As I sat on my bed, eyebrows scrunched, eyes focused, I silently rummaged through my memory. I flipped through the homes we lived in like chapters in a well-read book, searching for a sign or symbol that would spark a memory.
“Maybe it happened, and I just don’t remember,”?…
“No, it couldn’t have; I would most definitely remember this conversation.”
“Maybe it was just a few words dropped casually during a car ride and that’s why I don’t remember”?…
“No, not her style to just drop some words casually; she’s way too Jamaican for that.”
That particular day turned into weeks of combing through my memory with no luck, so it was time to ask her:
“How come you never talked to me about race”?
During my memory search, I began to think about the possible reasons why the conversation of being Black, in America, never took place when I was a kid.
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Yonkers, New York, and attending a mostly white public school, I don’t remember being aware of society’s problem with blackness.
I don’t remember a time during my ten years at this elementary school that I was made to feel ‘othered’ because of the color of my skin. I’m sure it happened from the teachers, parents and other students but I was unaware. The kids I called friends were mostly white, but I did have a few friends of color.
One of my best friend’s was Filipino, and I would go to her house after school, where she taught me how to eat sticky rice with my hands. On weekends, I practiced cartwheels outside for hours with another friend who was the poster child for the European standard of beauty with her blonde hair and icy blue eyes, and on my first day of kindergarten, I held hands with a Black girl, silently bonding as we tried to settle our jitters.
The race talk Black parents in America have with their children is not new, but has been a life-saving practice for generations. It’s the conversation white parents have the luxury of never considering.
Born to a Jamaican mother in St. Thomas, Jamaica, I began to wonder if this factor was indeed, a factor.
Were Black immigrants coming to America not aware of the “talk”?
Is the focus solely on assimilation because of the very reason people assimilate when immigrating to a new country? For survival?
According to Gary Vee, an immigrant, and entrepreneur from Belarus:
“Classically, the way immigrants get out of poverty is through education.”
The immigrant experience is rooted in education and hard work. When my mom arrived in America, I was a baby, not even a year old, and her first job was at McDonald’s. Over the years, I watched her work her ass off to pass many nursing exams to build a career that could not only sustain her but our family back in Jamaica. People depended on her.
But, what about the “talk”?
At the beginning of my fifth-grade year, we moved to Freeport, Long Island. If there is anything you should know about Freeport, it’s that it is white contrary to Yonkers which had a more diverse demographic.
Living in Freeport for that school year was the first time I remember thinking something was off with the way white students and teachers treated me, but I didn’t have the language or knowledge to articulate what I was experiencing.
Growing up in Yonkers I’d write ten plus page stories; love stories, some horror and some suspenseful just for fun based on my love of books. So, imagine my excitement when my new teacher assigned a creative writing assignment, and I finally had the opportunity to write about what I wanted.
I don’t remember what my story was about, but I remember my white teacher, a man, asked to speak with me alone. He wanted to know if my parents knew about the assignment and if I had any help. Of course, my mom knew about the assignment, and no, no one helped me. He requested that my mom come to school to verify that I wrote the story on my own.
I asked my mom about this, and she has no memory of this and it’s like it never happened.
Years later I’ve realized my mom was operating from a place of survival. She was a young woman in a brand new country with her own personal life, a baby and a family in Jamaica depending on her. She probably didn’t even know how to have the conversation or even know it was a conversation that needed to be had.
When we discussed not having the talk, she spoke about achieving goals despite obstacles, and these are the ideals she was raised with and the ones she passed on to her kids.
I wonder how I might be different if there was a talk about race when I was a kid.
Would I have been able to see and know what was happening in spaces, like my classrooms when I was the only Black student?
Who knows, but I know now after all my years in America, that “the talk” is the conversation that cannot be left out of any Black family’s home.