What Does Racism Feel Like?: July 2020

For as far back as I can recall I’ve been aware of my color – I’m not black, I’m brown, not even dark brown, but brown enough.

This first I can remember was when I was 5-years-old. I was in a park and another child called me a “dirty beaner.” I didn’t really know what a beaner was, but she had such an angry tone that I figured it was very bad.

You might ask, “How could you remember something that long ago?”

Anyone who has ever been maligned because of their race, will tell you that it leaves quite an impression. It’s something you feel in your gut, like you’re being looked at or treated differently with no explanation as to why. Quite often, you experience a sense of shame, a feeling that you aren’t good enough, that you don’t deserve the same place on this planet. Kind of like getting punched in the gut when you’re not prepared for it.

In high school, I was shopping for a graduation suit from a department store. In the store, I saw a rack of beautiful coats. A white clerk came up to me and, looking me up and down, remarked, “Perhaps I can show you something you could afford.”

She had a coarse tone in her voice and I had the sense she didn’t want me in her store. Again, it was clear I didn’t belong there, nor was I wanted there.

That same year, I was preparing for college. I met with my high school counselor who said, “You’ll have no problem getting a scholarship as you’re Mexican – foundations love minorities.”

Keep in mind I had almost a 4.0 GPA. I was so incensed that I told him, “I don’t want anybody’s money because of the color of my skin.”

Because of that incident, I did not apply for any scholarships, went to a state university – and paid my own way.

After graduation, I began applying for writing jobs. I remember interviewing for a position at a Christian publishing company. I spoke with two principals, both being very encouraging; they even asked when I could start working as they looked upon their calendars.

At the end of the interview I was asked to sit in the lobby which overlooked pools of writing cubicles. I noticed something – everyone in the room was white. I didn’t think much of it, until one of the principals came out and said, “You did a great job interviewing. You seem really talented, but we’re just seeing what’s on the market, not looking to hire. We’ll be happy to write you a letter of recommendation if you want.”

That was odd. Why write a letter when I hadn’t worked there? They thanked me profusely for my time. I really felt in my heart the job was mine, but when I saw the job reposted the following week, I had a good sense why.

As I matured, I came to better understand that the problem was not me, even though I happened to be the recipient of the action.

One time, while registering to vote, a person near the registration table uttered, “Don’t you need a green card to vote?” Another time while visiting a garden store, an old white woman looked at me while standing in line and said with disdain, “Well, are you going to help me with these bags or not?”

I know, you may be saying “Get over it already.” But, you see, when you experience things like this throughout your lifetime, it becomes very tiresome having to explain yourself or to be on guard that under certain circumstances you should anticipate a possible “situation.”

Yes, I am angry that people of color still have to feel this way.

I’ve written a novel about racism in the 1960’s, but am having challenges finding representation. I’ve learned the majority of literary agents are white females residing in and around New York. I’ve also discovered that 79% of publishing industry executives are white males. It may sound racist, but I have to wonder if these people have encountered what most minorities have. Could they possibly relate to my novel or see its merit? I won’t even get into the numbers of books published by minorities, but suffice it to say, it’s small, even though our numbers are large.

As I have gotten quite defiant at this point in life, I will not settle for being overlooked. If I have to self-publish I will, not just because of my ego, but because there may be some other young minorities out there who are just getting their first taste of what it’s like to be prejudged.

I want them to know, that they’re not alone.

And, with that, I end this as “Poolside from PS.”

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