Candice Byrd describes herself as a person of color. She prefers that over the term “Black” because she says that means absence of color. The Bloomington native is a case manager at YWCA McLean County and mother of three.
She spoke with Jon Norton for WGLT's series Living Black in Bloomington-Normal. Contact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.
Was there a point where you realized through experience that skin color was important to some people?
I want to say it wasn’t until about my mid-20s that I actually realized it. Being born and raised in Bloomington, I didn’t go to school in a diverse community. It was predominantly white and the things that did occur in my childhood … I didn’t know what it was. I just thought you know, I got in trouble or “oh, maybe I did something wrong.” I always kind of put it on myself.
And then in my mid-20s, I realized “I’m not bothering anybody. Why are you so mad at me?” It was a work situation. All three of us had made the same mistake on the computer a couple days apart and we were talking about it. Like, "Yeah, what happened to you when you didn’t press that button there” you know, “You didn’t do the thing and they wrote me up and gave me a sanction and said, ‘one more time you’ll get fired.’” The girl that was next to me was like, “Well, he just told me, you know, reminded me not to do it again.” And I said, “Well have you done it before?” And she said “Well, yeah, you know once or twice, and I keep forgetting.” And I thought, “Oh, well, I’d never … you know … I never made that same mistake before so why is my next time up getting fired?” So, I had to sit and think … taking in what’s different about me … what’s wrong with me?
Still, you know internally, taking that like I might not be doing my job right. Then I had a conversation with my aunt and she was like, "Honey, you know, if you kind of look back and think of situations which are similar to where you were picked on or you were the spotlight for other reasons than other people were … It’s because of the color of your skin.” That’s crazy to me.
I grew up with white people who were my close friends. I’ve never had a Black teacher. My first Black coach or anybody of leadership was junior high … my track coach. Taking in what she said, and then other situations … I was like, yeah. Yeah. This is a thing even though these are the people I grew up with, you know, these are some people’s parents that have known me all my life. It was weird.
You say you would get in trouble for things. Are you suggesting when you look back on it that maybe there was more to it than that?
Yeah. I’ll never … oh my goodness I’ll never forget. I’m actually going to say this to give people perspective of my life here. I went to Bent for elementary school and there was one incident on the playground. We were just playing … there was about a group of five girls and one boy and we were outside. I don’t know how much you can say on the radio, but we were being ridiculous, and we were playing Medic or ambulance and one of the girls was kicking the little boy in his private parts. Then we pick him up and we say, “Get him to the hospital, get him the hospital.” We’re being ridiculous. So, this happened about three times until he really started crying. I was one of the people that was carrying him to the “next hospital” location or whatever. And yeah, that sounds like “OK that was not right, that’s somebody’s kid." As a mom, I’d be pissed. You know, I totally get it but, in that moment, I never physically hit him, but I was an accomplice. When you’re crying on the playground, the staff comes over … and she goes “What’s going on? Well, he tells them in between sobbing tears. She takes us all in the office … all the girls … and she goes, “Tell me what happened.”
So, now I’m in the office. I tell her exactly what happened … my part that I played … and I’m a kid. I don’t really know much about fabricating, plus they’re outside. They’re watching us. So, they see you, but they don’t know exactly what we’re doing to him and I go, “Oh my God, you know, I didn’t hit him. I was just carrying him. But we were doing something that wasn’t nice, you know, it wasn’t that it wasn’t very nice. And she goes “Well, that’s not what the other girls are saying. They’re saying you did it. Just you.” And I look and I see my good friend. She’s already out of the principal’s office in the hallway and sobbing in tears and bawling and I’m not crying because I’m like “I didn’t do anything, but I’m sorry.” You know what I mean? I’m sorry he’s hurt. and they’re like “Yeah, they said you did it.” And I just look at her and she looks at me in my eyes … my friend … and she looks down and puts her head down. I will never forget that day because I was like, “Why did you say that?” I’m just thinking “why would you say that?” I’m trying to plead my case and then I start crying … now I’m going to get in trouble. That’s all. I’m thinking. I’m going to get in trouble when I get home.
