I am 26 years old and at a Jewish young adult event, clinging to the wall trying to remember why I decided to come. I see a few familiar faces and say hello, but soon I am alone again. Someone walks up to me and introduces themselves. We start talking and I mention that I live in Oak Cliff. The person’s smile cracks for a fraction of a second before they ask me if that’s a safe place to live, because don’t I know that all of south Dallas is crime-ridden and dangerous? I am taken aback and, in an attempt to save the conversation, say that not everything you hear about South Dallas is true and I live near Bishop Arts. Oh, well that’s becoming a nice area since the developers got a hold of it and are driving out the “bad” people, they reply. Before I can mention how the rising rent is driving out local businesses that have been around for decades, they excuse themselves and trot off to greet a friend.
I am suddenly feeling very defensive about my beloved Oak Cliff and take off before my temper gets a hold of me.
I am 27 years old and the news about the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. by a police officer has just broken. I am at work and go to one of my coworkers’ office to ask for something. Another coworker is with them and they are talking about Brown’s death. The two coworkers start talking about how Brown should have done exactly what the officer said, how he was probably doing something wrong because clearly the officer would not have fired his weapon if Brown had been cooperating. They mention nothing of the danger of driving/walking/existing while black or acknowledge that there is a serious problem with how police are being trained in deescalation and race relations. But how can I expect them to know that when they most likely have never experienced racism in such a blatant form?
I turn around and go back to my office.
I am just over a month shy of being 28 years old. I am in a meeting, when the subject of the new hire is brought up. We discuss what details we know about the person, including the fact that the person is of Hispanic descent, when someone asks if they have good English. I instantly feel my blood pressure jump and the heat of anger creeping up my neck.
“Did you really just say that? That is so RACIST!”
“I did not mean it that way-”
A coworker interjects. “Well, we are in Texas.”
“It doesn’t matter where we are! That is NOT OKAY.”
The other person at the table says nothing.
After the meeting, I go to a friend and begin crying. My friend encourages me to report the incident. I wish I could say that the people I told were as outraged as me, but I keep hearing the same excuses: the person did not mean it that way, they have known this person a long time and they are really good at heart and clearly did not mean their comment to be taken in a racist context, it’s an unfortunate choice of words, blah, blah, blah.
I go back to my desk and study my skin for a long time, trying to make sense of what just happened, trying to figure out why anyone’s race should matter, wondering how I could have been so naive and ignorant for so long about the politics of skin color. I am angry that no one thought the comment was completely inappropriate, devastated about the growing list of black men shot and killed by police using excessive force, but most of all, I am looking at my coworkers and their actions differently. I am thinking of the countless micro-aggressions I’ve witnessed, the comments thrown my way that have an undercurrent of racism, how people treat me differently than my white peers.
I recount the day’s events to my mom that evening. As I am telling her how stupid I feel for not recognizing the racism and discrimination sooner, I can see that she is struggling to maintain her calm. I know she already feels helpless to some extent because she does not know much about the Jewish community and feels like she can’t help me with certain issues I run into. But the comment made in the meeting is something she recognizes all too well and has fought all her life.
I am beginning to think that no matter how hard I work, some doors will be slammed shut in my face because of my skin color.