A Week in My Skin
Monday, January 4th, 2002
Cranston, Rhode Island
I was four the first time I experienced racism. It was a cloudy Monday afternoon. My mom and I stood in a graveyard. I was standing in front of the crowd of my family that surrounded me, clutching my mother’s hand tightly as I watched a group of men lower the casket that held my great grandmother into the ground. I looked up to my left at my mother’s face. A deep frown graced her pink lips and she wore dark glasses that covered her chocolate brown eyes. I caught sight of a few tears trailing down her cheeks before she hastily wiped them away. I wasn’t very close to my great grandmother, Rose. I only remembered seeing her during the holidays and an occasional birthday because she lived in a different state. But to my mom she meant the world. She was the only person from her adopted family that actually treated her like she was family besides her father. At the time I didn’t understand this, but even at that age I could tell she was in pain, so I clutched her hand a little tighter with my smaller one, hoping to give her the support she needed.
At four years old my attention span was very thin, so my eyes constantly wandered the scene around me. I took in the people my mother told me were my “family”. All of them wore dark colors, and more than half of them were crying. My eyes wandered to the sky that was almost completely covered in grey clouds. I caught the sun trying to peek through the cracks between the clouds, as if fighting with the clouds to get through and try to brighten such a mournful day just a little bit.
I looked at the ground, at all the little stones in the grass that read the names of those that lied underneath them. I looked under my feet and cringed when I realized I was standing on top of a stone that read David Calling. I quickly moved backwards, muttering a quick sorry to David, and bumped into a hard body behind me. I turned and looked up at a short, sickly thin older woman with pale, wrinkly skin, and wild, short orange hair. As I looked up at her, her green eyes seemed to glisten as they glared down at me and I couldn’t help but shrink away.
I started to open my mouth, an apology ready on my lips, but before I could say anything she made a disgusted sound in her throat and frowned deeply. “Disgusting little nigger girl, get away!” she spat angrily as she brushed her hands down her deep blue dress that clung to her thin body like a second skin. I hastily backed away from her, my eyes filling with tears. At the time I didn’t understand what she had called me, but the amount of hatred that flowed through her words shook my core and immediately fear filled my heart.
Suddenly a hand grasped mine and I jumped, looking up to see my mother glaring at the woman in front of me. They glared at each other for what seemed like hours to my four year old self. Finally my mother let out a disgusted scoff before leading me a few feet away from the mean woman. She picked me up and rested me on her hip, rocking me back and forth and whispering that it would be okay. A few years later I found out that the mean old lady had been my mother’s adoptive mother, and I couldn’t help but cringe wondering what my mother went through growing up with such a nasty woman.
Tuesday, November 13th, 2004.
Providence, Rhode Island
In the second grade there was a new girl in my class. Her name was Emily Johnson. She was shorter than me with pale, white skin, long, wild curly blonde hair, bright brown eyes, and freckles that littered her entire face. The first day she arrived the teacher put her at my bench and we clicked automatically over our messy finger paintings.
Later that day we played at recess and I introduced her to my best friends, Dean Oliver and Blaise Sevano. We all connected immediately and spent the hour playing some weird game that our six year old minds made up that involved lava and running away from dragons.
After school ended we walked out of the front of the building together where kids who got picked up waited for their rides. We sat on the front steps, looking through one of Dean’s comic books, when a voice rang through the crowd.
“Emily!” the voice screeched and we all jumped. We turned to see a woman who looked like an older version of Emily hastily making her way towards us. Emily beamed at her mom, oblivious to her anger until suddenly she was yanked up from the steps.
“Emily, what did I tell you? We don’t socialize with those type of people,” she said angrily, casting my boys and I a nasty glare. My boys and I shared a confused look, not understanding what she meant. We stared after Emily sadly as her mother pulled her away.
The days after that incident Emily ignored me like the plague. I spent those days still wondering what her mother meant by “those type of people”.
Wednesday, October 4th, 2006.
Long Island, New York
When I was eight years old I used to live in Long Island, New York. I absolutely hated it there. I lived in a town mostly full of white people who hardly ever saw, let alone spoke to, a black person. This made school very difficult for me. Not only was I picked on for my skin color, but I was constantly picked on for my size and being too shy. Coming from the mostly all black populated town of Providence, Rhode Island, I was never used to this treatment and had a very hard time dealing with it. I didn’t have any friends so I spent most of my time alone.
One day when we were let out for recess, as usual, I found myself sitting alone on the swingset. And like I did everyday, I watched as everyone laughed and played with each other and was sad that I was never a part of that. I missed Dean and Blaise, who I always played with at recess and protected me from kids that picked on me. I felt a pang in my heart as I remembered my best friends. Tears threatened to leave my eyes and make an embarrassing journey down my cheeks. Here I didn’t have anyone on my side.
By now I understood what the word “nigga” meant. At this school people loved to throw it my way. I glared at the ground every time, trying to prevent the steaming hate that threatened to boil at the surface of my heart for these people. My mother always taught me it was not good for me to hate. But here, that was very hard. They had their own little nickname for me; The Nigra. They found it amusing. I did not.
Thursday, April 13th, 2008.
Coventry, Rhode Island
I stared down at the body of a young boy lying on the hospital bed. The boy was slim and tall for his age. His usual smooth, dark chocolate skin was deathly pale and littered with scars and bruises. His eyes were closed and if it weren’t for the black bruise around his eye, the scars around his face, and his busted lip I would have thought he was at peace.
