Rights of Passage

When it’s your thirteenth birthday, it’s the birth of youth. Your body has developed, your voice has changed, along with your mentality right? Such was the case for me, but my mentality changed for the rest of my life when my mom took my girls and I to a store. The night before, I had a slumber party with all my girls. We dressed up in my mom’s beautiful dresses that night and had a fashion runway in my house. It was awesome. The morning after, everyone wanted to sit outside on my family patio and eat breakfast on that beautiful morning. The sun was out and birds were chirping out of happiness. My bougie self decided to stay inside and eat in peace. Little did I know that would be a foreshadowing of what happened later. While I was eating my breakfast inside my house, my girlfriends suddenly raced back inside annoyed because the birds came and pooped on their clothes and food. They were mad. I laughed inside and continued eating my breakfast thinking, that’s what y’all get for eating outside…but the joke was on me later.

That afternoon, my mom took us to Target to grab some things. As innocent kids, we walked around and looked at what they had there. My best childhood friend Sheena and a few others saw a sign for free ice cream. Anything that says free samples is a magnet for kids. It’s ice cream, and it’s free-no explanations needed. We ventured to that area where a cashier was by herself. She was an older woman watching us young kids come frolicking her way loudly like any other teenagers. While I did not pay attention to her expression, I was bothered by what my friends said when they asked for free samples. The cashier flat out said “No”, without any explanation. My friends asked “Why not? There is a sign for free ice cream samples.” The cashier refused to explain and kept saying no. They went to my mom to complain about it because they didn’t understand why they were refused free sample ice cream samples as she waited on other people who did not look like us. When I heard this, I tried to deny what I was hearing. All my friends did not look like me. We were different shades of brown from chocolate, cinnamon, caramel and butterscotch. I saw no difference, but clearly this woman was bothered by how we looked. We did not look like her, and she was not black. I grew concerned, but kept my thoughts to myself. My friends told my mom what happened. They were asking her to help them understand this confusing refusal for free ice cream.

My mom approached this woman and asked why we were refused service. In response, the woman ignored my mother, and waited on another person who was behind her in line. My friends were livid and told me what happened. Immediately I grew scared. If you have not seen how alike my mother resemble and I each other, which was uncanny, it made sense. We had a lighter complexion with African features, and our skin was several tints darker than this woman who was clearly of Caucasian descent. As I look back on this now, and as a native Kentucky girl, because I was a few tints darker, with a bigger nose and a deeper voice, I was discriminated for not looking like her. Excuse my language, but that shit hurts, angers and saddens me. My mother saw this was far from fair, and immediately asked for the manager because of the lack of customer service and discrimination…for a free sample of ice cream.

The moment the manager came and listened to my mother explain what happened, everyone marched to the diner where this woman was servicing other people. Everyone else went along with them, except for me. I wanted to innocently witness this experience because I did not want to except this. Not on my thirteenth birthday. This was supposed to be a celebration of womanhood, not an awareness of racism. I watched the manager, who was a white male, approach this cashier and make her apologize to my mother and my friends for her behavior. I cried inside because I felt compassion for her. She apologized and walked away in tears.

During times like now, you would ask why did I feel compassion for this woman? Why did I feel sorry for her? My reason is not your reason, so hear me out. This woman thought she could get away with her behavior without us standing up for what was right. She did not understand the domino effect she set upon us as young women who were not adults, and who were black. My mother has dealt with this growing up in the South, and probably did not want us to experience this mentality over free ice cream samples. I wondered how much easier this would have been if this cashier did her job and provided customer service by giving us free ice cream samples as it stated on the sign. She made it much harder on herself thinking she could get away with how she treated us. Unfortunately, this woman did not understand how this would shatter my world where I saw no color. I knew I was different, but had no idea that how I looked would cause me to be treated any differently. For the first time, it was blatantly clear how unfair life would be and I could not wrap my head around it. I heard about it, and probably experienced racism unbeknownst to me in my childhood years and blocked it out of my memory. This experience along with others, would be something I would never forget for the rest of my life.

To this day, I get angered at how people think because I am a lighter complexion that I would be treated any different. That day I was not treated any different from my girlfriends who were of different brown and black complexions. To this day, I don’t understand how people would treat anyone differently out of bias. We’re not different from anyone, but because of misconceptions, tradition, and stereotypes, we are automatically viewed negatively when we as people are powerful beyond measure. When I turned thirteen, that was my full rights of passage into being different as a black woman with more experiences I would deal with in the future. While not comparing my experiences, I would have to keep my friend from being provoked on Independence Day to fight a drunk man who called him out of his name. It would be the day I performed on stage as a new member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, to find out from my friends that my mother was pulled over just because she drove an expensive car and assumed the car was confiscated by a black man. It would be the day to see how unfair the world treats you, but to keep walking forward into who I am.

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