Since pre-k, my biracial daughter has been adultified with adult skill sets applied to her normal childhood behaviors and differences and nefarious intentionality ascribed to her behaviors. She is not afforded the presumption of childhood innocence or the right to the childhood developmental expectations. She has repeatedly been removed from her classroom, received lunchroom and recess punishment, pathologized (recommended for counseling 1x/week for crying in kindergarten, and suspended several times for merely crying in class). She was accused and investigated in 1st grade for bullying and vandalism because parents in our school view her as “a bit of a mean girl,” “a ring leader, “aggressive,” “hostile” and having “something wrong” with her. Parents have described her as smart and calculating … at 6! When incidents have happened to her, they are underreported or misreported, minimized as not being all that hurtful or problematic. My child has feelings, does feel pain, and deserves to be valued and cared for as do all children.
When I was 19, I decided it was time to go to the OBGYN for the first time. I had lost my virginity to my boyfriend and wanted to get on birth control. The doctor was an older white man. He came into the room and started asking me questions about my sexual history. What was striking and insulting, was that he asked in very assuming ways. He asked. “So, you’ve had 4 or 5 sexual partners, or more?” I told him I had only ever been with one man. Then he asked, “So, then you’ve been active for, what, 5 or 6 years?” I was shocked and angry. I replied, “No. I didn’t start having sex at 13 years old. I just lost my virginity a month ago.” To which he responded, “Hmmm.” I left feeling terrible at all of his assumptions about my sexuality.
I don’t really remember how old I was but it was in elementary school. All the boys & girls were being ‘fresh’ as most boys & girls do around that time. I remember a boy approaching me in class to be what flirtatious was at that age and the teacher yelled at me. The boy was black as well. I remember telling her, “But he came up to me” and I remember her response being something along the lines of I invited him to talk to me for being playful with him. The other girls in the class, who were white or Hispanic, would sit on laps and kiss cheeks but I was just sitting at my desk.
One time in 6th grade at a pool party at my affluent White friend’s house (where I was the only Black person), my friends and I were in the hot tub with our “crushes”. Meanwhile we did not know that all of the moms (my mom was not present) were in the kitchen watching us. The boys asked my friends and I to sit on their laps. At that age we had no idea about sex! We just knew we thought they were cute and liked them and didn’t want to jeopardize them liking us back. So we agreed to sit on their laps. All of my friends, except one (none of the boys were into her) sat on a boy’s lap, but shortly after, all of the moms came outside and asked me to come into the kitchen with them to talk. During this conversation they accused me of being the ring leader and said they were worried about me! Even though all of the other girls did the exact same thing. I was singled out and they threatened to tell me parents what I did. No one else faced any consequences. After the meeting in the kitchen I went back to the party and cried. I felt crushed and thoroughly embarrassed. I realized that day that my White friends and their parents saw me differently. My heart was broken.
I couldn’t have been more than 13 years old. While I had a door key, it was rare that my grandmother wasn’t home when I came home from school. This particular day, she wasn’t home. We had an alarm system that she would set and I just needed to punch in the code. It gave you a certain amount of time to put the code in before it would signal the police. So for whatever reason I didn’t put the code in in time. Next thing I know my house is surrounded by police. Now it’s right after school and I’m still in my private school uniform- jumper, shirt with the Peter Pan collar, knee highs. And my hair was always in pigtails, so there is no way I looked like an adult. I go out and explain to the police officer that I live here and everything is ok. But he was convinced that I was lying. Asked for ID, which I didn’t have cause I was like 12! Then asked if I had any mail with my name on it. Once again I didn’t have cause I was in middle school and why would I have mail? Took one of my neighbors coming out and confirming that I did indeed live there. That was over 20 years ago. I still remember the cops face.