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Mistaken? A Racist Tale in 3 Parts

Mistaken? A Racist Tale in 3 Parts

My mom named me after one of the Disney Mouseketeers, Karen. (We won’t discuss my middle name.) I changed my name later as an adult. But I grew up as Karen.

Young with a beautiful lyrical voice, as a teen I called to answer an ad for a receptionist. The owner was so intrigued with my voice, he hired me over the phone.I was so excited that I was hired for the position because it would allow me to continue going to school and displaying at the local art fairs in California.

I arrived looking polished and ready to go for my first day. At first, I wasn’t sure what was happening, then it hit me.

“Are you sure you’re Karen?” the employer asked.

No joke, he pulled a book from the shelf and asked me to read from it. He couldn’t believe my voice. He looked stunned, as if he had been hoodwinked, bamboozled. How could this Black young woman speak with such clarity?

He scratched his head and said, “Excuse me for a moment.”

I waited.

He returned after a while and asked that I give answering the phone a try. Unbeknownst to me, he had asked every employee to call the front desk at once. It was a nightmare.

He returned and suddenly the calls stopped flooding the switchboard. He recommended that I continue my search, as this position wasn’t available at this time. He needed someone with more experience.

I knew the horrible game he played and as I walked out the door, laughter erupted so loudly, I could hear them laughing as I walked towards the bus stop. I could hardly breathe.

Years ago I made plans to move to Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. I was packed and set to go.

Within a week, my long-time friend, Brenda, told me she was divorced and needed a place to stay—and share. I mentioned my plans and the community I was relocating to and that the schools were excellent for her daughter.

She was unemployed and a single mother, and I was a young business owner with a lot of success as a designer for major catalog houses and department stores nationwide. I called and made arrangements to meet the homeowner who was renting the property.

We arrived and the homeowner approached me with an extended hand.

“Hi, you must be Brenda.”

“I then said no, I’m Karen.” (It was before I changed my name to Takara.)

Brenda was the white long-time friend who needed a fresh start.

“You see,” I explained to the owner, “one of us is a divorced, single mother and unemployed and one is a business owner who would take full responsibility for the lease until Brenda settled in with her daughter and gained employment.”

As the owner of a boutique, I was having a conversation with a white employee.

A solicitor entered the boutique that bears my name. “Hi,” he said, never acknowledging me and addressing the white employee. “Are you the owner?”

Embarrassed and realizing what occurred, my employee responded, “No, this is Takara … She’s the owner.”

The solicitor said, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

I responded, “Are you?”

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