Story on Rejection

City: Los Angeles

Industry: Coaching/Diversity & Inclusion

In that moment, I lost my innocence.

When I was in 4th grade, I discovered a number of my very good friends, boys and girls, were participating in a “dance class” called cotillion. They got very dressed up (jackets and ties for the boys, party dresses for the girls), learned different ballroom dances, and socialized. As a young, nine-year-old girl it seemed like a dream; I couldn’t wait to join them.

As I dug deeper, I learned that in order to attend “you had to be invited.” Of course, I went straight to my parents to see what they could do. Not long after I posed this request to my parents, they got back to me with an unsatisfying answer. I remember them saying something to the effect of, “We talked to Mrs. So-and-So and she said maybe next year you can participate.”

Disappointed, I shared the news with my friends back at school. In our conversations on the playground and between shelves in the library, I learned more about what it took to actually get invited. You had to be of a family listed in the "Social Register" – a book of names and addresses of well-to-do, high-society families in the United States. You could also get invited if a family from the "Social Register" referred you, essentially saying, "We approve of this person; this person is one of us." Ultimately, I discovered (from children my age) I would never be invited because I am bi-racial (my dad is Black, and my mom is from the Philippines), and this organization did not invite Black people. If you were Jewish, then maybe, but you had to have a lot of money.

So, it was OK for us to have playdates at each other’s houses and it was OK for us to socialize at school, but this dance class was something separate; something I couldn’t be a part of, and that seemed to be OK with everyone. All of a sudden there was this barrier I never knew about.

Up until that point in my life, my perception of myself was that I was the same as everyone else. In that moment, I lost my innocence as I realized, for the first time, I was perceived as different ­– the “other.” The only thing I could do was internalize this idea that I was not worthy of belonging and not good enough to be loved. At nine years old, my introduction to my social identity was a big slap in the face by institutional racism and classism through a “dance class.”

Dismantling my internalized oppression will be a lifelong journey. However, buried in the mud and mess of devastating heartbreak, the seeds of my legacy work – holding sacred space for “Women of Color Healing Circles”, which I now lead – were planted.

Heather WilsonRejection, Racism