Racism Isn’t Worth a Nickel
Last week as I sat in my hairdresser’s chair her niece, Ashley, told me a story about her first trip to Oakland. “When I first came to this country I had to travel to Oakland to go to beauty school to get my license. I had to travel on the bus alone all the way from Albany on my second day here. I barely spoke any English, but my sister told me ‘catch the 51, it will let you off right in front of the school.’ I was so frightened to go to Oakland because I was afraid of the Black man. I knew there were Black men in Oakland, so I’m scared, but I went anyway.”
“I went to catch the 51, but I missed my bus. So I was scared, and I had to make a phone call but all I had was a nickel. I kept putting it into the pay phone but it wouldn’t work. I didn’t know what to do. So I see this Old Chinese lady. And I try to ask her in Mandarin, can you please help me…please help me. BUT she doesn’t want to stop. I realize… she is scared of me.” Ashley and I both began to laugh.
I never thought to stop her from the retelling of this tale. It dawned on me that what she was saying was offensive. But, I allowed her to continue hoping that there was a moral to the story. This narrative of the Black man as a threat and frightening is not new. This summer I read this article with my high school students, and they weren’t surprised at the discrimination. Unlike my students, I continue to be surprised, and disheartened. But my hope is that through dialogue we will learn the truth about stereotypes and racial biases. Otherwise we will continue to dial ‘the other’ with our worthless nickels.