June 19, 2020
Every woman who walks through the doors at Vie has a story to tell. All these stories are meant to be shared and known. Mercedes is a wonderful member of ours and has been attending Vie Athletics for over two years. Her strength and kindness are what first drew us to her. Her resilience continues to inspire us. Mercedes recently opened up to us about her life as a Black woman. In her own words, she shares the tragic loss of her father when she was a young girl, her experiences with racism, motherhood, and her hopes for the future.
Read Mercedes’ story. See the world through her eyes.
“I was just five years old. My parents were going out to a club in downtown Seattle with some friends. That night, my mom had a little too much to drink and started arguing with my dad. She was upset because he told her it was time to go and she did not want to. He was helping her to the car when they started arguing again. A man walks up to my mom and dad and asked if they were ok. My mom thought he was a police officer because he had a badge on his hip. My dad told him they were fine and to leave. He tried to explain that he was just trying to get his very intoxicated wife home. The guy would not listen. There are conflicting stories about what happened next. I was told my dad reached into his pocket to get his car keys or he took a step towards the man, the news article says my dad lunged towards him. However, what isn’t disputed is my father and said, “What are you going to do? Kill me?” Then shots were fired. He shot my dad. This man was not a cop, but a security guard. Yes, he was white. It was his first day on the job. He shot my father with an unregistered weapon. He never obtained any licenses the state required for his job. His job told him it would be best if he carried a gun because of how crazy things can get sometimes and to be aware of “certain types of people”. Now, was this race related? Who knows? Some people think it was based off the man’s comments in the past. This was 1997 so there was no social media at the time. Word of mouth was all we had. The story of my father’s passing and what happened was covered by The Seattle Times. The article covered the concern that people were being hired for these positions without the proper training to handle different types of situations. Training costs were too high. Background checks were not being done. There were quite a few incidents with security guards and Seattle residences at the time. Including another death.
My dad lived for another two months. He was in intensive care. He could not speak. I think at one point he did not know who we were. My father was being transferred from the hospital into the rehab unit at Harborview. During the transfer, a nurse forgot to clean out his throat tube and he suffocated to death. He died on March 18, 1997. The man that shot my father was not charged with a crime because the court saw it as justifiable homicide. He said that he saw my father as a threat. A threat because of the way that he looked.
The last memory I have of him is my sister and I were fighting over which one of us would get to push him in his wheelchair. My dad motioned to let my sister do it because I did it last time. Then he gave me a hug.
Question: What’s your earliest memory of becoming aware that some people looked different from you?
”I noticed the difference early on. My family moved from Seattle to Federal Way when I was in the first grade. I grew up in a suburb neighborhood where my family was only 1 of 2 black families. There were not many kids that looked like me. When I was younger, I would get made fun of by kids because of how my mother did my hair. They would call me medusa and say my hair looked weird. I would get asked all the time why my hair was different, and kids would want to touch it all the time especially when I had braids. I would not necessarily say it was racist, more ignorance. I think it was more of kids not knowing about other cultures than kids being racist. I did make a lot of great friends over the years. Some I still talk to today.”
Question: What age were you when you first noticed racism?
“I did not notice racism until I was older – like 19 or 20. My earliest memory of racism is when my boyfriend, now fiancé, decided to take a trip with my family to the Oregon coast. As kids, my grandma used to take us there all the time. We have lots of great memories there. We were looking for a place to sit down and eat. We walked inside the restaurant and there was a sign that said seat yourselves so that is what we did. Ten minutes goes by and no one comes to the table. We really did not think anything of it since it is a small restaurant. Another ten minutes goes by and another couple walks in and sits down. Not even two minutes after they had been seated a lady walks to their table, takes their order, looks at us and walks away back to the kitchen. I try to stay optimistic and tell my fiancé maybe she did not see us and to give it a couple more minutes. She comes in and out of the kitchen a couple more times. She continued to ignore us so we decide to leave. As we were leaving, we could hear her laughing with another coworker in the doorway to the kitchen. We have not been back to the coast since. It sucks that someone can take such great memories, ones that I have had since being a child and just turn them into something so negative. Every time I think of that place, what happened to us is always the first thing that pops up in my head. But, we are planning to take our kids there at the end of summer.”
