A Halloween memory

I outgrew Halloween way to early. Somewhere around age 8 or 9, my parents asked me what I wanted to dress up as, whether I wanted to go trick-or-treating, and I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head. I think it was partly to do with the fact that none of my friends or peers from school lived in my neighborhood. During the elementary years, I attended private school, and then a public school with a magnet program on the other side of the district. I was a shy kid to begin with, and I didn’t click with the other kids on my cul-de-sac, so I was perfectly content to spend Halloween answering the door and passing out candy to the other kids.

I remember this moment so clearly. My dad and I were both in the living room, and when the doorbell rang, I would be the one to answer, while my dad supervised attentively from the couch. I opened the door, and there was a woman holding her young daughter, probably 2- or 3-years-old, in her arms. Her costume was something sweet and adorable, maybe a bumblebee with an antennae headband on top of her blond curls. “Hello, Happy Halloween,” I said. The woman returned my greeting, but her daughter was staring at me. “What’s that, Mommy?” “It’s a little girl, honey.” She was referring to me. I handed out the candy, and the woman politely accepted it. As they walked away from the door, her daughter was still asking her, “What was that, Mommy?”

I closed the door, as confused as the little girl. I wasn’t wearing a costume. I was very clearly a young girl, as the mother had said. I looked at my dad, my perplexed face revealing my question. My dad answered it, with a (sad? angry? cynical?) half-smile. “That little girl had never seen a black person before.”

Those who are other are told so in a hundred small ways every day. That day, I was told that white children need to be taught that black people are human too. That I am a little girl too.

I’ve been learning a lot this semester about racial/ethnic identity development in children and adolescents, and the very clear ways that children, teens and parents are reminded of their other status by teachers and textbooks and administrators in our schools. When I put together all I have learned (or failed to learn) in social work school, through the experience of living in North Carolina, through anti-racism workshops, and through my 27+ years of experience of mastering the behaviors and attitudes required to get ahead in predominantly white spaces and institutions… I’ve arrived at a point where I have a lot of feelings, and I have a lot that I want to say. In many ways, I am embarrassingly late to the conversation, but I am taking cues from others around me, as I search for a way to speak (or write) productively.

I am trying to chip away at it in small pieces. So this memory of Halloween is one small piece.

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