Principal tells my mom. My mom asked me what happened … and I think that was the first day I learned that I could kind of confide in my parents whether I did something wrong or not because she sat me down and she was like, “Listen, you tell me what happened. I want to hear from you before I say anything else.” And I told her exactly what I told the principal … I carried him here and there and so-and-so hit him in his privates a few times until he started crying. And she goes “I believe you.” She goes, “Yeah, there’s something else going on and I’ll take care of it.” That’s all I ever heard about. I never got in trouble at home, but I get an in-school suspension where you have to sit downstairs for the day … out of class. Nobody else. None of the other girls … just me. Once I got … I say … conscious of my surroundings and my reality, that’s when I realized that that moment plays over and over in my head. I don’t know what I could have done or would have done, but I just think to myself that if only I had known then … could I have stood up for myself as … what was I like 7, 8-year-old kid? And if I did would that have mattered … would it have made it worse? I don’t know but I do wish, now that I’m an adult … that I could remember who the playground guards are … what we called “the safety guards face.” So, I can tell her “I know what that was and that was bogus.” And she probably wouldn’t even remember, but I’ll never forget.
You talked about work, and a similar incident happened where you were singled out. What makes me think about ... what probably gets said a lot is, "Oh Candice … you sure that’s the reason?” Or even at work, are you sure you were singled out because it wasn’t overt?
Or you’re just playing the race card.
Umm huh. Umm huh.
Could you talk about being told you’re just playing the race card?
I am always self-conscious, and I fear being labeled the angry Black woman stereotype … the confrontational stereotype. So, when these things happen to me, there’s probably a thousand other situations that could have also added up to that from the outside looking in. But I would never label it that because I would already first think what you just asked me. Maybe I’m just playing the race card. Does that mean it’s true? I can’t really say.
Personally, I feel like unless I can really ask a person their intentions, it’s hard for me in good faith to stand on it and be like, yeah, that’s actually what it was. But as I’m learning, that’s an internal thing. I’m not always the problem, and I think society likes to push it back on … people of color … Black folks … Latin Americans … the Latin X community and say “it’s you” so they don’t have to take ownership of something that they’ve done. And if you’re kind of raised in that attitude, then I feel that’s another way of saying your voice doesn’t matter … the things that come out of your mouth can’t be true … that’s another way to demean you and take power from you … so you won’t speak up again when something is worth saying. So, I kind of weigh out the middle ground and that’s the reason why those specific incidents stand out to me.
I’m hearing something really interesting. You say … I don't know if it’s by nature or you just pick up subtly early on that you didn’t want to be a stereotype.
What does that do to you internally to have to go “wait a minute, I don’t want to be stereotyped. How do I want to react to this?" As opposed to someone who just says, “OK, take a deep breath, I don’t want to be angry?” You say you take a deep breath … I don’t want to be the angry Black woman. It’s subtle, but there is a difference. How does that affect you?
It’s like a burden. If you take half of the normal things that adults stress about day to day, and add-on like … another hundred pounds. That’s the best way I can verbalize it because like you said not only when I’m in public do I have to think about my personal interactions with people and how they’ll perceive me, but also, when you’re a person with anxiety, is this person going to like me … but then on top of that … does this person not like my skin color? And if they don’t, are they going to react to me negatively. Are they going to put me in a position to feel uncomfortable and I don’t know why? And I won’t know why because it’s never outwardly said.
So, I have to do life … plus. Life plus race. Life plus institutional setbacks. Life plus systematic setbacks.
That sounds weary.
(laugh and sigh combined) And the same, to teach your children how to navigate through that. I’m over such a hump where OK, I can speak for myself. You know, I’ve got a got a little voice in me. Now finally after years and years of keeping it inside and not speaking about it, now I have to figure out how to get that into my children before something traumatic happens to them where they could have just said something or spoke out or recognized something was wrong and got out of the situation. Now I have to figure and navigate that for them as well. As a mother that makes me beyond nervous.
How do you talk with your children about race and society?
That’s difficult to do because my parents who ended up here when they met in Bloomington … again … predominantly white … the conversations that we had were not about that. My mother mostly left that out. And when she said she would go handle it. I now know that’s what that meant. There was no explanation. So, I have no example. So, now I try and get as much information as I possibly can.
