I was eight, maybe? Nine?
At the shopping mall, because it was the 1980s. With my aunt.
We were sitting by some kind of fountain or courtyard. There were lots of little kids jumping and playing, chasing each other, their voices echoing off the tile floors and metal furniture. I don’t remember why some of them bothered me, whether they bumped into me or I just saw them and didn’t like them, but they bothered me somehow.
And I turned to my aunt — both of us so white as to be transparent, in case you’re new here — and I said, “Look at those little colored boys running around.”
I’d heard older relatives use that word. I’d heard the tone of contempt in their voices when they did it. I mimicked both, no, I said it. I was old enough to know better and I said it meanly.
“WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?”
My aunt grabbed me by the shoulder. I’ll never forget the look on her face. She dragged me to a chair and got down to my level and she asked me a question I couldn’t answer then and certainly can’t now.
“Who do you think you are? You think you’re better than them? Why, because they’re black and you’re not?”
She was fuming. Exasperated. But somehow sad, too.
“You don’t call people ‘colored.’ That’s a terrible thing old people said a long time ago. They prefer African-American. And you don’t talk about people that way, ever, no matter what they look like or what they’re doing.”
She adored me. I was her tiny little princess who she spoiled and indulged. I’d never seen her angry at me before but she was angry then.
It’s been more than 30 years and I think about that moment all the time.
I thought about it again yesterday:
In video footage that was shared widely on social media, one boy, wearing the red hat that has become a signature of President Trump, stood directly in front of the elder, who stared impassively ahead while playing a ceremonial drum.
Some boys in the group wore clothing associated with Covington Catholic High School, an all-male college preparatory school in Park Hills, Ky., near Cincinnati.
High school kids surrounded and intimidated an elderly Native American man and laughed while they did it.
The wingnutsphere is in full cry already, and the kids’ “defenders” are out there talking about how somehow the old man started it, or that the video doesn’t tell the whole story, or that they’re just stupid kids and everybody was a shithead in high school.
Public shaming is getting out of hand in this country and more often than not, we aren’t getting the full story. Anyways, it’s time we as a nation learn not to judge others when you and I are nowhere near perfect. We need to forgive because we’ve all said and done dumb things in our lives, especially when we were their age.
Probably lots of kids are stupid. Lots of kids are shitheads.
But that’s the point.
When they do shit like this, you correct them and you educate them and you for the love of God don’t make excuses for them and then turn around and scream about how the elderly Native American man they were taunting “started it” because then they learn nothing.
Yelling at adult MAGA chuckleheads is beyond pointless. They’re out there cheering for this, they’re past changing. But some of the kids might not be.
Unless the only response by the adults in their lives is to pretend their kids did nothing wrong.
This is bad reporting. Those that were there said the man approached the kids beating his drum and even joined into the kids as well as they did to his beat. Disgusting what the AP did with this. If you notice the man is smiling as the Indian does the “stare down” done during the ritual. Jeez.
I think about my aunt and the mall when kids do stupid, racist things. I think about the time I came home from school laughing because somebody called somebody else a faggot and I thought that word sounded funny and my mom explained why it wasn’t. I think about the people who took the time to knock my ass down when I spoke out of turn or presumed or overstepped.
I think about how long it took me to be grateful for those times.
Would she have done me any favors, my aunt, had she simply shushed me? Had she made sure nobody heard, and then muttered darkly about the “PC police” and “the media” setting up “good kids” to look bad? Would that have, in any way, prepared me for the world we live in now?
If they’re “just kids” that means there’s a chance they could turn back from this.
The adults in their lives egging them on and defending them are the ones who are irredeemable.