Racism is a belief that different races possess distinct characteristics and abilities. Racism plagues our world despite the many efforts by civil rights leaders and activists to change things. The deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are a sad reminder that things aren’t as they seem, that equal rights, fairness, and racial equality are far from perfect in America. It’s difficult to fight hate and bigotry when America’s own President continues to represent these hateful ideas himself. His immigration laws that have torn apart families, his acceptance of white supremacy, and his egotistical attitude about his own wealth and status as a wealthy white man in America has hurt minorities and allows discrimination and hatred to thrive. America is currently in a very messed up place.
As a young Mexican-American, I have seen and witnessed racism first hand. I remember how it felt as a child when I learned that I was different because of my skin color, my language, and my cultural practices. It’s an experience most people will never have. It’s one that defines minorities from the time they are very young. It’s a deep trauma and hurt that does not go away. How do we make other people feel it, though, if they have not experienced it? The only way I know how is by sharing a story, giving you, the reader, an example of how discrimination and racism impacts children.
Listen to young Miguel’s, a 5-year-old Hispanic boy just entering Kindergarten, story as he shares his first remembrance of discrimination: “I can’t wait for tomorrow; it’s going to be my first day of kindergarten, and I’m so excited. I have everything ready in my Ninja Turtle backpack and my Ninja Turtle lunch box. I even have my favorite snack, my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with no crust. I get tired of sitting and waiting for my mom to come and read me my bedtime story so I go into the living room to watch television. My dad was watching the news and there was a story about a young Black man who was shot for having his hands in his pocket. I sat and wondered why the police were so mean to this man who didn’t do anything wrong. I remember that my mom has told me over and over again that if I ever see a cop and they want to talk to me, I am to never run away because something terrible could happen; I am always to have my hands where they can see them, and I am never to reach for something. She tells all of my family this same thing. I have never figured out why she says this all the time, but maybe it would have helped the young black man if he had kept his hands where the police officer could see them. Tired and anxious for my first day of school tomorrow, I went back into my room and I saw my mom there waiting for me.”
“In the morning, I was really excited. I couldn’t even get my shoes on.I got all of my things ready and jumped in the car. We arrived at school and my mom told me to be careful and to have fun. I went inside the school and everyone seemed to stare at me. Maybe it was because I was new? I wondered why because we all had the same clothes and uniform?”
“I went into my classroom and met my fabulous teacher. She helped me hang up my coat because I could barely reach the coat rack. That’s when the rest of the kids got back into the classroom. I was very scared because they just kept staring at me. Then, they began to whisper things to me such as “Get out of here; you don’t belong.” I didn’t understand I was the same age and height as them. I don’t think I was in the wrong class.”
“As I sat down next to another little boy, I suddenly became aware of the difference. As I looked around, I was the only child with tan skin. My classmates were white. Maybe that was the difference? They didn’t know me, but they could physically see my difference. This must have been why my momma told me to be careful. My momma often tells stories about how our people are treated unfairly but I didn’t understand why until this moment. The boy next to me got up and moved to a new table. I was very sad for the rest of the day because the other children kept saying cruel things to me and wouldn’t play with me. I just wanted to make friends and enjoy kindergarten.The teacher didn’t even do anything to stop them or to make me feel better. I thought about running away, but I remembered what my mom had told me about that and I knew it could end up bad. I wasn’t sure how I could handle this for the rest of the school year. I only hoped things would change once they got to know me.”
Experiences like little Miguel’s are common occurrences and only get worse with time and age. The realization that you are different as a young Mexican, Hispanic, Latinx, or Black is a trauma that carries with you through life. Things may get better, but the understanding that you do not fit, that you are different and not entirely accepted by all people merely because of the color of your skin never goes away. It becomes even more painfully clear how hated you are for this difference when you see things on the news or in politics that help reinforce the trauma. It is extremely unfair and unjust fearing for your life, hating who you are, and accepting the rejection as normal. Until our country realizes the pain that many of its citizens feel and until our laws change to make people more equal, young minorities will continue to suffer.