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When did you first become aware of your racial identity? When did realize that you are black and somehow different from others around you? What was the experience?

My parents both grew up in the segregated South. While there were obviously many battles to fight, they both spoke of the comfort and support of having black teachers and classmates; black doctors, bankers, lawyers etc. They both first confronted racism directly when they went away to school for the first time.

I, on the other hand, had the fortune of growing up in Boston in the 1970s. As much as anywhere in the country at that time, Boston represented the epitome of aggressive racism as a result of the busing programs. White men threw epithets, bricks, and rocks at buses of young black kids just trying to go to school. While I didn't live in the midst of that, thank God, I was 25 miles away; my suburb was certainly "connected" to good 'ole Southie!

I lived the first 4 or 5 years of my life in Philadelphia - among black folks. When I got to Massachusetts I remember being faced with racism as if I'd been pushed into a freezing pool. Among my early memories is being chased home by a gang of white kids (I was rescued by my Dad who happened to be driving by), the multiple nigger callings, as well as the omni-present "invisible man" syndrome etc.

More later . . . I'm looking forward to hearing your memories.

Onward and Upward!

[This message was edited by MBM on September 15, 2003 at 10:35 AM.]


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What makes us black are our families and our shared experiences. You have hit on a common, awful one. A friend of mine , in Philadelphia not Boston, was running with a group of his friends as well as a few kids that he didn't know. He asked one of the kids why they were all running and the kid said "to get away from the nigger." My friend asked "who's the nigger?" and the kid said "You." Deep shit for a first memory of being black, huh?
my earliest memory was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, walking home from elementary school. i grew up in Everett, WA (city aprox 20 miles north of Seattle) and back in those days "we" were almost non-existent. i was probably one of 6-7 black kids in my entire school.
of course there was a boy involved, one who obviously had been influenced in his own home to hate blacks. he threatened to beat me up, and hid eggs from his families hens on our walking trail so he could throw them at me after school. the day he called me nigger i ran home crying knowing it was a bad word but not knowing what it meant. it was then my parents sat me down with the dictionary and made me memorize the definition so that i could not fight him with my fists but with knowledge...
the next day that Wynn McMillan (yeah i still remember his name) came at me on the trail--i asked him if he knew what nigger meant, he said no--and i said well i do, and i'm not a nigger--maybe you should look it up--because maybe you're one.
he left me alone after that--and my way of handling each and everytime i am reminded of the color of my skin i've chosen to use knowledge instead of violence.

here's a good read-- nigger, by randall kennedy gives an excellent background on the word and how it's use has changed over the years--right up to now when it's okay for us to use it, but somehow makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up when a white person uses it in the same manner.
Back in Kindergarten, I always played the Native American (Indian) in the Thanksgiving plays. I didn't think it was negative.

But I remember the first time that the connotation of black was negative was when I was in the second grade. "Roots" just came out for the first time in television. I didn't know at the age of seven how extremely brutal our African ancestors were mistreated here as slaves.

About a few months later, a white kid my age called me "jungle bunny." After watching Kunta Kinte and those Tarzan reruns on TV, I knew that if it wasn't my given name, then it wasn't a pleasant thing to say. I was so mad that I locked myself in the bathroom and cried my eyes out. The teacher, who walked in with new chalk asked the kid where was I, and said that I locked myself in the can because of that name.

The teacher was furious after the child's explanation. Then the kid was surprised of the teacher's response and said, "well, it wasn't like I called him 'nigger.'"

She shook that boy, then opened the door and made that kid apologize to me.

A hard lesson to learn at seven.
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My first encounter was when my family moved into a neighborhood that was mostly white. This was in the early 70's. There were only a few other black families living in the neighborhood. There was this old white lady that lived 4 houses away from ours, she had this German Shepard that she would bring outside with her everyday to sit in her front yard. We were walking home from school one day and she was outside with that dog. The dog ran after one of the kids and tried to bite him, the boy hit the dog with a rock to keep him from biting him. This old mean lady got so mad that she called us all niggers and told us that she would kill us if we ever hit her dog again. I was about eight years old and so scared of that dog that I didn't question it at the time but I eventually found out what the word meant.
this is a story my mother told me when i was four or five...when i was a baby, a large portion of my family lived in massachusetts. my mother would take me often to visit those relatives. one time when walking down the street with me in her arms, a white woman approached my mother and asked her for which family she provided nanny services. my mother being surprised at the question responded that i was indeed her natural child and the woman responded, what a shame, what a shame for such a pretty baby to be born to a negro.

i'm bi-racial, dad white, mom black.
All right, maybe not that far, but as far as I can remember I knew I was black because I always grew up in all-white milieus. First it was East Lansing, Michigan, then it was North Dakota, and finally it was Minnesota. I spent a one year stint in Georgia integrating with a substancial black population, but that was pretty much it for my exposure to blacks. I believe my first memory was my desire to have straight hair like white people because after my frustrations combing my kinky hair.

