For the most part, I never had to experience the hideousness of racism. Now of course I've seen racist acts committed by other ignorant people--living in America (especially in the South), that's just inevitable. But I personally never had to deal with racism face-to-face...until recently. It happened during my senior year in high school. Throughout my high school years, I never asked a girl to prom. Mainly because I was a shy guy (although people who know me my say otherwise) and because I didn't feel like wasting time trying to think of a cheesy and cliche way to ask a girl to prom.
However, I suddenly felt differently when my senior year came rolling around. Because it was my senior year, I suddenly wanted to have that experience of asking a girl to prom. I mean, why not? It was my last chance to do it. Once I had a girl in mind, I started thinking,"What if she doesn't want to go with me because I'm black?"
I remembered the conversations with my parents about race relations. But then I thought, "Hey, this girl is someone I've been friends with since the 5th grade. Surely my skin color won't be a concern for her. I know her. She's my friend."
Although I was rather positive about the conclusion in my head, I still wasn't 100% sure if I was right. So just to be sure, I asked the girl if she would be okay going to prom with a black guy like myself. Her answer shocked me. She started out saying how I was a nice and sweet guy, but she just couldn't go with me because she didn't want her new friends at college to make "assumptions" about her. She went on to say that she feared what her new college friends and sorority sisters would think if they found out that she went to prom with a black guy.
Again, this is coming from someone I considered a friend....telling me that she would be ashamed to be seen with me. Although that was a knife in the chest, I still decided to go. I rented a tux and everything because I still wanted the experience of "going to prom." Even if I didn't have a date. Little did I know that going to prom that night would be the worst night of my life. The pain didn't really kick in until I got there. I'll never forget it.
I remember the moment...standing at the back of the room watching everyone and their dates having a good time. Then I saw suddenly saw the girl I wanted to ask with her new date.... and it reminded me why I was standing there alone. All because who I was. The color of my skin. It honestly made feel inadequate. Worthless. And almost embarrassed. It made me think, "Why did I even bother coming here?"
This experience made me realize that people can shake your hand, smile in your face, hug you, and still be bigoted. It's hard to understand hearing people say they love you but they're afraid of you at the same time. I didn't know how to square that circle. It was the first time in my life where I didn't feel accepted simply because the color of my skin.
A little over a year later, I still think about that night. Even though she didn't accept me for who I was, my mom always taught me to never hold malice in my heart. When I see her, I still speak to her. I still hug her. Treat her with the same respect I always did. We have to understand that racism comes from an ignorant place. It is a learned behavior that should never be taught. An idea that should never be embraced. A reality that should never exist.