I recently shared a story about my daughter and her school to a friend of mine. It had to do with how at the beginning of the year she was placed in the wrong class by “mistake” and how once I spoke to someone, she was placed in the AP class where she was supposed to be in all along. My friend, who for the most part is a seriously enlightened woman when it comes to issues of race and politics and other things, looked at me and said something to the effect…. “So they simply made a mistake, right…. And anyway, that’s your thing right, what you are always looking for….” (She meant… That thing having to do with looking for racial reasons to explain “mistakes” like this in life)
I tried to explain that those kind of “mistakes” happen to people of color all the time. That in a school where my daughter is one of only four children of color, they not only placed her in the wrong class at the beginning of the year, but the class they placed her in was for students who needed extra support. And once the “mistake” was pointed out to them, she jumped ten classes up to an AP class. My friend looked at me with a look that stood by her original words… That’s your thing right.
What a thing to be my thing that I seem to share with other people of color?! All the small “mistakes” that add up to a systemic assault against Black people. My Haitian friend who wanted to get advice about medical school from her H.S. Guidance Counselor only to hear these words, “Maybe you should think about becoming a nurse instead.” (Today she is a doctor) And I know of many people of color who have been given similar forms of advice from their Guidance Counselors and teachers.
The time in H.S. when a friend of mine was kept on the bench for game after game. This was even though he had a crazy shooting hand. He was only put on the court after his mom came to the school and let the Coach know that she was all too familiar with these kind of “mistakes”, the kind of “mistakes” that never seemed to affect his other teammates, all-white-other-teammates.
The time when a teacher of mine “mistakenly” spoke about the idiocy (her words) of news programs centered on Black Issues to a class of fifth graders. I was the only Black kid in that class and I clearly remember how she “mistakenly” kept looking at me as she lost her mind over the idea that Black people would need their own news programs.
The time when a young woman of color I mentored was “mistakenly” mistreated in a hospital during her pregnancy and left with a debilitating medical condition that almost took her life. That hospital has a long history of “mistakenly” mistreating women of color.
The time when a friend of mine, another pregnant woman of color, was “mistakenly”mistreated in another hospital and, as a result of that mistreatment, gave birth to a child that was permanently affected by that “mistake”.
The times when a young man of color, a young man a friend of mine mentors, gets “mistakenly” stopped by the cops on Staten Island because he fits the description… He has been “mistakenly” pulled over by the cops ten times this year alone.
The time my mother and her boyfriend, both seniors, were “mistakenly” pulled over by cops for fitting the… Because God knows that older Black people, one a retired Bank Examiner and the other a retired United Nations International Civil Servant, are the kind of people to fit a description.
The time when my Guidance Counselor “mistakenly” forgot to send my transcript to my second choice college and I only discovered it when I got a rejection letter from that school. And when I asked him what happened he said I shouldn’t worry about it because it was only Hampton.
The time when the black man was “mistakenly” shot when he had his hands up while lying on the ground. He was the caretaker for a child with special needs and cops “mistakenly” put a bullet in him, the same way they “mistakenly” put bullets in other men of color this past summer.
Like the time when the cops “mistakenly” put handcuffs on a mother (mother was not a suspect, but she was a witness to murder) in front of her baby girl as her fiance bled to death after having been “mistakenly” shot to death. (Philando Castille — Innocent of any crime. Shot in his car after getting pulled over and letting cop know he had a registered gun in the car)
The time my nephews were “mistakenly” pulled over by the cops for walking in a white neighborhood… “mistakenly” dragged off a train with guns pointed at him for fitting another description… “mistakenly” slammed onto the hood of a police car for fitting yet another description.. “mistakenly” accused of stealing from a store… (Today one nephew is a Professor from Yale, another is a Social Worker, another is an Actor and another is a Hospital Administrator)
And then there are the countless other “mistakes” that happen every day to all my Black friends in their schools, their jobs, their communities, all those “mistakes” that go seen and unseen, all those “mistakes” that assault you on a daily basis and, if left unchecked, will do as much damage as white men with torches marching down Charlottesville streets. White men with torches can be met with people of conscience willing to stand up and fight back. And we saw that on TV over the weekend. But how does one stand up to something that many times seems only visible to you and hardly anybody else?
The only thing I can think of is that we, people of color, must address every “mistake” in every setting! We cannot shrug off any error made that puts us or our children at a disadvantage. We must not let people “mistakenly” miseducate our children, “mistakenly” lock up and shoot our men, “mistakenly” mistreat our women, “mistakenly” cripple our babies and or “mistakenly halt our progress as a people!”
So if this is my thing, then so be it… Though, not for nothing, I think it was America’s thing before it became mine….
(And for those of you who don’t know, we call these mistakes acts of Subtle Racism.. Something Black people learn about in Racism 101)
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