“It’ll be okay, Dean,” I whispered, running my fingers across his forehead.
Just yesterday I had been at his soccer game, cheering loudly as his team brought home the win. I had come to see his last game before the summer came. I was glad that my mom moved us back to Rhode Island, but now I lived across the state in Coventry, the whitest town in all of Rhode Island. It wasn’t as bad as Long Island, but the side glances were taking some time to get used to.
After the game had ended Dean promised to come to my house after he showered. I had gone home happy and excited to have my very best friend over for the first time in weeks. When I got home that night I immediately set about making macaroni and cheese for us to eat when he arrived. It was after I made the meal that I noticed that an hour had passed and he still wasn’t here. The field they played at had been just a couple of minutes away, so I grew a little worried. Soon an hour turned to two hours. By now I had called him three times and each time I got his voicemail. Two hours turned to three, then four, and then five hours later not only was I worried sick but so was my mom and his grandmother, who was his guardian.
It was the sixth hour when I finally got the call from Dean’s grandmother that led me to the hospital seat besides my unconscious best friend. The more I looked at the bruises the more the doctor’s words rang through my mind. Two broken ribs. Dean got two broken ribs from being jumped by a few angry kids from the opposing team that had lost the soccer game. From angry, white, privileged kids that were mad they lost to a “dirty, black team”. Angry kids that said it wasn’t fair. Angry kids that jumped the boy who was alone and helpless against six other kids.
And where were these six angry kids that hurt my best friend? At home, peacefully asleep, with no worries of any trouble dancing in their dreams. And where was my best friend? In a hospital bed, half dead, with no justice coming his way.
Friday, September 6th, 2012.
Coventry, Rhode Island
I watched the waitress warily. I thought today was going to be a good day. I was out with my friends, having fun at Denny’s Diner, expecting to have a great night. And I would be, if the waitress wasn’t terribly rude. It wasn’t as if she was rude to the whole table. No, just me. She glared at me as soon as I had entered the diner. She glared when she walked over to my table. She tried to walk away without taking my order. She spilled my Sprite all over the table. And now she glared as she came to collect our dishes.
I watched her carefully as she gathered our dishes. I watched as she put all of my friends’ dishes on the tray and lifted it onto her shoulder. She met my eyes as she picked up my plate with her other hand, and I didn’t miss the fact that she used a towel to do so. I watched as she went through the doors with the dishes and disappeared for a few minutes. When she came back out she still had my plate in her hand. She met my eyes across the diner and held eye contact as she threw my whole plate into the trash. I looked down and suddenly felt ashamed to be there.
That was the last time I went to that diner.
Saturday, June 18th, 2016
Coventry, Rhode Island
It was a bright Saturday afternoon. I was excited because my two best friends, Dean and Blaise, were spending the weekend with me. We had decided to take a walk around Coventry. I had lived there for eight years and they still hadn’t really seen the town, so I decided to give them a tour.
As we exited my house and started walking into town my two friends stood on either side of me. Dean stood to my left with his small afro perfectly trimmed, his big glasses that he didn’t really need, but he wore for style over his bright brown eyes, and his usual wide smile as bright as usual. One hand was stuffed in his ripped jeans while the other fiddled with his favorite black bowtie that sat on his purple button up shirt. On my left was Blaise, who was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome with his tall stature, dark eyes, and square, strong jaw. Both hands were shoved into his dark jeans and he also wore a button up shirt, his black. I had my arms intertwined with theirs and a big smile on my face as we walked.
Ahead of us was a girl. She was petite with short, blonde hair. Her back was to us as she walked ahead,so I couldn’t see her face. In her left hand she carried a purse. As we laughed at some dumb joke Dean made she glanced back at us, and suddenly her green eyes widened. Her head snapped back around and suddenly her purse wasn’t by her side anymore, but disappeared from view as she clutched it to her chest. My eyes narrowed in confusion, wondering what suddenly caused her changed in demeanor.
Before I could blink the girl turned right and sprinted across the road to the other sidewalk. I gasped as the girl dodged an oncoming car, missing it by a centimeter. As the girl reached the sidewalk she shot us one more frightened glance before running away, still clutching her purse to her chest.
I stared after her and asked the boys why she did that. Dean looked down at me, his eyes no longer shining and his bright smile gone.
“Because of us,” he said.
And suddenly he didn’t have to explain it to me anymore. I knew. And the fact that I knew made me sad. And suddenly it wasn’t a bright Saturday afternoon anymore.
Sunday, June 19th, 2016.
Coventry, Rhode Island
“Dear God, it’s getting harder to deal with the racism. The more I grow the more of it I experience and the harder it is to push it aside. Everyday I ask myself if I should continue to let the comments and looks slide or do I finally stand up and try to make a change? Could I make a change? A simple girl like me who can hardly get the courage to open the door and pay the pizza delivery guy? I don’t know…. Even if I did, God, I don’t think racism will ever go away. Sadly, I believe racism will be one of those things that always sticks around, even if it’s just hiding in the shadows waiting to jump out at you. And because of this I have to stay strong. Like my mother taught me to be because the minute I drop my smile and let the tears that fill my soul fall down my cheeks the ones that claim that I do not deserve to be on this earth will be triumphant. They will smile in victory as they watch me fall to the ground, just another brown face in the dirt. So please, God, I ask you to give me the strength to get through the next week. And please give me hope for a better, fair world in the future. Thank you.”