Most of my childhood was ordinary, in my mind. I was raised by my mother. My parents divorced when I was young.
My mom and I lived in an ageing brown stucco duplex in a working-class neighbourhood. We had no yard of our own, but there was a small patch of grass out front that neighbours shared, and we had palm trees that lined our road.
We were not poor, but we didn’t have much money. We rode the bus until my mom saved enough for a second-hand yellow Volkswagen Beetle. I went to school down the road. I had friends and a bicycle.
There are a few moments from my ordinary childhood that stand out for me, forty years later. For example, I still remember the afternoon that I spotted a new girl my age riding her bike on our block. Without consideration, I called out to her and caught up on my bike. It was a warm sunny afternoon. We talked, giggled and road our bikes together around the block for at least an hour. We were both just girls. The same age. On a sunny afternoon. We liked riding bikes.
I was surprised and then confused when the girl’s grandmother came outside. She saw us riding together and then shouted for her granddaughter to go home immediately. Later, the little girl told me that she wasn’t allowed to ride bikes with me, because I am black.
I’m not sure that I understood what she meant at that moment. Of course, I’m black. I don’t believe I had given much consideration to my colour (or hers) before that moment. I was unsure about how my colour was relevant. I think that I shrugged my shoulders, mumbled an incoherent response and then climbed back onto my bike.
Most of my life, I told myself that small moments like that one don’t hurt me. I am strong, black, beautiful and confident – words don’t hurt me! Except, they do hurt – sometimes.