Unlike most of you, I grew up in a more PC environment and was not exposed to much of the more uglier faces of racism, even though I did get my share of "nigger", "chocolate boy", and other harassments.

But as much as I took shit from insensitive whites, my childhood experiences really taught me how racism has to be TAUGHT in order for it to be reified. I couldn't begin to account for all the positive experiences with whites I had during my childhood, which is supplemented by my obliviousness to the racialist society we live in.

But alas, as I grow older, I become more paranoid and began to see things through racial lenses. I think I completely snapped out of my childhood naivete when I was 17 and working at a Habitat for Humanity site. Unfortunately, I worked with an entirely all-white crew (except for the black family who is supposed to live in the house) where almost every person, from the volunteers up to the site supervisors who initially assumed I was going to live in that house.

Yep, there are certainly more than one way to be called "nigger".

"colorblindness" is still a blindness.
Hmm, lessee - I was very young, not sure how old. Young enough to play with toys and have "Santa" visit. I noticed my mom looking but not looking at dolls(you know on the sly). I tell her rather matter of fact-like "I don't want a black doll".

You see they were unheard of at the time, and it didn't look like all of the other "pretty" pink dolls that I saw and used as play things.

I got "The Look". And later I got The Lecture from my mom, dad, my uncle, AND one of my sisters, that went along the line of embracing my black skin, and what it means to wear it.

I was raised in the South, so needless to say, there were many occasions for me to reflect on its meaning.

My first race based memory came from, sadly, my own. Can't count the number of times I got called "high-yella" and caught a beat down from the kids next door (LARGE extended family with 9 BIG brothers and sisters).

From white folks:

My mother finally got enough money together to move out of the inner city (Cleveland). We moved to an area of the city that was more suburban, yet still in the city proper.

At that time (mid 70's), the area we moved to was predominately white and Italian. One day, I went across the street to see if the kids there could come out and play. While I was crossing, this white kid that lived down the street was riding by on his bike. He stared for quite a minute, then yelled out, "Go back to Africa".

I told my mother and she prepped me for the next encounter. The next time he said that to me, I yelled back, "You go back to Europe".

He didn't bother me anymore.

Thinking back on it, it was the white kids who gave me a hard time. The ones that were Italian I never had a problem with. That doesn't necessarily mean they didn't feel the same way though. As time passed and more or us moved to the area, the neighborhood is now almost entirely black.

I asked a girl I used to play with why everyone was moving. She grudingly told me, "My mom said too many black people are moving here now".

I'm happy to report that the neighborhood is just as nice now as it was then, if not better!
My first race based memory came on the first day of school in 1971. I had been raised in an all-Black environment. My teachers, doctors, and friends had all been Black.

But that changed when at the tender age of nine, I was accepted to a prep school. I was the only Black child in the school and the only other Black face was Mamie, a school housekeeper.

I spent the day as an outsider. The books that they had read over the summer, I had never heard of, the jokes that they told, I did not understand. I heard the tail end of derogatory comments that I knew was about me. And then in math, I did not understand something and the teacher told me, "Don't worry about it. Your kind isn't expected to understand this stuff. It's just too advanced." I remember asking her, "What do you mean 'My kind'?" I remember her casually saying, "You know, negroes. Negroes, just aren't good at math. But don't worry. You don't need much math to work for the city. You can be a Fireman or a bus driver or just about anything you want in the city."

I remember telling my mother that evening that I did not what to go back to that school because everyone was so different, everyone sounded as if they were from England, and they knew stuff I didn't.

I never told her about the math comment, but my parents, in their wisdom, picked up that something more had happened. My father then explained to me, that yes I would no doubt be an outsider. But he also understood that in order for that racist teacher to teach the other 15 students in the class, she would also have to teach me. It was my job to study hard and keep asking questions, when I did not understand something. My father told me that he was sending me to that school not only so that I would get "book learnin'", but so that I would learn about and understand White folk.

That's a tough lesson for a nine year old, but it has served me well.
I've just read everything above and am touched by it. No child should ever have to feel these pains.

