From when I was five

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From when I was five

 

When I was five, I went to kindergarten. Everyone looked different than me, and everyone seemed to look at me differently. A sense of alienation floated over me like a blanket during that first year of school.

When I was seven, my friends and I scampered around the playground at recess with the carefree manner only seven-year-olds could manage. They screeched and hollered about how my skin looked like chocolate, and how they wanted to “eat” it. They chased me around wanting to “eat” my brown skin. It was only the harmless antics of first graders, yet I felt a twinge of discomfort deep down in my stomach. But I pushed the feeling away and laughed anyway, because I had just begun to fit in, and I didn’t want to mess it up.

That twinge has since grown.

When I was eight, we learned about slavery. My mind couldn’t even fathom the rationale behind the concept, let alone all the agony and pain those people suffered. All the kids stared at me. That familiar blanket of alienation tightened its hold around me once more, feeling more like a straitjacket than a blanket.

When I was nine, our elderly neighbor would stare my mother down whenever she drove past his house. He would crane his neck and squint his eyes and pucker his lips, with a look that could only be described as pure disgust. No one deserves to be looked at like that. We all knew the reason behind his actions. One day, my mom had had enough. Rather than determinedly keeping her eyes trained on the road as she drove past his house, she boldly glared back at him.

He stopped looking at us after that– a small victory for a small brigade in an endless war.

When I was ten, my teacher argued with me in front of the whole class, insisting that I was Hindu, while I tirelessly reiterated that I was not. I doubt the kids in my class were even paying attention. But I felt that straitjacket stiffen, because deep down I knew she was maintaining that I was wrong about my own religion solely because she was mixing up my older brother, a former student of hers, with another brown kid who was in fact Hindu. It was a harmless mistake. But it was the kind of mistake that had lost its apparent harmless nature because of its irritating frequency. Perhaps I’m foolish to think one billion people don’t actually all look alikea��?

When I was twelve, it seemed that everyone had been swept up into the cool dating scene of sixth grade. Every day someone would tell one of my friends that so-and-so heard from so-and-so that so-and-so liked her. I felt like none of the boys would “like” me. I didn’t look like the other girls. And though I knew that my ethnicity didn’t equate inferior beauty, I didn’t trust the boys to know that. No one ever came up to me to whisper in my ear that so-and-so liked me.

When I was thirteen, in gym class, some older boys would sometimes bother my friends and I. They wouldn’t do it directly. They would just snicker and point at us, like middle schoolers do. One day, I finally grew tired of the juvenile behavior of these boys. In my overly confident, junior-high self-righteousness, I snapped at them. A minor argument broke out between our two groups. I was feeling really good about my confrontation skills, when suddenly I heard something that made my bubble of fearlessness pop into oblivion. I had experienced glares, rudeness, and being followed around in stores. But nothing is ever worse than the insults that are spewed right to your face. The boy made a vile joke about my skin color. My friends stopped talking and laughing. Their faces turned to shock and dismay, as they began to usher me away. Suddenly I felt foolish for the momentary confidence I had had. I felt like a big balloon that had just been popped by the reckless fingers of a little kid.

 

Other people made similar jokes before and after that incident, but there was something about that one that sticks out in my memory.

Now I’m fifteen, and the headlines feel like they’re screaming right at me. Two men who look just like me were trying to enjoy a drink at a bar, when another man decided to interrupt. That man lobbed abhorrent slurs at them, because their skin was brown, just like mine. After being thrown out, the man returned once more, this time with a gun in tow.

He fired at them.

One of those Indian men is now no longer on this earth.

I read the headlines and suddenly the overwhelming anger, that broke me out of that straitjacket of ostracization and humiliation so long ago, was rekindled. Because I’ve had enough of rude sales associates, and discriminatory service in restaurants, and snide comments people think I can’t hear. More than that, I’ve had enough of people being targeted, assaulted, and killed all because of their color. Why do these occurrences remain a constant in our society?

When the gunman began to attack, another man stepped in. That man didn’t have to do that. That man was a bystander, with no obligation to protect two strangers he didn’t even know. That man is now lying in a hospital bed. That man has skin that doesn’t look like mine. That man’s actions are a shining beacon of hope to me and so many. I’m trying to let the light of that banish the rumbling clouds of anger, and replace them with hope. I’m trying.

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