Quarantine Day 94. It’s Juneteenth today.
One thing that’s stuck with me over the years is something my 6th-grade homeroom teacher told me.
I told her: “Racism still exists today.”
She told me: “No, it doesn’t.” Quite forcefully and immediately too.
I don’t remember the context of that conversation anymore. It’s been over two decades. Those two lines of conversation are all I remember. But I still remember exactly where we were standing, the light of the afternoon sun outside, and how sparse the room was (it must’ve been lunchtime or right after school ended). I have an inkling that I said this after a lesson on US history — specifically one about civil rights.
After her retort, I remember feeling shocked. I think that’s where the conversation ended.
I’m reminded of another incident very vividly, also during middle school.
On July 11th every year, 7-11 gives out free slurpees. So when my sister and I were old enough to get them ourselves, we asked our dad to drive us around to all the local 7-11’s until either he had enough, or until we got our fill (even today, there’re 20 7-11’s in a ~5-mile radius around my old house — I just checked).
Most of the time, we had no problem.
But, my sister and I were refused service once. It wasn’t like the cashier didn’t notice us; we were kids screaming for attention — two Asian kids among a crowd of white kids. The white kids got their Slurpees and left (at this particular 7-11, the free Slurpees weren’t self-serve). My sister and I hung around in front of the counter for at least 5 minutes. The attendant ignored us.
We went back to our dad, who was waiting in parking lot. I don’t remember what his reaction was anymore. But I recall a mixture of resignation and “forget it.”
In the first instance, the teacher was an older white lady (who I otherwise really respected, and still appreciate). In the second instance, the cashier was a middle-aged white guy.
I’ve experienced various forms of racism since my childhood — mostly microaggressions (for example, being mistaken for being a waiter or service worker at white-collar events) or being passed over for a program slot “because we have enough Asians.” But for some reason, these memories return to me quickly.