Cade Handy-Stevenson

African American

 

Cade: My dad is half White, half African American. My mom's fully African American. I was born in Dayton, Ohio, which is two and a half hours north of Wilmore, Kentucky. It's 75-80% African American. I went to school with all African Americans, but that all changed in high school, when I started going to a predominantly White, private high school. 

 

It was very, very different. It was like night and day.

 

The lowest minority where I went to school were African Americans, so you just felt like the lowest of the lowest. I felt I really cast out. I also don't live in a particularly nice neighborhood-not crime wise, just economically. I went to that school on a scholarship. I couldn't afford to pay for the school. When they found out that I didn't live in the neighborhood that the school was in, that was rough. It was the biggest culture shock ever.

 

I was probably 14 when I first realized I was different. As I walked into the freshman welcome assembly, I remember seeing just three or four Black people in the whole gym out of 600 students. They all turned and looked at me. I was like, "Oh my goodness, what am I doing? Why did I even audition to come here?" That was probably the moment where I went, "Oh, I am in the minority for the first time ever."

 

For a while, being African American was just something that I was. It was just who I was. Everybody who I was around was also African American. It was just normal. And now, being at Asbury, especially... 

 

For example, I'm very loud and outgoing. Here, that's what people know me for. But, back home, everybody is like that. For some reason, I think people associate that with color, with being Black.

 

In chapel last week, the speaker said, "Being Black is just who I am." That was me. And that's what it means. It's just me being me. There's nothing special about it. Does that make sense?

 

My grandma and my mom had this really strong opinion that I disagree with: let's stop seeing ourselves as Black and just see ourselves as human. I think we lose a part of ourselves if we don't see who we are. But I think they just want to be people. 

 

My grandma grew up in the mountains of Kentucky in the 60s. I'm living the life of luxury just getting called the N-word once a day. My grandma literally almost got killed a couple of times. 

 

Eliza: Could you tell me more about the stories you've heard from your parents and grandparents growing up? Has that affected your view of life?

 

Cade: I grew up scared of White people for a while because my grandma almost got lynched a couple times. She's a nurse at the Veterans Center in Dayton, Ohio. Before she worked there for 40 years, she went to school down here in Kentucky. 

 

When she got her first job, a guy, who was White, stalked her for weeks. She thought he was trying to get with her. One night, my grandma was getting a ride home from a girlfriend and saw that the guy was in the car behind them. She was like, "Pull over, girl. Maybe he's trying to get my number or something." They pulled over, and the guy came out with something that looked like a noose while walking towards her car like he was gonna hang her. So my grandma's friend pulled out.

 

My mom grew up in the 80s, which was a lot better than the 60s, but, still, it was the 80s. 

When she lost her job in Dayton, my mom went to Fairborn, Ohio, which is 30 minutes away and predominantly White. She had kids getting pulled out of her class because they didn't want an N-word teaching their kids. That was in the 80s and 90s.

 

Eliza: So, you said your dad is half White?

 

Cade: He is. His parents were a biracial couple. Yeah. In the South. In the 60s. They went through a lot of things. I admire them so much. They were just like, "If you have a love and you have each other, what more do you want?" They're still married 50 something years later? They're living their best life. They're amazing people.

 

I'll tell you some of the stuff my grandma said when she literally didn't get scheduled for a month. She thought, "Maybe it's because I'm a bad nurse." She was the best nurse. She graduated with honors and was the best person on staff. Patients were asking for my grandma. But they weren't scheduling her because the "the N-word doesn't get first dibs on the paychecks." 

 

Eliza: They said that?

 

Cade: Yeah. My grandma has been through some stuff.

 

Oh, my grandma did something criminal. I don't know if I can say it... well, it's over. I don't know why this is funny because this is not funny. 

 

In the 60s and 70s, there was a camp in Ohio called Camp Senacky. I work at it still. She went out to go get milkshakes with a couple friends, a Black man and three White people. They went across to Lebanon, Ohio, which is primarily White. Still, Lebanon is kind of-Ooof, don't go there! But they did and sat across from a couple high school jocks. You know when people don’t speak directly to you but loud enough that you hear them? One of them was doing that and saying, "N this, N-word that, I just hate N-words." 

 

These jocks got up and started walking towards them. So the three White men my grandma's with-they're still friends to this day-stood up and said, "Don't come at our friends." The jocks attacked them, and they started fighting in this diner.

 

So my grandma's  5'1", 115 pounds. My grandma is little. And these guys were trying to hit her. So, you know how napkin holders used to be metal? Like in old movies? This big guy was running towards my grandma, fist in the air, about to hit her, and my grandma, nonchalantly, lifts this napkin holder. As soon as he jumps over the table, she hits him-POW! Just like David and Goliath when David hit Goliath in the forehead, this thing hit him in the forehead. It knocked him out. He fell back, slid, and hit the back of his head. 

 

Everybody, at that moment, stopped fighting. My grandma, who still had the thing in her hand, went, "Who wants some next?" They took off. They got their buddy and went to the hospital. My grandma and her friends sat back down and finished the milkshakes.

 

Eliza: They finished the milkshakes. Cade, I'm so glad I asked about your grandma. 

 

Cade: My grandma is the best human being ever.

A lot of my Black friends get called the N-word on a daily basis by people on their hall because they think that it's okay for them to say that. I'm 6'2". I'm a big guy. What can I do? It's a lose-lose for me. The three options I have are 1) go to administration, and then I look weak because I'm 6' 2" going to administration for someone who's 5'6" saying the N-word, 2) if I hit them, then I'm gonna get in trouble 3) and then if I tell them off, then I have no friends on the hall because they'll think I'm some angry Black dude. I don't have any other Black person on my hall. It's just me, and I'll be left by myself. I don't think those comments would count as racism. Racism has to have hate behind it. It has to have the intent to harm somebody. I would say it's ignorance, idiocy and people trying to be funny, but they're not. 

I remember the first week we were here at Asbury, a security guard came up to me. He was talking to the students about walking around campus at night. I remember him saying, "If you're African American, I wouldn't suggest you leaving campus without somebody else." I was like, "What? What's gonna happen to me if I leave campus without somebody else? I'm 6' 2", 200 pounds-What's someone gonna do to me?' But he was like, "I'm just trying to look out for you. The fact is if somebody is cussing you out, calling you racial slurs, or threatening your life, we just want you to be safe." That was in 2018. People are still thinking and acting like that? I'm coming from Dayton, Ohio, where I can walk down the street any hour, any day, any time. I was just like... Wow, okay

 

Eliza: What keeps you from hatred?

 

Cade: Again, just understanding that they have things that they've been through. Hate just doesn't come from nowhere. That's taught. People have experiences and things that they've been through that make them act that way. Just like I have things that make me act a certain way.

 

Understanding them and why they're like that, just talking to them, has made me find that a lot of it's just ignorance, and I can't hate ignorant people. That doesn't solve anything. It's not productive, shutting myself off and going, "No, I'm not talking to any of you." A lot of people don't know the origin of the N-word, so they think it's okay to say that. So yeah, just understanding where they're coming from.

 

Eliza: That's really wise. Thank you.

© 2020 by Eliza Tan