All my life I’ve been a non-confrontational people pleaser. Even in situations when it seemed obvious for me to speak up, I held my tongue in an effort to keep the peace. If I could redo a moment in my life, I would have confronted someone the first time they were racist towards me instead of letting it slide.
It happened during my sophomore year of high school. I was talking with some friends in the hallway before class when Zack, a boy who I considered a friend as well at the time walked up to me and said “What’s up Rosa?” I was really confused as to why he called me Rosa so I just stared at him in confusion until he explained, “You know, like Rosa Parks?” That’s when I put it together that since I’m black, he thought it would be funny to call me Rosa. In the moment I just stood there in shock, unsure of what to do. If I could go back and relive the moment that he called me Rosa the first time, I would have done something to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Initially I let Zack’s comments slide, and that only gave him the confidence to keep doing it. The first few times he called me Rosa, I was offended but I tried to ignore it because for the strangest reason I still wanted him to be my friend. After a while, Zack decided to up the ante. He started calling me “Harriet” as in Harriet Tubman as well. At this point weeks had gone by with his referencing me by names like these.
I reached my breaking point with Zack one day at lunch. He called me Rosa for what seemed like the fiftieth time and I told him that all I’d have to do was tell someone in the school office about what he’s been doing and then he’d regret everything. To that he responded, “I’m white and you’re black. Who do you think they’re going to believe?” I was speechless. All I could gather myself enough to say was “we’re about to find out,” before making my way to the office.
I regret not reacting the first time that Zack showed me who he really was because my silence told him that he could say whatever he wanted to me without any consequences. I was naive to think that he was ever my friend and I’m glad that I know that now. This situation taught me a well needed lesson that can be applied to any relationship, whether that be a friendship or otherwise. You can wish for someone to treat you right all day and night, but it is up to them to actually follow through. Don’t try to salvage relationships because you’ve grown comfortable having that person around or because you feel that you’ve invested too much into them to separate yourself. The moment you realize that their intentions are impure or that they have a negative presence in your life, you have to let them go for your own good. I considered Zack a close friend for years, and wanted so badly to make the excuse that I was being overly sensitive and that he didn’t mean it, but that day at lunch I couldn’t deny it anymore. Now that this situation has blown over, I have grown as a person. I am so proud to be black and I feel compelled to do anything I can to help someone that feels stuck in a similar situation as mine.