Kate Shaw Interview (On the Basis of Race)

Maria Vargas, Copy Editor

1. Where did you grow up and what was that like?

So I was actually born here in Mckinney, but I’ve only been living here for about 4 years. We lived in Arlington for a little bit, after that we moved to Allen, and I went to pre-K and kindergarten there. Then we moved to Melissa and I was there up until the middle of 7th grade, then we moved here.

2. What was it like moving around so much?

The transition was a little bit hard for me, usually, I don’t really have trouble making friends, it’s more the adjustment in environments for me. My anxiety would kind of skyrocket during the transition period.

3. Did your family always have a place to live and food on the table?

Yeah, that was never a problem, we were always good for that.

4. What struggles have you faced in life?

Probably my anxiety. I think a lot of times I put a lot of things on my plate and I don’t realize that I’ve been overworking myself so then I get to a point where I don’t want to do anything. Usually, it gets bad once or twice a year, always during school and revolving around school. 

5. Tell me about your parents and siblings. 

I have my mom, my dad, my younger sister and younger brother. My brother is 12 and my sister is 15. As far as race goes my dad is white and my mom is Black, so we’re all mixed.

6. What are some good memories you have of your family when you were younger?

We used to go to this neighborhood in Plano every Christmas, to drive around and see Christmas lights. We would just get in our car and bring blankets and hot cocoa and snacks and we would drive around the neighborhood and see Christmas lights for like an hour or two. That’s probably my best memory.

7. What are some hard memories you have?

A couple of years ago my dad had spinal fusion surgery and at that time he couldn’t work. And, my mom has always been a stay at home mom but by then she had been working a lot of part-time jobs just in between. But, with my dad not working she had to get another job as well to fill in and make sure that we were taken care of. I think it was hard for all of us because it was an adjustment again. We were so used to having some sort of schedule for ourselves and being able to wake up and be taken to school, and come home and have dinner. But, everything just kind of changed after that. It was also because my mom was trying to go back to school at the time so her schedule was also insane. So I think it just made all of us more stressed than normal.

8. What has your experience been like as a young woman of color growing up?

When I was living in Melissa I think I had about 4 girls in my friend group, all of them were white. With me being half-white I was the only ounce of color you saw. Which is saying a lot because again I’m only half black.  It kind of felt a lot of the time like I didn’t have anybody to connect to as much. Out there [in Melissa] there was a lot of racism, I would say closeted racism. Of course, I was younger so I didn’t really notice anything until about two years before we left. But I think it was just different that I didn’t have anybody who looked like me, or anybody that I could connect to or I was close to, and when you’re in a group with 14 girls who are white and don’t really understand from the standpoint of race, you feel a little uncomfortable. You don’t really know, and you’re kind of scared of how to act certain ways.

My hair was a big thing. I would wear my hair out pretty frequently, and I do have super curly hair so it would poof up a lot and when I would wear it out people would always want to touch it. They started out asking if they could touch it and I would just say yes, I don’t really care. But, it got to the point where whenever I would wear it out people would touch it and poof it up without asking. That made me uncomfortable because I felt bad saying no because I had said yes to people in the past. I felt like if I said no they would think it was because I don’t like them. Eventually, I just stopped wearing my hair out because I just didn’t want to deal with it. It just got to a point where I would lay on my back during independent reading time when I was little, and I would have my hair out and some kids would come over and they would try to lay on my hair because they thought it was a pillow. I don’t think they knew it was something that was making me uncomfortable and I wasn’t really vocal about it either. But just things like that where there are a  lot of microaggressions that I didn’t realize were happening. And being out there it’s a small town, predominantly white small town so those kinds of things just don’t really seem like an issue to anybody.

Definitely one of the reasons we left Melissa was the closeted racism and the bias there.

9. Have you or someone you know experienced racism, either explicitly or implicitly?

Honestly, I guess my own experiences out there [in Melissa] probably were microaggressions but I guess more so with my mom. She was always seen as “smart for a Black girl” or “pretty for a Black girl.” So definitely not really with me but more so seeing how she has different experiences with people just because she’s darker than me. 

