Racism pounces on you. You try to beat it back but it’s there. A story.
A long time ago, my daughter, who was then 12 years old, accepted a slumber party invitation from a classmate. My daughter was white, her classmate black. Several girls from their class, white and black, were invited. The address for the birthday girl’s party was an apartment on a busy street in Milwaukee’s central city. Every time I drive by this building, I think of this story. That’s how much it’s stuck with me.
So I took my daughter to the apartment door and met the birthday girl and her mother. I said goodbye and walked back to my car. It was a neighborhood that we would call rough because we wouldn’t want to call it black because that would be racist.
I sat up in bed that night asking my husband if I had done the right thing letting her go to the slumber party. “Go get her if you think she’s in danger,” he said. I hate this about my husband. He never takes my responsibilities from me.
I froze. Sat up in bed all night debating with myself. I had dropped off my child with strangers, black strangers, in the central city. All I knew about them was that their little girl was nice. She had been to our home.
The debate: I should pick her up. Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t know anything about her family. You never know anything about the families of the kids your kid hangs out with. It’s a really bad neighborhood. It’s a really black neighborhood. I should pick her up. I should go to sleep. Anything could happen. Nothing will happen.
The night was endless.
“Jesus,” I said to my husband, “Did I do the right thing?”
I thought to myself, how can I be the person I say I am and worry about my child spending the night with her friend from school? Then I thought, how can I be so cowed by the appearance of racism that I won’t get in the car and go get her from a bad neighborhood?
Was I worried about a bad neighborhood or about a black neighborhood? If I went to pick up my daughter, what would I say to the girl and her mom? What would I say to my daughter? What would be the reason?
I beat back myself all night. What would a reasonable person do? I had met the girl, met her mother, it would be fine. It wouldn’t be fine. Paralysis.
In the morning, I went to pick her up.
“How was it? Did you have fun?
“It was nice. Her dad came in the morning and made pancakes for us. But none of the other girls came. I was the only one.”