I have always felt that I have been sheltered from most pains in life. I have never really experienced outright racism that I could point my finger at and say, yep, there it was.

I was raised in what is now called south central los angeles. I was bused to white schools in the san fernando vallery from 6th grade until 9th grade. And I cannot recall a single incident that made me feel different because of the color of my skin. My parents were afro-centric. We had name changes while I was in elementary school to african names. My step father taught my our history, but never made derogotory remarks about other races that I can remember or lead me to hate anyone. And while I understood the things that had happened to us, our struggles, I guess I saw the world as a better place then it actually was because nothing bad had ever happened to me. I do not know if this has helped me or hindered me, but it has shaped who I am inside.

I would like to hear from those who are younger and grew up past the 1970's. Have the experiences changed much? Do our children still feel the sting of learning that they are black and hated by group of white people?

La Femme Nkechi
Be the change in the world you want to see
First, cool new format, MBM. Smile Secondly, thank god for a close knit black family and community during the late 1970's and 1980's. I will never forget my first experience with in your face racism. I was in about 3rd grade. I was walking with my brother after school to my grandmother's house. This little piece of white trailer trash called me a "Nigger". I didnt' hesitate, I punched him in the face. And we began to fight. Of course I whipped his butt. Smile however I ended up getting in trouble for getting to my Grandmother's house late. But it was definitely worth it setting him straight.


You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.
Malcolm X, 1965
My experience was a lot like Nkechi's in that I didn't have an experience with learning I'm black and hated. I remember when I was 3 or 4 and realizing that my friends and I were different colors and finding that curious, but in the same way that I was intrigued about being a girl and not a boy (and feeling smug about the girl part). My parents also never made remarks about my white friends or my friends from India; it just never seemed like it was a big deal. Is it a generation thing? I was a little girl in the 80's and my neighborhood and school were mixed with whites blacks, South Asians and some East Asians. Later the Arabs and Hispanics moved in. I am sorry, too, about what you all went through.
"Your Children Will Tell On You" Smile

I lived in an all-Black community in Texas. We rarely saw white people in the area except the local grocer and mailman, so I didn't have much interaction with them growing up.

My first racial encounter happened at the tender age of thirteen. I did some occasional babysitting for a white lady who lived across town. One day, while sitting with the children, age 3 and 5 the three year old looked at me and said: "You're a nigger" astonished, I recall saying "that's not a nice thing to say, and asked: "Who told you that" He replied: "My mom said you're nigger." The child was innocent, but it still hurt my feelings.

By the time she got home, I was upset, but did not utter a word. Back then (early 70s) it was an insult to be called a nigger. So, when I got home and told mom about the incident, she was angered. The following week the lady called requesting my services, mom took the call. That's all I have to say about that.
I went to school in a suburb of a suburb a little white town with quaint things. In Kindergarden I had multiple white families and their children who would pass me around on multi-play dates per day after school or on the weekend. They would make arrangements with each other to pick me up an hour or two from one anothers home to play with their children after my mom agreed to a block of say 4 hours. (my knidergarden days were half day and my mom worked) This 'Token Popularity lasted for maybe 3 years after Kindergarden it wasnt until I "found a friend" or was chosen or auctioned till today I dont know, lets call him AV. I began to travel with this family D.C. California all types of places, exposure and opportunity to see things the rest of my Roodner court housing project peers never would see via their parents or lack of 'white sponsors'. I remember defending AV from my project mates before being confronted by the face to face, I even took abuse verbally from my neighbors for having a "white friend". When I began skate boarding 4 friends and I were called "whiteboys". This interest kept my friends and myself on the road visiting different skaters and people, you know broadening myself. All this at about the same time the peers of ours in Roodner Court began picking up their first packs of crack or heroin to sell in the hand to hand market of project sprawl. Time spun and led my friends and I into different awakenings of self and position in society and the world, THEN the crash, at about seventeen 2 of my friends, catholic schooled brothers, took a stance against white as the older of the two went off to Norfolk State Univ. It began to strain all our exterior white associations as we were always known as the "black Skaters". AV told his my mom I smoked weed and she told my mom that was the end!, we never could recover. we went to a common party and as we searched thru some guys CD collection for sounds he looked to me and said "there aint none of that rap shit in here", crushed, this was a guy I defended against my Brothers and sisters at my Jects' now lashing me socially. We went college touring with his mom and a Puerto Rican football teammate, thru Pa. I was lookin at Carnegie Mellon and PA school of art institute, after the tour, we rode with AV's mom, he turned to me and said it will be great when I get into Carnegie Mellon and U goto Art Institute. A challenge, my chance for pay back, I thought youthfully not calculating my true educational future. Subsequently I was accepted to CMU Art Institute Syracuse and FIT. He was denied to CMU and Georgia Tech only syracuse took him he was burnt. I selected CMU and at a dinner with his dad we all discussed our plans, when I revealled my plans and destination his to his father, the white guy turns to ask everybody to verify this info. AV replied its token!

