I can still remember as a first grader being driven home by a white classmate and her mother after a sleepover.
Upon pulling up to my residence, the classmate exclaimed “Wow! I can’t believe you live in such a nice house! We thought you lived in a trailer with peeling paint!”
I’ll never forget the silence of my peer’s mother, her face ablush. I’ll never forget how much that comment perplexed me, even at the age of six. It is only now, as an adult, that I grieve for my little girl heart. The one that so deeply wanted to be included and valued. I ponder upon all the hurtful conversations that took place behind closed doors, rife with assumptions that I never heard. How did they affect my classmates’ perceptions of me?
I consider all the birthday parties I was left out of.
Sparkly invitations in every girl’s cubby but my own. I wince at remembering how much it hurt to have these same classmates play with me all day, yet exclude me in that instance with such disregard. I applaud my innocent bravery, as I would sometimes just ask outright “How come you didn’t invite me?”
Etched in my mind is each of their faces, eyes avoiding my own, sometimes quietly admitting the truth: “My Dad doesn’t like Black people.”
I have spent much of my life existing in predominantly white spaces.
While my father is Nigerian and my mother Afro-Honduran, I grew up in an overwhelmly white neighborhood, attended an overwhelmly white school and worshipped in an overwhelmly white church.
These circumstances made for a challenging journey in understanding my Blackness and knowing where exactly I fit in. My desire to be seen, known and understood led me to suppress the truest parts of myself for fear of being too much or not enough.
My Adult Reality
At the age of 33, I am still unraveling those inauthentic versions of myself. They were born from an unfortunate onslaught of microaggressions and code switching.
Navigating a system that was intentionally designed to keep me stifled has been painful and traumatic. Only now am I arriving at a place in my life that I am able to put words to a lifetime of experiences that still sting upon recollection and occurrence.
I feel it’s worth noting that in my fellowship among white people, I have found meaningful and lifelong bonds. My husband of nearly 8 years is white. We have three biracial daughters. Our relationship has always been a healing, safe space for me.
Yet, I can also, finally, honor that fact that some of my most searing soul wounds have been inflicted by white people weaponizing their privilege and hate due to the color of my skin.
I think white society struggles with words like “privilege” and “racism” because it can be difficult to see these definitions in action. An assumption is made that “racism” is blatant meanness or hate. Privilege, in many white minds, is synonymous with “wealth and luxury” rather than an inherent racial advantage in access to power and resources (no matter your situational status).
I say all of this to express that, due to my own economic privilege, many of the most hurtful experiences I’ve encountered at the hands of white people have been difficult to pinpoint because they come in the form of gas-lighting, implicit bias, “well-intentioned” microaggressions, and white fragility. It is only upon deep reflection, sometimes long after these occurrences, that I have been able to decipher why they derived such hurt and sadness in my heart.
Fired. A Teenage Trauma.
At the age of 16, I got my first job at Coldstone Creamery. I was the only Black employee. Not too long after, the store was transferred to a new general manager. Even in my consistent warmth towards them, I can remember getting the clear message that they were not comfortable with me.
One day, I showed up to get my paycheck. The general manager, his wife, and their adult son were all present. They told me that they wanted to speak with me in private and escorted me out of the back of the store by the trash cans. I was terrified. I wondered if they would try to hurt me. There with the sun beating down on my shoulders, they told me that they had evidence of me stealing and that I was fired.
I was overwhelmed with dismay. I tried telling them that they were mistaken. I assured them that I had never stolen in my entire life. I will never forget the hate and rage in the wife’s eyes as she got in my face and said “I know you don’t like me and the feeling is mutual!” I will never forget how she spoke to me as if I had harmed her in some way. I will never forget how I wanted to tell her that I was just a child and I had done nothing wrong.
My mother insisted on driving me back to the store shortly after I arrived home in tears. She demanded evidence of my theft. They claimed they didn’t have to provide us with anything. “Only God can judge me!” the general manager shouted as he backed himself into the store and locked the door behind him. Unresolved rage and grief still bubble to the surface when I recall finding out a few days later that they had fabricated the entire allegation.
They were never held accountable.
Channeling Maternal Instinct
I recently came across a tweet by author and speaker Ijeoma Oluo gave voice to my own emotional turmoil: “The constant, growing, unbearable trauma of being Black in a white supremacist country lies in the fact that you cannot heal from things that keep happening.”
My experiences did not stop in my youth.
As a Black collective, we are heavy with a generational weariness that is rooted in a lack of accountability for the merciless injustices that we continue to face. And, yet, we remain steadfast in our ability to show up, to speak out, and to relentlessly fight for our humanity to be acknowledged and affirmed. Even in our discomfort, we have no other alternative.
The urgency of this work has to span beyond its victims. Those who benefit from the oppression-steeped status quo must use their privilege to bear its crippling weight and dismantle it.
Motherhood awakens an instinctual calling to nurture, advocate, and protect our beloved—by any means necessary. Coincidentally, these are also the qualities at the foundation of activism. In taking the time to recount some of my own childhood and adolescent experiences, I hope it awakened some of your own maternal instincts. Because we know what it is to fiercely love our own, mothers already have the capacity to shake the table and pursue justice.
It’s imperative that we have eyes to see how these same anti-blackness sentiments and actions permeate every part of the present day Black existence. This is true no matter age, economic class, or profession.
As the dust settles and the streets quiet, what are you doing to stay dialed into this movement?
Start where you are. Lean into discomfort. Put something on the line. Speak truth to power.
Here are some helpful anti-racism resources.
Mama to three vibrant girls, Zion (6), Okalani (4), and Shiloh (6.5 months), Victoria Ukaoma Rose is married to her class act of a husband, Brad who is a high school English teacher, PA announcer, music lover, and adventure seeker. She is a social worker turned special educator teacher. When she isn’t fully submerged in motherhood, she enjoys making new watercolor creations for her Etsy shop, devouring audiobooks, and throwing down in the kitchen.
Family Photo credit: Megan Flick Photography