“You’re very articulate when you speak.”
The first time someone said that to me was in the Dean’s office sophomore year of high school.
“What do you mean?”
“You speak clearly and use proper English, not like the others that come in here.”
Up until that moment, I had no reason to think about the way I speak, and had not realized the varying ways in which those around me speak.
I also had not caught on to the underlying message in that phrase, but I did catch on years later when I was asked:
“How come you don’t have an accent?”
“What do you mean?”
“You speak well. Just wondering why you don’t have an accent.”
“I don’t understand. Why would I have an accent? Is it because I’m Latino? You know I was born in this country, right?”
“No, I didn’t mean anything by it. Was just wondering is all.”
He looked straight ahead and could not make eye contact. I was angry, but kept my composure. That question and following comment from my employer at the time has burned in my memory for years now.
From a young age one of my teachers told me I was rejected from advanced classes because of the neighborhood I was from. She also touched my arm and said “It’s also because of this. Do you understand? I’m sorry.” I nodded.
Pretty shitty to find out at a young age that you do not have the right skin color to learn more.
The older I’ve become, the worse the comments have gotten.
Back in 2004 or 2005, I began training at a shitty call center for an overnight job. The trainer was a guy not much older than me, probably in his early 20s at the time. One of his first questions to me was:
“You’re doing well. So, where did you learn how to use a computer?” Everyone within earshot laughed. It was a shock.
It was my first day on the job and I was excelling.
I was angry.
I needed the job.
I cringed for a moment and then fake laughed with them.
“School dude. Come on,” was all I could say before changing the subject.
Have any of my white friends received these sorts of questions before?
Last night at a baseball game, a group of friends and I sat in the same row with some other folks. A good portion of the seats were empty. I mistakenly sat in one of their seats.
“Oh you’re in my seat, but I don’t think my friend is coming. I’ll let you know if they show up.” She was a woman about my age.
I responded with “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll move over.”
“No need to, but we’ll play it by ear,” she said.
Six innings later, I got up to get some beers and hot dogs. Upon my return, an older man sitting next to the woman — maybe her Dad? — said to me, “That seat you’re in, that’s my seat. I paid for it. So don’t sit in my seat. You got that?”
I looked. No one new had arrived. The woman had not mentioned to me to move. When I said I would move, she said it wasn’t necessary. What changed in that period of time?
What does one do in this sort of situation?
In that moment, like in many other moments just like it, I had a rapid flash in my mind. It’s best to break those thoughts down into a list:
1. Explain to the old man that I had a ticket for the seat next to the one I was sitting in and had spoken to his daughter/niece/whatever, and we agreed that I would move if necessary.
2. Drop the beer and hot dogs on his head, and then punch his jaw until it would not close properly. And get arrested.
3. Tell him to go fuck himself. Sit in the same seat and wait for stadium security to drag my ass out and probably get banned from returning.
4. Say “Ok” and tell all of my friends to move over one seat so there would be an empty seat between the woman and me.
These options went through my mind in a split second.
I took a breath and said “Ok” and told all of my friends to move over one seat. They did not understand, and I did not bother to explain. I drank my beer and tried to watch the rest of the game in peace.
These examples are just a small snapshot of the daily racist microaggressions that many people of color receive. It is very difficult for me to write about this. It is impossible for me not to feel rage when recalling these events.
Yes, it is tempting to give in to the hatred and lose control, but what would that mean? Prison? Death?
No. I won’t give them the pleasure. It is this anger which I have learned to live with, to carry, and to use as fuel to feed my organizing.