What a punch, The End
I appreciated the exposure and opportunity it kept me from hustling drugs and catching cases, even allowed me to dream, But NO THINGS ARE FREE IN AMERICA. Not even survival

Khem Saqa

When did you first realize that you are African American? What was the experience?

Like I said, I'm not not Black, but I can share some race-based memories:

*I saw a Black Barbie in Wal-Mart. I wanted her because she had a glittery purple dress, and purple was my favorite color. Mom was horrified when I asked for it.

*When I growing up in Arkansas, there was only one Black family in the whole town, and they lived on the corner of the next block. One day I saw their kids playing in the yard, and asked Mom if I could go play with them. She said no. I asked why, and she said, "because they're Black. Black people are bad."

*During a film about Native Americans in history class, students kept pointing to the NA's, laughing, and telling me, "there's you're ancestors!"

*In middle school, I was hit over the head with a flute in band for being a "cracker." I was also attacked numerous times by boys for the same reason, but I would run away crying because I'm a very non-violent person. This was at middle school where racial tensions were VERY high, and it was a common, every day thing to be beat up for being Black/White/Hispanic/whatever. Luckily, my mom took me out of that school the next year.
Not my first race-based memory, but certainly the scariest early one: my Cub Scout pack was on it's "Cubnic" in some park somewhere out in rural North Western New Jersey. I was probably 8 or 9. Late in the day, after all the regular scout activities were over, a few of us were off throwing a frisbie around. A throw got past me and I had to go run it down. When I got to it, I came upon a weird looking white man wearing thick brown horn-rimmed frames and brown clothes (it was the summer, but it was also the brown late 1970s).

He said he was a member of this club called the Ku Klux Klan, and they do this and that and the other for kids and such. He made it sound like they were some benign, active community club. He handed me flyers about his organization, for myself and my friends, and he urged me to make sure we show the flyers to our parents and tell them we spoke to him, because surely they would be interested. He must have said "Ku Klux Klan" about 30 times, and he stressed over and over again to me and my friends (once they saw what was going on, they came to the scene) to make sure we let our families know about him and his club.

He looked a bit odd, and what he said his club was all about didn't sound very interesting, and I knew my mother wouldn't be interested (she's never been much of a joiner), so when we left the man, I just threw the flyers away and that was that. A couple of my friends had heard the KKK's name referred to in negative, or dangerous, terms, but as I recall, neither of us at that time really knew what it was. Our town was overwhelmingly black even then. I thought about it a couple of years ago. That was the first time I ever told my mother about it. By the time I learned who the KKK really was, I probably had forgotten about that seemingly harmless encounter.
I'm Connecticut born and raised in the Foxwood's/Mohegan Sun Native American Casino territory. I'd be considered an "ancient relic" if I told you what year. I remember looking at my arm, around age 4, and realizing it was brown, while playing outside one day. I remember singing "Old Black Joe", by Steven Foster in elementary school and also reading about "Little Black Sambo" in books, who was chased around a pole or something by tigers until he turned into "tiger butter". Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben looked a "hot mess" on the boxes of pancake mix and rice back in the day. I remember in second grade, Mrs. Buckley, the teacher saying "eenie-meenie-minee-mo, catch a nig" and catching herself as myself and my buddie sitting next to me were looking right back at her, thinking she'd lost her mind. We moved into an all white neighborhood when I was 10 and there was a girl who insisted upon calling me a nigger, while walking to school and I smacked her upside her head every time she did it, until she got the message. In high school we square danced and the Anglo boys had a problem holding my hand while we "do-ce-doed". Other than that, not too many problems. The European's a strange being, but I know 'em well enough that I don't want anyone in my family dying for 'em or by 'em.
I remember being called Ni&&er quite abit when I was young but I never understood the meaning. I knew it was a bad word but my mother did not want me to fight over it (of course dad was telling me to "hurt them bad"). I even remember when "Roots" came out all the looks traded by both sides. It was not until late hs/college that I understood the depth of pain and suffering that had been endured and we were different. As I got older (midteens) and able to handle the truth is when my parents started explaining things to me.
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