Also I guess my dad, and I know he’s white and I kind of believe that white people can’t really experience racism, at least not to the same degree as a person of color. But, I think with him being with a Black woman goes hand in hand with racism. A lot of the times when he was first dating her he also had a predominantly white friend group. And I think people would be like “Oh, you’re dating a Black girl? Ew.” I think with my mom she’s been more likely to deal with a problem head-on. She doesn’t just take it if that makes sense. If someone says something, or of course people have given her dirty looks. But when it’s been people saying comments or explicitly saying the N-word and other derogatory terms, she tries to face it directly in the moment and not dwell on it later. So I’d say definitely my mom, and then my dad just hears things that are racist towards my mom just because he’s with my mom.

10. Have you experienced sexism or other forms of discrimination?

I would say no.

11. How did you feel when you found out all the details surrounding Breyonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s death?

I would say my first reaction was definitely anger, and I think it was just a lot of built-up feelings. I felt like I had seen it happen so often and that there was just another news story and another name over and over and over again. At this point, I think with us also being in a pandemic and just being at home and seeing this play out on our screens the whole time it was just kind of like “Really? We’re going through this again?” And I think beforehand I would put something on my Instagram story or talk with my friends about it. And of course, I talked to my family about it. But, I think more so than ever this time I was like “oh, this has to stop” I feel like it was a collective kind of thing between our generation. It was hard to see that happening but I think I was just tired of seeing this happen and knowing that with the age that I’m at there’s maybe not a lot that I can do but I can still spread awareness and I can still have the tough conversations and I think that I just thought we have to do something even if it’s not a lot. We still have to work towards something better for all of us and not just sit by and say oh yeah this happened or rest in peace and then that’s it. I feel like all the time that’s what happens and there’s no real change that comes out of it. So yeah I was just angry, it’s hard, it’s not something that’s personally affecting me but it’s personally affecting other people and their friends, and their family, and their loved ones. So I think from that standpoint it’s got to stop.

12. Are you a part of/supporter of the BLM movement?

Oh yeah, definitely. I know there’s a lot of people who have problems with the distinction between the organization and the movement and I just feel like we’re just working towards the same thing. All in all Black lives do matter and you saying that they don’t matter, I feel like that’s an issue.

13. Tell me about the BLM movement. 

So I think it’s more so just a movement calling for Black people wanting to leave their homes, peacefully assemble and address the government without actually fearing for their lives. I feel like a lot of the time in these instances it’s an unfair situation and I feel there’s a lot of bias that comes into these encounters before they even happen. And I think with BLM they’re just trying to say that they’re trying to fight for freedom and equality, and for Black people to not have to leave their homes at any point in the day and fear that they will not come home alive. 

I think as far as systemic oppression goes, we have a long history of that and we need to work together to right the wrongs that we have made throughout history against Black people and POC. 

14. Have you ever gotten the talk? What was that experience like?

Our talk was a little different. With us being mixed, I think our parents have always done a good job of telling us that we do have more privilege that way because we are lighter-skinned. So, I feel like if I was out in a situation with a cop or anybody who was in any way racist then I would have less of a chance of being harmed than if I were darker-skinned. 

15. What age did your parents talk to you about this?

About seven or eight, really early on. My parents have always tried to be transparent with that. 

We talked about the differences of when we’re out with just our dad then when we’re out with just our mom and if something were to happen. We think that if we were ever put in a situation like that it would be a different encounter between both of them.

16. What involvement do you have in the moment, if any?

I’ve really wanted to go to some of the protests in our area. I know a couple of people who have gone to some and even organized some, but I didn’t go to any because my parents weren’t really comfortable with that. Most of my involvement has definitely been on social media and just in general conversations. I’ve been trying to talk to a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds.

After the George Floyd incident happened, that’s when I actually got with a couple of friends and started talking about the changes we would like to see in our own community as far as BLM goes. We knew that at Heritage we had a couple of issues with starting a Black Student Union and there were other issues that needed to be addressed. So, we started our own organization, Students for Equity through Education, and we’re just trying to focus more on teaching a fair and honest and anti-racist curriculum in school so that when we see these perfect incidents that happened on the news and Black people dying over and over again that it’s not just for nothing. If we’re teaching an anti-racist curriculum it’s our hope that people will not be racist and these incidents will happen less and less and less. 

