Two Sides of the Same Coin: Discrimination in Unexpected Places

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Dalilah and her daughter Dahlia

 

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I was at sleep away camp for the first time. I had an argument with another little girl in my bunk over who knows what, when all of a sudden out came the word that was like a punch to my gut…the N word.
This was the early nineties, we were all kids from NYC, and all from different cultural backgrounds. So even though I had an understanding of what racism was and I definitely knew how awful this word was, as a 10 year old it seemed like something foreign and far remove–until that day. I don’t remember much about the aftermath; I do remember that I cried, counselors spoke to us, she apologized, and we moved on.

 

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Dalilah’s family: Her mom, pictured far left

Other situations were a little less blatant- like when my fair skinned mother came to parent/teacher conferences and teachers would pull me to the side the next day to ask me if I was adopted.  Or as I got older and people were so surprised by how well-spoken I, the brown skin girl from the Bronx was…

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Dalilah as a baby on the left, her daughter Dalilah as a baby on the right

After a recent incident I find myself thinking of those times and how they made me feel….

I took a walk to the store with a couple of mom friends last week. We got to talking about a huge fight that happened a few days prior in City Island (yes, the chair throwing fight) as I was reaching for a container of spinach one friend asked the other in Spanish if the people involved were black (my ears started to burn), to which the other responded (also in Spanish) “of course the monkeys.” All of a sudden I was winded by that punch in the gut.  All I could hear was myself screaming OH MY GOD in my head as I struggled with what to say next. I raised my arm and said “Hey! I’m half black…” Needless to say things got uncomfortable from there, both apologized and I told them it was fine- even though it wasn’t-but I really didn’t know what else to say. I purchased my groceries and we walked back to the gym trying to forget what had just happened.

I’ve since replayed it in my head a lot, which is why I felt the need to write it out. I told my husband what happened when he got home later that afternoon and even he, my very chill and live and let live guy, was bothered. I guess up until this point we’ve been a bit naive about how people around us thought, and as parents it scares us.

Our daughter is a beautiful, intelligent and talented young lady of color and the thought that anyone would see her as anything else breaks my heart, the thought that she could be in a similar situation because she doesn’t “look black” and feel the hurt and discomfort I felt KILLS ME- but it’s also a wake up call and tells me that I need to start having more open conversations with her around race more now than ever.

-Dalilah Smith-Santos

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