One method to tackle fear is exposure. BCManda takes on her fears in her installments of “My Fears as a Black Woman in America”. In her debut installment, BCManda talks about her most present current fear.
For as long as I can remember I knew I wanted to be a mother.
My immediate family is small, consisting of my parents, my older sister, and myself. Family always came first. It still does in my book. Not much has changed. However now, as a thirty-five year old married woman with an established career -the question presented is:
“When are you having children?” or a variation of that.
I know I am not the only woman who gets asked this, nor will I be the last. While growing up, I wasn’t exposed to the notion of racial prejudices. I was taught to be good to everyone. Plain and simple. Deep down, I knew something was different about me. It wouldn’t reveal itself to me until fifth grade and wouldn’t strike until the seventh grade.
Bath time was spent furiously scrubbing myself raw. In my heart, I believed if I scrubbed hard enough all this brown stuff would come off. I’d be pretty and white underneath it all. Just like everyone else. So as you can imagine, I was a pretty clean little girl…considering the crippling circumstances of that behavior.
WHAT I WAS LACKING
Knowledge is a powerful tool. Awareness is equally as powerful.
Having both at one’s disposal makes for the best foundation for defense against the grittiness of the world. My parents made an active decision with me that varied from the decisions they made for my older sister. I’m the youngest of two, and as the oldest, they put more responsibility on her tiny shoulders than mine. They had to prepare her faster than me. If I’m honest, it is because she has a darker complexion than me. Our parents needed her to be more aware of how the world would see her. We both got “talks” but they were not the same. They didn’t realize how underprepared and vulnerable I truly was.
In seventh grade, I encountered my first definitively racist person- an educator in my junior high school. She was my science teacher. I got held after school. Which was a big deal since my father had a short window in which to pick me up before going to work. I didn’t become a latch key kid until I was in high school. Terrified pales in comparison to how I felt back then. I had never walked home from school alone because I was never allowed to do it.
A friend of mine was also there. Lets call her “M”. M and I were talking at the end of class, and this educator didn’t care for it much. At the end of the day, we sat in silence on opposite sides of the room. M immediately started crying for being made to stay. Twenty minutes later this teacher allowed her to leave. My fear began to set in, and within moments my own water works began. Instead of compassion, I was met with something much darker.
“Your tears won’t help.” She said to me.
“I can’t stand people like you!” came shortly after the first statement.
Unsure of what she meant I began recalling the end of the day.
She can’t stand loud people?! I was talking quite loudly…That has to be what she meant? Right?!
This teacher made me sit in silence for an hour and half. While walking out of our school at 4pm (instead of my regular 2:30) I saw my mother’s car.
My mother was a fair woman both in her judgment and skin tone. (Many didn’t see the resemblance since I’m much darker than she was.)
She was all kinds of angry. Mad at her long day, mad at me making her and dad worry. She demanded to know what had happened. It was then that she noticed that my eyes were wet and my breaths were jagged. We sat in the car for a while as I recounted the events of the last hour and a half. When I told her what this teacher said to me…her expression changed. First, it softened…and then… it grew stern.
“What did she mean by PEOPLE LIKE YOU?!” She shouted at me.
I blurted out nonsense … loud people, maybe kids? She demanded to know which teacher this was and promptly ended the conversation with “Well I will be coming back to talk to this (teacher’s name) because this is BEYOND unacceptable!”
There was so much rage behind my mother’s eyes. The heat off her body was intense. She called my father ranting about the event. I didn’t hear his reaction or response back. I sat in silence feeling more ashamed than I did sitting in that classroom.
Sure enough, the next day, she didn’t go to work. At lunchtime she arrived at my school and went straight to the vice principals office. Now for clarification, my junior high school had a black vice principal, “Ms. B”. My parents knew Ms. B personally. At the end of the day, I was called to the principal’s office. He sat behind his desk, the vice principal next to him, my mother opposite them and seat next to her (for me I figured). We spent the after hours going over the events of the previous day.
When we were done, they called in the teacher involved to attend. She passed us in the hallway. I couldn’t look this woman in the eye. My mother stared straight ahead.
“Don’t you ever let someone speak to you like that ever again Amanda!” My mother blurted as we got into the car. My mother told me what my teacher meant with her words. She wasn’t referring to loud kids as these “people” she couldn’t stand. It was black people and since I was the only one in that class…particularly me.
That night, my mother had one of many “talks” about the world. More specifically -how ugly it was going to be for me from time to time moving forward. People were always going to judge me harder than my white friends. Ugliness was present whether it was invited or not…
Everyone knowing what happened embarrassed me. I didn’t want any more unwanted attention. My parents let me stay home for two days. The following Monday when I entered my science class the teacher didn’t look at me at all. Science wasn’t my strong suit so I didn’t often raise my hand to answer questions. My desire to be invisible increasing with every passing moment.
As the bell rang, people rushed to their lockers. When my name was called, the teacher asked me to come up to her desk. I hesitated, mentally preparing to go straight back to Ms. B’s office. I remember gripping my binder tightly as I approached.
Her voice was monotone and she didn’t mince words. “What I said the other day was unacceptable. I’m apologizing to you. Do you accept my apology?”
I quickly accepted and exited her room.
As an adult now, I’m more than certain she was ordered to apologize. It wasn’t heartfelt or genuine. After this incident, my parents became hyper vigilant in my street knowledge. It was time that I understood some things. The time of being a child were officially over. It was time to get real.
My dream job was to be an actress on Broadway. My parents never OUTRIGHT dismissed it, but they would often say things to me like “I was too fat for Broadway.” I admit here that I’m not a small woman by any means but weight is something I can change (for the most part) or they’d hit me with my personal favorite: “you just don’t have the right look for Broadway”
Newsflash this was code for “You are black, and there aren’t many black people in theatre or on Broadway” So when it came time to go to college, I picked something deemed pragmatic and practical: criminal justice.
HOW DOES THIS FIT?
So why do I bring this up? How does this story tie into my fears as black woman in America? My story was of a biracial mother (my mother) having to stand up and be a champion for her children. I, myself will one day be a biracial mother. I doubt she thought I’d be facing similar monsters. In fact, if she were still alive, I am sure I’d have plenty of conversations with her about this very thing! Since I don’t have her guidance, my fears are that much more magnified.
MY FEARS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD
These are my fears:
- Bringing life into this world…ESPECIALLY right now when the world is on its head spinning like a top about to topple over. I am in an interracial marriage- to a lovely, considerate and CONSTANTLY funny white man.
- Bringing children into this world and having to prepare them for the ugliness that is outside of the walls of our home.
- Not preparing them enough. Their skin won’t be thick enough. I know mine wasn’t…
- Penalization for the melanin they can not control.
- My children feeling unwanted and ugly- as I still do all these years later.
Despite all the hardships I have face, I still have hope. Because of our current situation I don’t want to perfect future just a better one. Through sharing my personal stories, reflections, and opinions I hope to inspire others like me to do the same. My voice alone isn’t enough, but with more voices comes an undeniable sound. As Ghandi once said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Our time is now.