A Lesson in Hate
Updated: Mar 25
I recently watched a video on Instagram in which a little black girl, no more than eight years old, spoke in an open forum about racism and expressed how she felt about being treated differently just because of the color of her skin. She struggled to get her words out through her tears. It pained me to know that, sadly, her pain is a burden that many (if not all) black children are forced to carry at a young age. It immediately brought me back to a time when I, too, became burdened.
When I was barely five years old, my mother and I visited my grandfather in England. My mother says that we stayed there for nearly a month, and I have seen pictures in which we visited all the famous tourist attractions of London. However, I only have one memory of my visit there, and it forever cemented my recognition of my color and its perception in the world.
It was 1979, and the only way for children to entertain themselves was to run free-spiritedly outside engaged in imaginative play. I did this every day with the neighborhood children, unaware of anything but the fact that we were having fun.
On one particular day, while engaged in a game of marbles, a little girl with a pageboy haircut, whose name I can't remember, inquired in her cockney accent, "Hey, do you know that you're black?"
"What?" I replied.
To which, she proceeded to point out the stark difference between my cocoa hand and her milky white one.
"See," she said. "You're black, and I'm white."
I knew that the color of my skin was different from the other children I played with. Still, I had no idea that, like the colors in a box of crayons, there were labels for this difference.
I looked at her and simply shrugged my shoulders. She did the same and then asked if I would come over to her house and play the next day.
When I went inside and asked my mother and grandfather, I was met with a swift and resounding "NO!" My grandfather yelled at me that I was not to go over there. I cried and sulked because I couldn't understand what I had done wrong.
The next rainy afternoon, I was bored inside playing by myself. My grandfather was at work, and my mother had stepped out. I was alone with my great-grandmother, who had fallen asleep on the sofa. I then, defiantly, left the house and traveled the two houses over to play with the girl with the pageboy haircut.
When I arrived, she was so happy to see me, and she quickly took me inside to show me her dollhouse, which we played in her living room as her grandmother watched on.
I have no idea how long I was there, but what happened next was burned into my memory forever.
Amid our play, a woman (I can only assume was pageboy haircut's mother) walked into the room and yelled, "Who let this n****r in my house!" I turned around, startled, and before I knew it, she was yanking me by the ear and dragging me to the front door. She then pushed me out the front door and proclaimed, "We don't allow monkeys in this house!" She then slammed the door.
I stood there in the drizzling rain and saw Pageboy Haircut at the window, looking at me, expressionless. I ran home crying because though I didn't understand what this woman said to me (I'm not a monkey! What's a n****r?), I definitely understood how she made me feel. Dirty. Hated. Unworthy.
Upon arriving home, wet, crying, and feeling broken, my great-grandmother paid no mind to the state I was in but was more concerned with my defiant departure from the house. As was the West Indian way, I got spanked.
When my grandfather and mother returned home and heard of my disobedience, they investigated further. When I told them where I went, what happened and why (as my mother pointed out) my right ear was red, they both lost it. After that, I only remember a lot of yelling, screaming, and again another spanking.
That's it. That's all my memory holds from an entire month in England. I was black, and there were some white people (or at least one) who hated me enough to view me as a monkey and call me a n****r.
When I got older and truly understood the significance of what happened, I was furious at the adults who were with me for seemingly blaming ME for what happened. After all, why did I get a spanking? Why hadn't they released their anger on pageboy haircut's mother? Then I understood. Somewhat.
My grandfather knew and understood the hate that lived just two doors down. He had felt its wrath himself, and it was an experience that he hoped I could avoid- if only I had listened. He was hurt and broken for me, and as was the way for people of his generation, he knew no other way to express his hurt but to spank me. I guess he felt that he couldn't control the hate, but if he could somehow control my behavior, he could protect me from it. This was a generational tactic.
Through the years, my mother and father took a different approach. I was taught to believe that my beautiful brown skin was an asset, not a curse. When visiting my family in the Caribbean for the summer, I'd always come back three shades darker. My father would call me his "Dark-Chocolate Baby," and this he said excitedly, affectionately. I came to love the sun and getting darker. My grandmother infused in me that there was strength in my melanin, no matter the shade. My family is composed of a kaleidoscope of brown shades, each one beautiful.
I am grateful for my parents' attempts to build me up against a world that could and would try to break me down.
I would like to say that my time in England was the first and last time I ever experienced racism or discrimination based on my skin color, but it wasn't- not by far. However, I wear my blackness proudly and as a shield against those who may choose to hate it.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.