The older I get, the more aware I become regarding the issues of race. Of course, I have always been aware of skin color, but during my upbringing it just wasn’t a factor to be considered. I grew up recognizing rank and class. Our friends were the color of a uniform – not the color of their skin.
And then I moved to Arkansas and grew up here from high school on. It was here that I learned that I was viewed as the ‘white-sounding black girl’. I was informed that I was stuck up because I tried so hard to ‘speak proper’. I learned my speech and behavior did not match what was expected because of the color of my skin and obviously this was a big problem for some of my classmates at NLRHS. But still, the issue wasn’t important enough to me to clearly recognize or speak on it – it was simply THEIR problem, not mine. They were the ignorant ones; I knew who I was, and I knew I was much more than the color of my skin and the way in which I spoke.
Fast-forward several years with very few incidents or reminders of my race within that time. Now I have a child and now I’m raising this beautiful young person – oh, and he’s black. And I am COMPLETELY aware. Now, I educate myself more because MY history, black history, is a part of who he (my son) is. I have a deeper appreciation for where we, as a people/race, have come from. It has grown to be personal to me instead of a forced subject in school that I needed to pass in order to graduate. I have a different viewpoint on the past – the enslavement and injustice and hatred that has lingered for so many, many years, and the movement and growth that has propelled us forward.
But more importantly, I educate myself to protect my child. Unfortunately he is growing up in a society where race matters and he has to be aware. He’s not growing up behind the walls of a Navy base in Miami or Pensacola, Florida. He’s in NLR, AR. And unlike my childhood where race was not a factor for me, it is a current issue in my son’s world. We all may not want to acknowledge it but it’s here, lurking in the corners, festering underneath the floorboards. We all may not harbor this thing called racism, but believe me when I say it is in our state, in our city, at our schools, and maybe even right next door.
My son is growing up in a time and place where, in the 1st grade, his teammate told him that he doesn’t like black kids. I had to have this discussion with my son when he was 6 or 7 years old. It broke my heart and it opened my eyes.
My son is growing up in a time where one of his teacher’s has said “those kids are all going to grow up to go to jail.” Of course she wasn’t referring to my child because he is so “handsome, and well-mannered, and sweet,” not like the rest of “them.” Yes, this is a true conversation that took place and was told to me by another teacher from my son’s school. This conversation happened just last year. A teacher- someone who is supposed to be dedicated to educating children, ALL children – felt like “those kids” were going to eventually end up in jail, so why should she try. Do I need to say what color “those” kids she was speaking about were?
My child is growing up in a time where young black men are beaten by police officers. He could be shot dead by members of a police department or even a neighborhood watch volunteer. He can be harassed and arrested. All because he has beautiful dark skin. And I talk to him about this. And I am so thankful that I was able to talk about this with others at Mobilize.
It is a sad issue that has become near and dear to my heart. I don’t understand how people can dislike others based on the color of their skin. It baffles me and breaks my heart. It leaves my perplexed and in a true state of shock. Why? How? I have battled these questions privately for several years now. I have not found an answer. But I recently participated in this group that openly addresses the problem. I know there is no easy answer to this disease that has ailed our society for far too long. But I truly believe it starts with a simple conversation. An acknowledgment that this problem remains present and we will not turn a blind eye to it. We are called to be ONE race and we will shout this true message. We will shine our light on this darkness. We will inject our love into this seed of ignorance and hate.
This is Mobilize. And for this, I am truly thankful.
Natasha Hillard went through Mobilize in the fall of 2015, and sent these reflections in after participating.