!
As a young girl, I went to a predominately white prep school. I was one of four black girls in my graduating class. My whole life I grew up believing that I would be judged as an individual. I believed that people would see me for who I was, not the color of my skin and not my gender. I grew up in a bubble, where I was conditioned and protected from the harsh realities of the world.
The Summer after I graduated high school, I went to visit my friend who worked at a local pharmacy. I went into the pharmacy and saw my friend working at the counter. She asked me if I had a job lined up for summer, I told her that I did not. I was still searching and I intended to enjoy as much of my summer as possible. Nevertheless, my friend insisted that I speak with the manager about a possible summer position. Before I could object, she called the manager over and told him that I was interested in a summer position. Not wanting to be rude, I obliged and told the manager that I would be happy to have a summer job. The manager proceeded to ask me what year I was, I told him I was going to be a freshman in college come fall. He looked at me and said very casually, “to be honest, I would really prefer to hire someone who wasn’t about to go to college, that way they could work through the fall.” I politely thanked him for his time anyway. I trusted him, it was understandable that he would want an employee who could work throughout the school year. After all, my friend had been working there all year-long and it would be nuisance to have to train me when I would only be working a few months anyway.
I was naive. Months later, I was sitting in the car with my same friend and I asked her how her job had been. She said to me, “my job is going well, except my boss keeps hiring all these new people!” I looked at her with bewilderment, “yes, my boss keeps hiring all these seniors for two months before they go to college.” I can’t even explain how I felt in that instant, it was as if I was hit with my first dose of reality, my first dose of blackness. I told myself that I had asked about the job months earlier, maybe he had changed his mind and decided to hire seniors after all. Then it became apparent to me that in all my times in that pharmacy I had not once seen a black employee…could it be true? Maybe I was completely wrong. After all, people couldn’t still be racist in this day and age. I’m a hard worker, he wouldn’t just judge me based off my skin color…not me.
I was still in denial…Did he really just not want me to work in the store because I was black or was I just making something out of nothing? I’ve never been one to play the race card. I felt uneasy and unsure, but the thought lurked in the back of my mind continuously… Is this what it feels like to truly be black in this world?
I kept the incident to myself, I felt insulted and violated.
One day (five days before Christmas) my mother came into the house agitated. “What’s wrong?” I asked her. She told me that she had gone to a pharmacy to look for a gift for my father and she didn’t receive good customer service. She told me that when she went into the store, no one would help her. The woman behind the counter wouldn’t even look at her. It wasn’t until my friend, who happened to be working over Christmas, came out that she received any help at all. Even after my friend greeted my mother and proceeded to help her, the other woman wouldn’t even look at her, she wouldn’t show her where any of the lotions or body oils were, nothing. Whenever my mother asked a question, the woman would never speak directly to my mother, but only to my friend. My friend was white, my mother was black. My mother finally became agitated by the poor customer service, thanked my friend and left the store. When my mother told me the story, I told her not to be too upset because something similar had happened to me. I told her about my experience with the summer job and that it wasn’t her fault. I now knew that what had happened to me wasn’t just in my mind. I had received my first extreme dose of racism. Is this what being black is like in the real world?
I realized that my whole life, I had been in denial and sheltered from the realities that I would face as a black adult in the real world. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, I attended one of the best prep schools in my city and thought that all my life I would be treated as an individual and respected for who I was, not what color I was. That day in the pharmacy, I was brought into reality. I came out of my sheltered existence and realized…many people in the world will never see me for me. Some will truly just look at me and the only thing they will see…is my skin color.
I wondered how I could have missed this…how could I have been so naive to truly believe racism was a thing of the past. After all, it had been around me, my whole life. I began to think about all my experiences in my prep school. It occurred to me that while I sat in my bright, spacious prep school with a computer lab, wireless internet and a surplus of teachers, not more than 5 miles down the beltway, children sat in overcrowded classrooms with old textbooks, no computers, no wireless internet and not enough teachers, but more than enough metal detectors. I thought to myself, those kids live so differently than me, we seem so different, except for one obvious thing…we share the same skin color. We are both black. In fact, MOST of the children in THOSE underfunded schools are black. Yet, MOST of the students in my prep school…are white….
How could I be so blind to such blatant disparities?
I thought back to a time when I was younger and I went with my friend to her country club. I remember swimming in the pool and eating at the bar by the poolside, it was great. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that the very club that I had swam at, with my best friend as a child, had a policy that prohibited blacks and jews from gaining membership. Apparently, the country club opted out of a government-funded tax break, just so they could keep their membership restricted to whites only. The country club would have rather paid extra money, out of their pocket, than take a tax break and be forced to permit jews and blacks to join their club…how could I have been so oblivious?
I realized that when people look at me, many won’t see me, they’ll just see black. For many people the black kids in the rundown city schools and me with my prep school background are one in the same. When they see me, they see them and when they see them, they see me.
Now I know what it means to be black in this world…