In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I want to share some of my experiences with racism in Massachusetts. I know some people think racism is long dead, but it is alive and thriving right here.
I grew up in Leominster, a very racist town.
The first time I experienced racism was walking down the street during elementary school. Three or four kids hung out of their car and told me to “Go back to Africa.” At first, I wondered how they knew I was African. Years later, I realized they did not know that.
In middle school, students made African clicking sounds from “South Park” whenever I was around. They did not know I was African either. When we learned about Islam, students yelled “Allahu Akbar” as a joke through the hallways. Dark-skinned students were given names due to their skin color. Students who ate ethnic food were mocked so much that they cried. Asian students were also made fun of, but that is for them to share if they would like.
In high school, things became worse. Students accused me of not being Black and said I talked white constantly (thus pushing the racist idea that black people are not educated). I confronted them at the time, but the racism continued. I was made to represent my race to my white friends. One person told me I was “one of the good ones”. One of my friends said the n-word while rapping a song and offended many people but seemingly forgot in the years after.
Unfortunately for people who face racism, we do not forget because it never stops. We are traumatized.
Our teachers sometimes added to the racism at school.
One white teacher seemed to believe in “The White Man’s Burden” (a poem about how white people need to “save” poor, uneducated brown people who the poem painted as helpless Idiots).
Another white teacher made us read a book about college admissions. They talked about legacies and extracurriculars, and much more. There was also a bit about a Native American student who got in. The book pushed the idea that you had to be diverse to get into college. Thus, as a result, when college rejections began to assault my white friends, they complained about affirmative action. They complained they were not diverse enough. They were shocked I got into the school that I did. A white guidance counselor who was not mine told people about how I got a free ride which was not a great idea in the racist town we lived in. He also forgot that I lived in a single-parent household where money was so tight sometimes the lights turned off. I couldn’t even afford to go to college in the first place. I used free vouchers for my applications.
That same white teacher led a conversation about whether or not we should be able to say the n-word in an academic setting (proof attached). The white students jumped over themselves to say that they should, and it was just a word. They compared it to Italian slurs while my teacher asked students how they would feel if someone made a blonde joke about them. I cried in the corner, and the only other black person there comforted me. I remember saying to her, “They don’t understand what it’s like.”
My trust in people was shattered during high school. Whenever I met someone, I waited for the other shoe to drop. I waited for them to say, “You sound white,” or ask, “Why is Africa so poor?” or say the N-word.
I share this to save the next generation.
Thank you for hearing me,
— Plamedi Makelela2015 Leominster High School graduate