Finally. I was at the school. I made my way to my usual spot on the concrete bench right outside the door Brennan runs out of every day yelling “Mommie!” “Hey Alex!”; his smile so big just below his glasses it always reminds me of what I looked like when I was his age. Quirky, eager to learn, boundless energy, big glasses-we’re pretty much twins he and I.
I looked over at Alex sleeping in the stroller and partially covered his face with his thick Thomas the Train blanket in an effort to shield him the cold wind blowing around us.
I turned off the Prince music blaring through my headphones, took them off, and placed then in the bottom of the stroller. I glanced at my phone noting the time-2:27. Close to the usual time I arrive every day.
I turned around and leaned my body back against the brick wall, taking in long deep breaths to recover from walking and pushing the stroller up the monster of a hill that leads to Brennan’s school at the top. I reached down to grab a juice box from the bottom of the stroller and heard boots scuffing the ground near me. I looked up and right into the eyes of a police officer, the same one I passed as I headed to my usual spot by the door. Considering recent events I didn’t have to wonder why he was sitting on his motorcycle watching the kids on the playground-he was there, just in case. “Extra security measures,” the email from the school had said. “We take the safety of our students and children very seriously,” the principal stressed in that email.
“Hi ma’am. Can I ask you why you’re sitting here?”
“I’m waiting for my son.”
“You actually have a son who goes here?”
“Yes. Why do ask?”
“What grade is he in?”
“Kindergarten,” I said, wondering where this was going. Maybe this is one of those “extra security measures” the school mentioned. I used to be an Air Force cop-I know what it’s like to have to ask people questions when there’s a security threat.
“What’s his name?”
“Brennan. Brennan Mills.”
“And what’s your name?”
“A’Driane,” I said, noticing other parents walking by-the same parents I see every day-and catching their glances as they passed. “A’Driane Dudley.”
“You have ID on you?”
I reached down and grabbed my wallet out of the bottom of the stroller and handed over my ID.
“This says you’re from New Jersey-“
“Yea I know, I moved here back in August and that’s my old driver’s license-it’s expired and I don’t drive. I walk here every day to pick up my son.”
“Ok.” Hands my ID back to me. “This your son too?” he asked, tossing his head in the direction of the stroller. “Anything other than your purse underneath there?”
“Yes. His name is Alex. No. Nothing but juice boxes to drink on our walk home. I’m sorry, but can I ask what’s going on? Is there a memo I missed? Am I supposed to wait somewhere else now, until my son gets out? This is where I usually wait for him-his classroom is right there,” I said pointing to Brennan’s classroom that could be seen clearly through the locked doors. “They are dismissed through this door every day so that’s why I wait for him here,” I said, noticing that another parent had shown up on the patio area, waiting, like I was for her kindergartener.
“Well, ma’am we’re just checking out any and all suspicious activity we see around the school property, and approaching people-making sure they’re supposed to be here.”
Suspicious. I looked over at the mom standing at the base of the patio and felt my face grow hot, becoming very aware of what I was wearing: yoga pants, Bertski’s hooded Vans long sleeved shirt, my headwrap. No…no. This isn’t happening. Is it? There’s no way this is what I’m thinking it is. He’s going to approach other parents after me who are showing up too. This is just a security measure….isn’t it?
“Well alright ma’am. Thanks for your cooperation. Have a good day.” He turned to the other mom standing there, smiled, nodded his head, and said, “Hi-it’s a cold one, today, isn’t it?” More pleasantries exchanged. No ID checking. No interrogation. No asking what was in the Gucci purse hanging from her shoulder. Their laughter grated on my nerves and I stood up, angry as I watched him walk back to his motorcycle and start talking to the other officers in the suburban next to him.
I watched them and waited. Waited for them to walk to another patio down the sidewalk where there were parents gathering and make their presence known, ask questions. They didn’t. No one else was questioned.
Before I could hide the anger and embarrassment washing over my face, I heard the school doors opening and turned to see kindergarteners pouring out into the patio, their chatter loud, excited as they were escorted by older students to their parents waiting in the car line.
I fought back tears as I searched for his face and big smile. There he was. The only brown face in the sea of children, making his way toward me, with his usual greeting, “Mommie!” “Hey Alex!” and grabbing me around the waist. I grabbed his hand, released the brakes on the stroller, and walked as quickly as we could away from the school. From the police. Towards the road that would take us back home, where I wasn’t so “suspicious” looking.
I understand that what happened in Sandy Hook has everyone on high alert. I understand increased security at schools. But what I don’t understand is profiling a woman because her skin color and attire don’t look like they “fit” in a certain environment; one where others are white and their attire-whether it’s workout gear, corporate wear, or designer outfits-never arouses “suspicion.” I don’t understand why I was the only parent questioned during that time. I saw none being questioned when I arrived and none being approached after I was.
I’ve tried not to let the fact that Brennan is the only black kid in kindergarten at this school worry me. There are other minority families with children who attend, but our kids are a very small percentage of the overall white population at the school.
I’ve tried not to give into the “I’m a black woman in an affluent white neighborhood and I need to present myself in such a way that my race doesn’t matter. I’m a parent just like everyone else.” I made a conscious choice to believe that despite my concerns, no one would see our blended family any different than the others that are apart of the school community. For the most part, I believe that the majority of the other parents don’t give any thought to our races or what kind of clothes we’re wearing.
But there have been a few times when I’ve gotten “the look.” It’s usually from women but I’ve gotten it from a few men as well. The fake smile they throw my way when I look them directly in their eyes and say hello….or the silence that lets me know they are uncomfortable. I know what these things mean because I’ve experienced them most of my teenage and adult life. I’m not stupid. Not by any means. I don’t look for something that isn’t there. I don’t go around looking for an opportunity to pull out the race card.
No. I don’t do that. But when racism makes its presence known I know how to recognize it for what it is, no matter how subtle or indirect, and call a spade a spade.
What happened to me today was something that left me feeling violated. It was demeaning and it once again drove home the reality of what my sons will have to face and my responsibility to teach them how to handle themselves when it tries to undermine their value and right to be viewed just like everyone else-human beings. Young men who see differences in others and not let fear or prejudice dictate how they treat others.
Today I was racially profiled. Just like thousands of other American citizens with brown skin, long beards, turbans, and who wear hoodies. People who “look suspicious.” It shouldn’t happen. But unfortunately every day and especially after a horrific tragedy rocks our nation, we go back to these kinds of behaviors and call them “security measures.”
It’s not right. Things like this make me lose hope that my boys will live in a society that’s freer from the grip of racism than we currently are today.
I hope I’m wrong. Right now though? I see we still have a much longer way to go.