17. Can you explain the difference between being racist and anti-racist?

I think just being not racist, there needs to be more. When you’re saying that you’re not racist then great, what are you doing to prove that you are not racist? When you are choosing to be anti-racist I think you are becoming actively conscious about race and racism and you’re actually taking actions to end racial inequities in our daily lives. You’re believing that racism is everybody’s problem. You have to work and try and play a role in stopping it. Whether that is working to educate yourself or educate others. I think a lot of times there is such a thing as white fragility, and being scared to talk about race, for anybody not even just white people. But I think you have to recognize the privilege that you have in society and I think by just saying you’re not racist is great but you need more. At this point it’s your problem, my problem, the person who lives next door, it’s everybody’s issue. So we all need to work together and not just say we’re not racist.

18. What impact has this movement had on you?

I’d say probably a pretty big impact. I’d say before my eyes weren’t really that open to what was happening as far as race is concerned in this country. I feel like a lot of the times I tried to make it see as though it’s not directly affecting me in the moment so maybe it’s not that huge of an issue. But it is.

I myself have a lot of privilege and if I can use that towards a greater good than I need to.

I think for me it’s just been an eye-opener. I think I haven’t done a lot in the past and now it’s kind of my time to show that I want to be anti-racist and a part of the movement.

19. Can you expand on the organization you started?

We started out with wanting an anti-racist curriculum that is both inclusive and equitable so that maybe it would be easier to put an end to racism at some point in the long run.

20. Critics of the BLM movement point to the destruction of property and violence during the summer and beyond and claim that rioting isn’t the way to change society. What’s your response to that claim?

I feel like the whole issue with the rioting was again unfair, of course, I wouldn’t want violence to be something people have to resort to. But at the same time as far as oppression goes and the deep-rooted racism in this country I think it’s justified if people riot and I feel like there’s a reason for that and it’s a justifiable reason. Each time we see another Black person die and it’s another name and another hashtag and it’s on the news, nothing really comes out of it. It’s just another cycle until we’re waiting for the next one to happen. And again now it’s just a lot of built-up anger. It’s frustrating because nothing has happened. There hasn’t been any change. We have peaceful protests but nothing comes out of it. So what do you have left if that’s not working? I feel like rioting, that’s justifiable.

21. Comments on Police brutality during protests and violent protesters:

I think as far as police officers being violent towards protesters, that’s completely unacceptable. I think it’s their job to protect people and if you’re going out to these protests and hurting people that’s wrong. I also think it’s a problem because I think there is deep-rooted racism in police departments in general and when you’re having protests over race then yeah it’s going to be a lot more violent than it needs to be,

As far as protesters being violent towards police officers. It’s still unacceptable but again it’s the built-up anger and frustration. And I feel like a lot of that started happening after the officers started getting violent with the protesters. I wouldn’t expect them to do anything differently. If you’re mad and you’re angry and you’re seeing people around you get hurt by people who are supposed to protect you then yeah it’s justifiable.

22. What role does systemic racism play in our society?

It plays a huge role. I think it’s been an issue from the start. Now, I think there are a lot of people who are coming to terms with it and seeing that this is something that needs to be dealt with. This goes from housing differences to disproportionalities in incarcerations, and schooling and healthcare. It’s everywhere, you can’t look at any aspect of society and say that racism doesn’t have a play in it because it 100% does. I think that’s something now that we have an opportunity to fix and change and it’s probably going to take a long time but I think we just need the effort. There needs to be an effort to start the change and to make changes because right now there’s been nothing that’s been happening. 

It’s definitely a huge issue in our society and it will continue to be an issue until we can all recognize that it’s there.

23. How are POC affected by it?

Definitely schooling, healthcare, housing services and the prison system, incarceration rates. It’s everything, and I think you know at this point they’ve just been told to get used to it, and that that’s how it’s going to be. But that’s not right and that’s not right to say. I think that POC need to have equal treatment and equal opportunities in all areas and they’re not getting that right now. We need to amplify their voices and take action. 

Hopefully, in the future we’ll get to a point where we can see everybody equally across the board.

24. Where do we as a country need to go from here? 

I think the first thing we need to do is accept that there is systemic racism and the people who like to deny that fact, well that’s an issue in itself. I think we have leaders who aren’t doing anything about this and we have politicians who are making empty promises and saying they’re going to make changes. And we have a president who can’t even condone white supremacy and say that it’s bad.

I think that it does come down to the people in power in our county and in our states and local governments.

I think we also need to defund police departments and reallocate the funds to different departments. Again, healthcare, schooling systems, I think that will play into it. And electing people into power who will make a genuine effort to make sure that Black people are able to have equal treatment and opportunities in all areas.