I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell with my children’s personalities that my son is more receptive than my daughter and both of them are like the 1% in their school. So, private school and public school, but mostly Latin X community is where my son goes, and my daughter … there’s like one other person of color in her class. So, she is still at the point where she’s really quiet and internalized. So, if something were to happen … just like I was when I was young … she’s not going to see it. She’s not going to understand it when I say things like ... if we’re watching a channel, “do you see what just happened there?” And she’s like, “Why were they being so, you know, why would they talk to him like that? She should just do this, this, and this.” And I have to stop her and say … this is what makes it hard, because as much as white people want to teach their children that there is no color and say “Oh you don’t judge people by their color, you know, there is no color … ignore color.” You can’t, because then on the flip side, how do I explain to my child … there’s no other way to explain to her the dynamic … if I don’t say well this white person did this and this Black person cannot react in the way you just said, because she’s going to have this type of punishment. As opposed to if it were the other way around, I have to explain it that way for her to get it.
How much does that just kill you … to see what you have to tell your children?
It’s ridiculous … it’s ridiculous and it pisses me off that I literally very soon have to have a police training or something for my son to tell him how to conduct himself or help him conduct himself when he’s like out driving and he gets pulled over. Those types of conversations are something that I never had with my parents. So, it feels like you’re angry at an invisible force, that you if you could get your hands on it you would just move it out of the way. But there’s nothing there. If everybody can’t grab this thing, then does it really exist? That curtain that you want to move … and it takes so many people to get it out of your way, everybody can’t grab it, we can’t move it. And I feel like It’s not fair … and I know people will hear “Oh it’s unfair.” And it’s not like a woe-is-me thing. It’s like why don’t you have to sit your kids down before they get their license and say “Listen, you know, it’s going to be easier if you do this. We hope.” Or, "You might be safer if you do it like this. We hope.” Because I can’t even give him straight hardcore answers like “do this this and this and you’ll be fine.” I can’t even say that.
Meaning you can’t guarantee if he does that … everything will be fine. Is that what you’re saying?
Right. Right. I have to … I have to speculate and say, “Well you should do that.” If you do it, you might be OK. But that’s … that’s the scary part. That’s the frightening part of America that myself as a Black person lives in.
You talked when you were younger … your mom sounded like she intentionally shielded you from that. Why do you think she did that?
Yeah. She’s a firm believer of children not worrying, not being in adult business or not having to worry about adult concerns. So, I wish I had the information I do now, then. I would have made a lot of different choices … especially as far as people I was around and the places I went. I probably would have never did it.
I’m going to switch gears here. In 2014 Michael Brown was killed. Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner. All of these things are happening nationally. The protests were there, and a few people thought we were going to have that conversation. This is going to be a change now. And it really didn’t. It did for short time, and then it just kind of went away.
Why is it different now than six years ago?
It started out like … I feel like some of the businesses had just crumbs. Let’s just tell him that we’re with him. Tell him that we understand … not do anything … no action. And then as more places get called for a boycott now that we have social media out, we don’t go to this store anymore. We don’t go to that store anymore. As more people of color start taking their money away from businesses and stopped demanding that we boycott business … the money is hit and they’re saying "oh no no no no … Let’s donate to somewhere now." So, they know that we really mean, you know, were really putting our foot to where our mouth is. They had riots back in my parent’s day… the 70s … the Selma marches, you know, there’s been forms like this but each time it got serious and the money was hit, what happens? The civil rights movement. After the riot … don’t quote me on dates in history, (laughs) but there are facts if you do look it up … there was the Selma March and then something … a big situation happened and they had a riot down south and that’s when the Civil Rights Movement began and they actually signed the Civil Rights Act. There’s two other rights that happened with a big change right after it and each time if you will follow history … whenever the money is hit … whenever property … not necessarily even property, but anytime the city says they can’t afford it, that’s when somebody enacts a new law to appease us I feel.
I think this time they’re not just going to take a crumb. We are not … because I am not … I’m not going to be happy about it until I don’t have to have the conversation with my kids.
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.