Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The dark spot in my past

I say "the" dark spot as if there's only one. But, there's one experience in my past that I alternate between wishing it never happened and being grateful that I went through it and came out stronger. Because it helps me understand what others are still going through and suffer through daily. Folks who are made to feel less than human because of who they are, because of the color of their skin, because they don't look like people around them ...

There's a lot of back story I am going to skip because none of that matters to my story. In 1999 or 2000, I ended up moving to Tullahoma, Tennessee with a white guy (this piece of information is important to the storyline), in order to get myself back on my feet and not go crawling back to my family in shame (little did I know that might have been my best option but I was too proud ... ok, fine I was young and stupid).
My first indication of something being wrong should have been the way people would blatantly stop and stare at me. Or being ignored if I walked into a restaurant in front of the white guy I was with. Or, how people wouldn't really talk to me unless I was with him. Or, the way a cop talked down to me with a very hostile undertone, when I was at a store alone. He even asked me what I was doing in that town and who I was with. Think back to the last time you were asked that while picking up some groceries at your local store. And, I kept ignoring the signs. The truth finally came by, opened it's huge mouth and bit me in the ass the day I was arrested.

Have your jaws lifted yet? The white guy thought he would teach me how to behave by lifting a hand against me (don't worry, he's still alive and breathing somewhere, and if he isn't, it was natural causes). I didn't take too kindly to being hit. (I've left a lot of incidents out) I hit back and walked out. The neighbors called 911. Cops came. Took one look at me, another at the white guy and told me to come with them. I was shocked silent. The entire way to the police station, the 2 cops in the front of the squad car kept up a diatribe about their town going to hell with these "foreign types" moving in. How women and specially women "like me" not knowing their place. How this should teach me a lesson to control my mouth. I am documenting one incident in the span of 3 months where I probably heard something similar at least twice a week.

Thankfully, they let me make a call before trying to book me. I called my aunt in CA who told them that I'd be on the first flight out of their town the next morning, if they would just take me to a motel for the night. I couldn't be more grateful for whatever she said to them or how she found me a way out of that hell hole. I was just glad to get out of the police station where I was very well aware of all the hostile looks and comments being made. On the way to the hotel, I got a very nice lecture about how they hoped I'd learned my lesson. How I didn't belong there (like I hadn't gotten that message already). about how they didn't really know what I was anyways, was I mixed or something? And how they hoped they'd never see "my type" in their town again.

If you are a white male, I am sorry but can you even imagine that? Being treated worse than a family pet? As a woman of color, I alternated between wanting to do something that would definitely land me in jail or worse and just curling up and disappearing. Even thinking of those few months of my life makes my heart race, my hands colder and tears spring up in my eyes. I rarely speak of it because even now it has the power to make me feel ashamed, because I feel somehow that I did something wrong ...

I cannot imagine how as humans, we can treat somebody so bad that we don't see them as fellow humans. My ordeal wasn't even that bad, there are people who suffer worse ever single day, every single moment of every day because their skin color isn't lily white.

Racism is very much alive and thriving in every part of this country still, some places more than others. We have to identify it in our thoughts, words and actions. Stop joking. Stop ignoring. Start facing. Start confronting. Even if you are not racist, people around you are. Stop walking away. Societies don't change because a large group of humans suddenly rise up. It comes from individuals standing up one by one to create a large group speaking out against injustices.