The Story Of My Unintentional Racism When I Was 8-Years-Old
We all are, to an extent. There’s a spectrum, and I’d like to think that I am on the low end of the racist scale. Like, I would never boycott an immigrant’s store, but I may enjoy his accent, if it’s a good one. Or, I tend to rely on stereotypes when drafting my pickup basketball team. You get the idea- no hatred, but definitely an insensitivity with a hint of stupidity. It’s when ignorance gets mistaken for actual bigotry that real problems arise.
The following is my worst racial blunder. It was inadvertent, but still very much foolish and embarrassing. And as I learned, not the first time someone in my family fucked up that royally:
It was on the afternoon bus ride home from school that I shouted “WHO WANTS MONEY?
As a spoiled eight-year-old, I was painfully indifferent to its worth, and had a habit of donating my spare change from the cafeteria to whomever wanted it. What can I say? I was in elementary school and made my AND1 shorts heavy. That day, several candidates vied for my extra 75 cents, so I settled the matter in the only way I knew how.
“DANCE OFF!” I must have seen it in an episode of Goof Troop or something.
My opportunistic bus mates began pop-locking and Cha-Cha Sliding and doing that weird Russian dance where you squat and kick your legs out with your arms folded. All very adorable, all very dangerous in a moving vehicle. Anyway, I determined a boy named Andrew Smith to be the winner. I tossed him my change, got off the bus and went home to house Easy Mac until Monday Night Raw came on.
The next morning, I took the bus as usual. We arrived at Andrew’s stop, but he wasn’t there. Rather, the doors opened and up stepped Danielle, his teenage sister.
“WHICH ONE OF YOU IS EVAN?” She inquired.
“Me!” I responded, ever the narcissist. Who knows? Maybe I won a prize.
“IS IT TRUE YOU GAVE MY BROTHER QUARTERS TO DANCE!??”
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?”
My bus driver got up and shooed her out of the vehicle.
It’s at this point that I should mention Andrew and his family were African-American. In fact, the Smiths were one of the only black families in my town.
Now, I don’t know if there is an exact analogous situation of white people making black people dance for money in history (obviously there are some close ones with far worse “rewards”), but clearly, my thoughtless endeavor had some very serious racial implications to Andrew’s family. It wasn’t intentional, but I really made a racial transgression that day. My mom made that clear to me when I got home from school. Andrew’s mom had called her.
“Evan, you’re going to Andrew’s house and you will apologize to him and his family. Your father will take you.”
My Dad’s eyes widened.
“Honey, are these the Smiths that lives on Cedar Mills Road?” My Dad asked my mother.
“I-I can’t take Evan.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Well… when we were looking to move here, I decided to drive around one Sunday and ask people what the neighborhood was like. I saw this big, beautiful house so I went up and rang the doorbell. This guy answered the door, he was in a suit, looked like a butler type, ya know? So, I asked him if I could speak to the owner of the house. Do you know what he told me?”
“‘I am the owner of the house.’ Then he shut the door in my face. That was Dr. Smith”
“David, you asshole.” My mom stormed out.
At least I know that my foolishness is part inherited.
I never got to apologize. In fact, the Smiths moved not long after that. Two generations of Michael Scott-esque neighbors will do that to you. If it’s any consolation, I’ve tried to become a more aware person. Now I just hold on to my change and keep my mouth shut.