Question: Have you personally experienced racism? If so, what happened?
“I have been called names like black b**** by angry customers before over minor things. I have been followed around stores by employees, thinking I am going to take something. I have even felt obligated to purchase things if what I have come in the store for is unavailable. Just so they see that I did not come in there to take things. One of my worst experiences was a couple years ago. We were having a chili cookoff at my job and I needed to get an extra crockpot because I made too much to just fit in one. I decided to go to a store (that I will not name) early in the morning before work. I hurried in and grabbed what I needed, went to check out and was walking out of the store. As I was walking out a lady yelled, “Excuse me!” I turned around and she was running towards me. She asked to see my receipt. Normally, this is not a bad thing, but she completely stopped checking out her customer, ran past two of her managers to stop me from walking out the door. Mind you, I was checking out right behind her. I showed her my receipt and she said, “Ok, just wanted to make sure you weren’t stealing that.” Normally I would have same something back or went and talked to her manager, but I was in a hurry and late for work. I just walked out. I was so embarrassed. I called my fiancé at work and cried the whole way to work. Thank god my car has tinted windows 😊. I will just never understand how some people think. I get some people steal, but not all people are like that.
Question: Do you live in any kind of fear due to your skin color?
“I try not to let things I see on TV and social media skew my views of people, but now a days it’s hard not to. It is terrifying to think that I can walk into a store or go to a park and get in a confrontation with someone just because of how I look. Or get pulled over, things go wrong and something bad happens. Since George Floyd’s murder and all the protests, I have so much anxiety when I have to go places like the grocery store. I feel like some people look at me funny or avoid me all together. Maybe it is my own paranoia because I know that this situation has caused such a divide for some. You just never know if you are going to run into someone that is having a bad day and take it out on you.”
Question: What are your hopes for the future?
“My hope for the future is that what has happened does not continue to happen. I want my kids to grow up and not have to worry about being bullied for looking different. I hope for laws to be passed that prevent things like what happened to George Floyd. What is encouraging about the future is there are leaders out there pushing for a better future for everyone.”
Question: What is your experience as a Black mother?
“Most who know me know my children are mixed. My fiancé, their father, is white. Being a black woman with mixed children is an experience. My kids are very fair skinned, and one has blueish grey eyes and did not look like me for a long time. I have been mistaken for his nanny. I have been stopped in the store before and asked if my son belonged to me. It was past his nap time and he was throwing a fit. So, I could see how it looked to some people. I was told that I was lying, and I needed to show proof, or they were not going to let me leave. When I showed them pictures in my phone, they felt bad and apologized and let me leave. I also have two nephews who are mixed. They are darker skinned than my son. One is a junior in high school and getting ready to get his license. I fear for him driving by himself. His mother, my sister-in-law, had to have the conversation with him about how to stay safe when he leaves and if he is pulled over by a cop exactly what to do, what to say and what papers to give him. But most importantly do not move unless they tell you to and always let them know what you are reaching for and ask if its ok. We should not have to have those conversations with kids, but it is the unfortunate reality that we live in and it is sad.”
Question: How can our community support and love our sisters?
“I do not expect to ever be treated better or different than anyone. I was not raised that way. I was raised to love and treat everyone with respect no matter what you look like. I do not expect anyone to tip toe around me, just be yourself. Be mindful of what you say. Be kind, love one another and educate yourselves. Have those hard conversations, teach kids to love and not hate. Just because someone looks different from you does not mean they should be treated any different. Lasting change will not happen without deconstructing our beliefs about race. If there is something you are not sure about ask questions. There is so much misinformation on the internet and people see and read what they want to. I cannot speak for all black women because we all have different experiences. But I can tell you that my experiences have been mild compared to other women and men I know. I am extremely grateful for this community of women. I have made lots of new friends over the years and have found a place that I feel comfortable being myself. I appreciate Amber and the Vie community for letting me share my story.”
Vie Athletics stands for unity and love. Above all else, we must always treat one another with respect and kindness, no matter skin color. This includes listening to other people’s experiences, diving deeper into their world, and asking questions. We are incredibly thankful Mercedes bravely shared her story with us. Please leave her some love in the comments. Strength and sisterhood are needed more than ever.