Racism in Rural NY

By Mary Kay Diakite


My name is Mary Kay Diakite. My husband, Youba, is from Mali, West Africa and we have a daughter,
Sabou, who is ten. Sabou has given me permission to share her stories with you.

Five years ago, we left our life in The Bronx and moved to the Southern Tier. From the time she was
born Sabou has always lived in a diverse neighborhood. Our community was Dominican, Mexican,
Puerto Rican, West African and Caribbean. She attended a Spanish only day care for her first three years
of life, had two years of Pre-K in English and then attended a French immersion Kindergarten in Harlem.
This all changed when we got to Horseheads.

It was a completely new experience for her to not be completely surrounded by people who look like
her. Not long after we moved and she had started to attend her mostly white school, she came home,
crawled into my lap and said, “Mommy, white people are exhausting.” This was at the age of six.
From day one she has faced racist ignorant comments and each time they go low; she goes high.
I can remember a time when she came home from day care all upset because the teacher had decided
to Google all the kids’ names and them what they meant. She got to Sabou, found nothing, and reported
to the whole class that Sabou’s name doesn’t have a meaning. Of course, it does, and Sabou knows that
it means HOPE. I reminded her of the significance of her name and of who she is.

Then there was the time her after school program gave the kids the assignment of making a Christmas
elf that looks like them. They were given choices of construction paper to use. Sabou and her friend
were pretty upset when they realized that could not complete the assignment. They marched right up to
the teacher and asked, “How do you expect us to make an elf that looks like us when there is only pink
and white paper?” They were told to go find a brown crayon somewhere.

Then there was the time at camp. Sabou was the only brown kid in her cabin. One girl built a fort around
her bunkbed and invited everyone inside. When Sabou approached, she was told that she was not
allowed. She returned to her bunk. Then her white friend went to go inside the fort and was told that
she also was not allowed inside the fort because she had touched Sabou. Sabou said that she felt bad for
her friend and knew that this was all because of her color. I asked Sabou if she wanted me to say
something and she said no, that she would handle it on her own. When I picked her up at the end of the
week, I noticed that there was a girl helping her carry her luggage. Come to find out that this was the
very girl who hadn’t let her into the fort. Sabou explained that over the course of the week the kids in
the cabin got tired of how mean she was, and she was left with no friends. Sabou stepped up and
decided to be her friend.

From whispered comments spoken just loud enough to hear, “Why is she going to your house? She’s
black?” to kids trying to define her identity for her, to random old men in Tractor Supply trying to touch her hair, she has already faced a lot and provided a lot of education along the way.

More: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1PNbYANc48&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1b_t67QImmuH7ycMxNYwIibl962Bjw29l9l1efYT8AGqSNHJrvgL2MQIo



Last edited by patricia obletz. Based on work by Courtney.  Page last modified on July 26, 2020

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