I’ve only been called a nigger twice, both times in Chicago. It’s one of the things that sold him on Texas. He’d expected much worse, and had been through more in Jersey. We were trying to pick a place where we could settle down and, in time, raise children. Texas was off the table because, well… Texas.
I consider myself lucky.
In fifth grade I finished the math work early, so the teacher let me help other students. One of my classmates asked curiously, “I didn’t know black people were supposed to be smart.”
In second grade we were learning about democracy and political parties. The teacher asked some of us who we’d vote for if we were older. “Black people always vote the same. I don’t know why I bother.”
In high school the teacher asked everyone to say aloud where we planned to go to college. He went one by one down each row. Whenever any of the black students would name Ivy League schools, he’d laugh loudly and dramatically. (Later, after I’d earned an A on a research paper, he asked what my parents did for a living; and at my reply asked, “so how did you get to be so smart?”)
Aside from a few microaggressions in college, these were my only experiences in Texas. Nothing to write home about.
In Chicago I was walking from the blue line when a man spit on my feet. He said all niggers should die and that if he knew where I lived, he’d burn a cross on my yard. I walked quickly past him, but he followed me a little down the road. I ducked down a crowded street and blended in to the crowd.
On a similar walk on a different day and time, a man yelled out from his car window, “you black ape!” as he sped away at the light.
I have neither the time nor the patience to entertain delusions of a post-racial America. I have neither the time nor the patience to pretend that black people aren’t treated differently or that racism and colorism aren’t real. We’re assumed to be uneducated, discourteous, and violent. We’re overrepresented in prisons, in special ed classrooms, and in unemployment lines. I won’t go back and forth about these truths. I’m not makin’ two trips.
It’s become our mantra. It started with a holiday argument about sweet potato pie and a last minute trip to the grocery store. It was Christmas Day, but I wasn’t ready. I knew I needed to take a dish to the family get-together, but I’d waited until the last minute, and now I had to run to the store. I wasn’t sure if it’d be open, but I wanted to see. Either way we’d be late.
“I’ll just make sweet potato pie. We have everything already, but can you get some paper towels and foil if you’re going anyway?”
“Do we have honey?”
“Yeah, we have some.”
“Can you show it to me?”
“What?” He was incredulous.
I could tell that he was annoyed, but he hadn’t answered the question. “Can you show it to me? The honey.”
“We have honey.”
“Okay. I understand, but can you SHOW it to me?”
He shook his head and started on the potatoes.
I rolled my eyes and headed to the store.
It wasn’t an argument, but it was the first time we’d really heard each other. My niece had just started school, and it re-ignited our conversation on school choice.
He’s anti-private, anti-suburban life. He thinks cities should be walkable and children should be able to take themselves by bus, train, or feet.
I’m a public school advocate, but I want the best. I don’t mind private if the environment is diverse and if it doesn’t breed a sense of entitlement. I was driven to school and prefer to drive our children. Crime happens everywhere, but I don’t want them to commute alone.
We both value culture, language, and international perspective. He wants to recreate and live in black Harlem. I want to create and live in real life United Colors of Benetton. He wants New York: high-energy and grit. I want a quiet library and a separate peace.
At the end of an argument, he’ll look at me and say 1) Is this really what you want, forever? And 2) Are you sure?
It seems insensitive to say to a divorcee who was happy in his marriage and would still be, but it has become our mantra. On groceries, racism, and relationships, I will not be moved. I’m not making two trips.