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  • Writer's pictureSherry Kirkland

Being Black in America

I strongly considered not sharing this blog. I wrote it and quietly tucked it away. But I had to admit to myself that hiding my story is a part of the problem. I learned a long time ago not to discuss my daily trials with racism. Except from within the confines of my home and only with people who have had similar experiences.

I also believe that the suffering in silence is the root of all the anger we are seeing around the world today. We have been suffering quietly, for far too long. Some of us fear the consequences it could have on our jobs. The fear of making others uncomfortable by showing them their ugly ways. The fear of not being heard and having to argue your point or even the fear of being called an angry black woman.

It is sad that I have a story like this to share. And with the exception of two people, I have not shared this story. It is something I tried to forget. Tucked away deep down at the back of my mind. Some how unable to forget it. But today I am going to share... this is my story.

Growing up, if I didn't know anything else I knew that my mother cared about me. She worked... a lot. We had our own home, clothes on our backs and we never went a day without a home cooked meal. In my mind I was no different than anyone around me. Life was life, easy and uncomplicated. But that all changed one day, the day I learned that the color of my skin would cause people to look at me differently. To be mean to me, to hate me and make me feel less than.

I remember the day vividly, it was the day my life and thought processes changed forever... I was eight years old. It was a typical summer day in Buffalo, NY. Sunny and warm not too hot. The sky was blue with smears of clouds here and there. And I went outside to play.

My friend Shell had gotten a new bike. A pink Huffy with a huge long seat. She wouldn't let me ride it but she did allow me to get on the back of the the seat so that we could ride together. We started out riding the bike up and down the side walk. But she was a little smaller than me which made it hard for her to get us too far without having to stop. It just took too much effort for her to ride us on the side walk.

So we decided to ride on the smoother pavement of the street. We lived in a quiet neighborhood and there was never much traffic, down our street. We were having fun. Just getting the hang of her riding with me sitting and hanging on to the back seat.

Not long after we got started good. A truck came speeding up our street. We stopped and pulled to the side of the street at the curb. As the truck drove by us, it veered close to us. As it did, a white man stuck his head out of the window and spat a mouth full of beer on us. I could see that there were four men in the car. They were all laughing and talking. As the truck flew down the road one of them yelled, "Niggers!".

There was hot, smelly spit running down my arm and my leg. I can still remember what it felt like as it slid into my sandals and between my toes. I was shocked and at first I thought it must've been an accident, he didn't mean that for us. He couldn't have, but there was no one else around. Just me and Shell and her brand new Huffy bike.

I don't remember any words we shared. I'm sure we said something. Or maybe we were just in shock from it all. But I do remember looking back at her as she walked her bike across the street to her house and I walked into my home.

I told my mother, she sent me into the bathroom to clean up. I don't remember any severe outrage, no police were called. Whatever my mother said to me it wasn't consoling. I didn't understand and it did not make sense.

I remember asking myself why did they do that? I knew it was because they were white and I wasn't. I washed my body over and over with soap and water. I dried my sandals off, changed my shirt and went back outside. Shell did not come back outside that day.

This way the day that I learned not to speak out about things like this. And most other incidences paled in comparison... hurtful words, ignorant statements, being looked down upon, having to answer unwarranted questions, having to prove myself and being followed around stores just to name a few. I learned to ignore the ignorance and keep my head help high. But that does not mean that I was not affected by it.

So at 8 years old I received my rude awakening to what it means to be black in America. On that day in 1982, the fabric of my life changed a little bit. And it was something I have had to live with ever since.

I believe this is why there is still rioting in 2020. Because even though we have been told that we are all equal and that we can be whatever we want to be. We see and experience otherwise pretty frequently. We have grown a thick skin to it as not to let it sink into our hearts. It is a weight that all black Americans carry around with them, some better than others.

It seemed as if racism in America was hidden for a while. Always there but hiding in plain site. But now in 2020, it is embolden, outright for all to see, with cell phones recording it's every move.

Will we ever end racism?

Think about it... how old were you when you learned what it meant to be black in America? I was eight years old.

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