I grew up (mostly) in Missouri, a little city outside of Kansas City called Blue Springs. It was a cute little city visually. Quiet and calm neighborhoods, clean streets, school districts that were considered good, and my all time favorite little bagel shop called “Bagel and Bagel” that my step-dad use to take me to some mornings before school. My family had purchased our first home there. It was me, my mother, my step father and the family dog, a Manchester Terrier, whom we named Beignet, after the famous New Orleans doughnut. My Step father was born in New Orleans and my Mother had also spent a large portion of her life there; by way of Natchez Mississippi. She was a country girl who wanted a taste of the city life, and New Orleans was where she settled and naturally, where she met her husband. A military man, well traveled, completely different from what she was use to. My mother was a blank canvas for him, since she hadn’t been introduced to much of the world. Shucks, McDonalds was the most fancy restaurant she had ever been to; before she’d met him.
My mother and I lived in the Calliope projects and utilized the finest of government assistance, until things began to get serious within her relationship. My mother and Step father married and before we knew it, we were traveling and living in cities we’d never imagined. Eventually, Missouri was the destination we settled in for the long run. My step father purchased us a home there, and I remember only noticing the chandelier that welcomed us as soon as we walked it. I’m sure my Mother queued the Jefferson’s theme song “Moving on up” at this very moment, and me, well, I was still shocked that we had a damn chandelier. My step father was very stern on education, so he made sure he moved us into an area that had high rated school districts. Of course, we were one of two black people in the whole entire neighborhood. Whites always seem to have the highest rated schools in their neighborhoods, but as a black kid in “their” schools, I would shortly come to realized that I would become the token black girl for every so called black issue. The only difference from white schools were the resources and the environments they provided, which were significant, but when it came to education, everyone was still being miseducated. However, that’s another topic. Anyways, things were different in Missouri, but I felt I could adjust to this different lifestyle…maybe.
A early ride to the grocery store with my mother turned into what I call, a history lesson. A group of marchers dressed in white, wearing white hoods being escorted by the police, were marching on the streets as my mother and I made our way back home. It was 1999 and I was 14 years old asking my mother why the KKK was allowed to express such hate; with the police there protecting them. She simply replied “Freedom of speech baby“. Today, as I think back to that moment. I am almost certain that some of those faces beneath those hoods were familiar ones. Because the unraveling of this chapter of my life in Missouri came with a lot of white supremacy that wasn’t to far from that beautiful home we had purchased.
I recall fights with a neighborhood kid, because he had spewed the word “Nigger” to me. I’d spoken to him before, the word almost seemed to be one that he had just learned or that he finally felt comfortable using. Regardless, I remember this day being the same day that I tore his ass up. Needless to say, he never called me that again. Then, there was the time I was sitting towards the front of the bus near the bus driver and that one other black family that lived in the neighborhood, the older black boy, was getting called hateful racist names in the back of the bus while being surrounded by the white kid; and the bus driver, didn’t budge. She certainly heard it, because I did, loud and clear and I was only a couple seats behind her. I just sat there wishing he would stand up for himself, he never did and I never looked at him the same after that. Then there was the day I rode had a school bus that was foreign to me, it wasn’t our normal bus, the last stair slanted a bit and I completely missed it, landing directly on the ground. I laughed it off out of embarrassment, the white bus driver, she closed the doors on me, mid laughter without as much a word or a smile. It wasn’t until I got older that I felt that deeply in my soul. Younger I convinced myself she didn’t see me, even though I laid there for a while expecting a reaction.
Furthermore, as the list continues. I also remember the time there was a block party on a beautiful sunny day that I was disinvited to, apparently because I was told there wasn’t going to be enough food for me, thin as a rail, ol’ me. I pleaded that I wouldn’t eat, just so I could stay with my friend. Her mother insisted I should go home, it didn’t take me long to realize it was because I was black and it had nothing to do with the food. Then there was Caleb, one of my close friends. He was the son of my gym teacher. He didn’t live to far away from me, so I use to go by his house for a visit from time to time. Until one day he answered the door and told me his mother said we couldn’t be friends anymore. By this time, I didn’t need to answer any questions as to why she was concerned that her son and I were getting to close to a black girl. It became a way of life in the little town. Caleb’s mom never said much to me in gym class after that either.
In conclusion, growing up in the center of white supremacy as a black child never made me hate white people, surprisingly, but it definitely made me more cautious of what environment I put my son into and the environments I’ve placed myself into. I can’t blame my parents because they were only trying to live the “American” dream that is sold by society. In fact, I never mentioned these stories to them, I was a quiet child, I just internalized them and took these lessons with me into adulthood. Racism is in fact learned, white supremacy should be labeled a mental illness, crowd phycology controls many people’s thinking, and that no matter how great and gentle you are, some people will only judge you based solely off of the color of your skin. So be careful and be mindful when raising little ones and when developing yourself.
Written by: Lakischa Smith