*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.
Growing up, I had this one abrasive aunt whom my parents referred to as my “favorite aunt.”
It was confusing because I really didn’t like her at all.
I retreated into my bedroom the moment I learned my aunt was visiting one day. Although it was still daylight, I changed into my pajamas and buried myself beneath the bed covers in a futile attempt to avoid her.
Shortly after her arrival, she turned my doorknob and launched into my room. After pulling the sheets and blankets off my legs for no reason other than to annoy me, she began her interrogation.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” she asked.
I could have sworn we’d just reviewed this topic during her last visit. “No,” I mumbled. “I don’t have a boyfriend.” My number of birthdays to date was still in the single digits, and I was already beginning to feel like an old maid. I closed my eyes and tried to wish her away.
“There must be a boy you like,” she insisted.
I thought hard about her question. She clearly wanted me to like a boy, any boy, and I wanted to make her happy so she would leave.
There was one popular neighborhood boy who was kind to me during dodge ball in school gym class once. Although he tricked me into giving him the ball, which forced me out of the game, he didn’t throw the ball at me as hard as he could or try to hit me in the face like the other kids. He’d just smiled and said, “Thank you.”
It was a win-win. He had control of the ball, and I got to sit on the sidelines.
I told my aunt the boy’s name and watched her face cloud over. “He’s black,” she spat.
My aunt exited the room like her heels were on fire.
I burst into tears the moment her feet touched the kitchen floor linoleum. Shaking, I huddled beneath my bedcovers. Why was she so angry? All I did was answer her question. What did I do wrong? Am I going to get in trouble?
Voices rose and fell in the next room. My aunt’s voice was shrill and accusing. My mother’s voice was low and steady.
I couldn’t hear what either of them said, but I knew exactly what they were talking about. After forcing me to admit a crush on a boy when I didn’t even have a crush on any boy, my aunt was furious that the boy I’d picked was black.
After what seemed like hours but was likely only a matter of minutes, my mother entered my bedroom. “Did you tell your aunt you liked the neighbor boy?” she asked.
I nodded my head. “Yes.” I was still sniffing.
“Good,” my mother replied. “He’s a nice boy.” She left the room without saying another word, and we never spoke of him again.
Neither did my aunt.
Until that unfortunate and confusing exchange with my racist aunt, I had been blissfully unaware of the reality of racism. I attended an inner-city school with a diverse group of students. I, myself, am the daughter of immigrants.
Developing or denying feelings about another person based on race hadn’t occurred to me, and I didn't know my aunt was a racist until I told her about my childhood crush.