What’s on the Menu?
A Teenage Conversation About Race
Deanna’s story written by WaTasha Griffin.
Deanna is a pseudonym and is in 7th grade.
I live in a vibrant house full of color, compassion, tolerance, and acceptance. Many people in the community know that my parents are of different races, and that my siblings each have DNA’s that are blended with love. You want to know the race of my parents, don’t you? Okay, okay, my dad is Italian American and my mom is African. To some of you, that might seem strange, but to us it is nothing out of the ordinary.
My mom and dad teach me to treat each and every one that I meet with kindness, even when I don’t think they deserve it. I have also been taught that not everyone will extend that same respect and kindness to me.
One fall morning, I was sitting in my science class with my stomach growling louder than the teacher’s voice-signaling to me and all those within earshot, that lunchtime is on its way. Mind you that this is the last class prior to my lunch period. Although I am attentively listening to our teacher go on and on about ancient Rome, my mind is already thinking of what is on the lunch menu.
Finally, the 11:20 a.m. bell rings to dismiss us from class and now it’s lunchtime! Time to quiet this beastly belly growl that I have going on, time to unwind and let down my hair, and yep, it is time to kick it and socialize with my friends!
I get to the cafeteria and race through the hordes of kids to get to the tray line. I look at the menu and make my food selections. As I make my way back through the cafeteria, waving and saying “Hello” as I go, attempting to balance my lunch tray all at the same time, I notice that several of my friends have already beat me to “our” claimed lunch table. I join them and, before long, Allie, Mackenzie, Marie, and I are eating from a diverse group of foods and chatting away. Someone has hot Cheetos, snack cakes, and milk, another has a salad, one has Subway that was carried in by her mother, and I have the standard cafeteria selections, hooray!. . .Not. All four of our racial profiles are just as unique as our food choices, and yet we are the best of friends.
My friend Allie, who is Caucasian, begins to talk about her relationship with her boyfriend, David, who is black. She says that her mother knows she is dating a black guy, but her dad does not. She states that if her dad knew that she was dating a black guy, he would be very upset with her, have a conniption fit, or disown her. So to avoid a big ol’ misunderstanding, she and her mother have decided to keep this little secret, named David, to themselves. Mackenzie, who is also Caucasian, shakes her head from side to side and says, “Really Allie? Now that you are mentioning it, I never understood how you could date David. I will never date a black guy because my religion states that the black and white races should not mix. The Bible says that whites are to date whites and blacks should only date blacks–we all should just date within our own color.”
My mouth drops open in shock; luckily no flies are swarming around, gross right? I am flabbergasted by what I am hearing sitting at this lunch table in the school cafeteria. This conversation was definitely not on the lunch menu! I mean, really? My dear friend Mackenzie really thinks this way? Is she a racist? I am black, so is she only pretending to like me? There are so many thoughts running through my mind, disbelief being the main one. So I ask Mackenzie what her religion is and she replies, “I am of the Christian faith.” I respond by saying, “Mackenzie, I am of the Christian faith, too. Where in the Bible did you find scripture that’s says that blacks and whites should not date?” “Oh, I cannot remember exactly. My mother tells us that ’God didn’t intend for the black and white races to mix,’ all of the time. Heck, we can just Google it and see”, Mackenzie says with a giggle.
I feel my fury begin to rise up inside of me, but I keep my cool on the surface. I think to myself, “Wow, all of those times I have spent hanging out with the Jones family, and I never knew Mrs. Jones was racist? What about Mackenzie’s dad? Wait, are they really racist?”
Of course I would never say any of this out loud. My parents and the R.A.C.E. Group that we attend have taught me, through dialogues and activities, to remain calm and not retaliate from a place of hate—but to think things through and then answer from a positive place. But right at this very minute, I cannot think of one politically correct thing to say. So I just sit there stunned, and say nothing. In fact several of us do.
It feels like an eternity before someone speaks, but in all actuality, it is only about five seconds. The person who speaks up is hot headed Marie, and she is not happy. You see, Marie has a black father and a white mother.
“What the heck do you mean, Mackenzie? Are you telling us that I do not deserve to be born because you and your parents believe that my parents should not have fallen in love because their skin doesn’t match? What kind of religion would cause others to judge who belongs with who based on color? You can take your racist comments and get far away from me! I have known you for a very long time and I would never imagine that you would think this way! Better yet, I cannot believe that you let that stupidity come out of your mouth with a black chick, and a bi-racial chick sitting right here with you! Whites are not superior to other races, you know! Get for real! As a matter of fact, you stay your racist butt right here! I will leave!”
And with that she stands up quickly and begins to gather her belongings. Allie and Mackenzie look at each other, and then at me, in horror.
I try to think of a response I can offer to help defuse the situation, and I calmly say, “Okay guys, let’s all take a deep breath here. I know that this conversation is hard to handle, but we have been friends way too long to walk out of this lunch room without at least trying to work through what has just happened. It is okay for us to have our opinions but we need to do it in a respectful way.”
Marie looks at Allie, Mackenzie, and then at me and says: “You all can do what you want, but I am just going to walk away.”
And she did. But she didn’t just walk away, she raced out of the cafeteria, and she ran away from the conversation. She never got to hear what could have been one of the most enlightening conversations about teenagers and racism. She never got to hear Mackenzie say she was sorry for being offensive. She never got to hear Allie say that she will be honest with her father about her boyfriend, Dave, and she never got to hear me say that when I was little girl hearing the word “race” always made me think of a group of competitive people running really fast trying to beat each other, to claim the title of “winner.”
She never got to hear me say, “And I guess until all races, young and old, are willing to come to the table to have the tough conversations about race, diversity, and stereotypes, and until we are willing to hear, learn and understand each other’s voices, “Race” will continue to be a competition. It will just keep being various groups of people trying to out run each other in an effort to claim the title that declares them or their race as “the winner.” We have come so far, yet we still have a ways to go. Why don’t all of us just run the race together?
Let’s add that to the menu.
Read the original story on the R.A.C.E. Muncie Facing Project Page
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