Share Your Skin-Color Story

I have been deeply affected by anecdotes that readers left in response to my last piece, Black Like Us (which, if anyone cares, I’ve rewritten numerous times since its initial post), wherein they shared moving experiences they’d had in which skin color played the salient role. Here are a few of the stories people left:

“It was summer 1975, and I was visiting a distant relative in Charlotte, NC. She was an elderly lady. One day I heard her speaking to someone at her front door. By the tone of her voice I assumed she was speaking to a small child; she was using very slow and deliberate speech, and carefully enunciating each word. I was in the living room. When their conversation ended, I looked out the front window to see an elderly black man shuffling down the path back to the sidewalk. (I’d never seen someone shuffle before.) When he got to the sidewalk, the man turned to see if anyone was looking—and then, when he thought no one was, he picked up his pace, and began walking down the sidewalk in a very normal manner.”

“I grew up in the 60’s in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, and my only acquaintance with black people were those I saw on TV getting blasted by water from fire hoses. As a kid those images, which are still so clear in my mind, baffled me. And then, when I was about seven, I had the chance to ride a bicycle built for two at my Grandparents’ farm. My two older friends rode on the bike seats, and I rode on the fender. As we turned a sharp corner my foot got caught in the wheel; the bike tipped over and left me lying on the pavement with two spokes sticking out of my ankle. I was lying on my back, screaming in pain, blinded by tears, when a man shadowed by the sun picked me up into his arms. He was the first black man I ever remember seeing in the flesh. As he carried me across his chest in his arms, he kept saying in a deep soothing voice, “You’re gonna be alright, honey. You’re gonna be fine.” He took me to my grandma’s house, laid me on her couch, and then left without a word. On that day I honestly thought all God’s angels had dark skin.”

“My earliest memory is of being called “nigger” by a 5 year old white boy named Chester when I was 4 years old.”

Ouch on that last one, ‘eh? Um. And also on the one with the bicycle spokes. I guess we’re just all lucky the guy on the sidewalk didn’t trip and munch up his face.

Anyway, these moving anecdotes made me want to offer a place for others to tell such stories of their own. If you’d like to share with us any experience of yours that has perhaps been particularly on your mind during this time in our history, please do so via the “comments” section of this post. If you would, also let us know your age. Thanks ahead of time, from everyone who reads this blog.

One race.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine – age 23

    I grew up in an all white neighbourhood (not America but it happens here too) and went to an all white primary school (1980's). The first encounter I had with a black person was when a black kid cam to my school. He was a novelty for all of abot two seconds and then forgotten and thrown aside. When I got to high school there were a lot of black kids and at first they terrified me, I had been taught that they were all bad and out to hurt people. Later some of them became my best friends, one of them my boyfriend.

    One of my earliest memories of my family talking about black people was my grandmother talking about a Maori friend of hers (the black people in NZ are Maori or Pacigfic Islanders mostly). She said with absolute amazment in her voice "She smells clean, did you know they actually use soap everyday when they wash??".

    This is stll the norm here, I pray for the day we elect a black prime minister. Though our racism isn't often seen, ou just ned to go into homes and listen

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine – age 23

    I grew up in an all white neighbourhood (not America but it happens here too) and went to an all white primary school (1980's). The first encounter I had with a black person was when a black kid cam to my school. He was a novelty for all of abot two seconds and then forgotten and thrown aside. When I got to high school there were a lot of black kids and at first they terrified me, I had been taught that they were all bad and out to hurt people. Later some of them became my best friends, one of them my boyfriend.

    One of my earliest memories of my family talking about black people was my grandmother talking about a Maori friend of hers (the black people in NZ are Maori or Pacigfic Islanders mostly). She said with absolute amazment in her voice "She smells clean, did you know they actually use soap everyday when they wash??".

    This is stll the norm here, I pray for the day we elect a black prime minister. Though our racism isn't often seen, ou just ned to go into homes and listen

  • Dianne

    I'm white and my mom was from rural Virginia and always talked about "colored" people. I was raised in a diverse area of California and thought she just ignorant. It wasn't until high school (1970's) that I found out she was a racist. I was in an honors class and we were having a party at our teacher's house. I was going with classmates and would be picked up first. This became a huge problem for my mom because the boy driving the car was black. I would be a white girl alone in a car with a black boy (for about 10 minutes) and people would think I was "white trash." Anthony was our Student Body President for God's sake! How lucky was I to be his friend and she was ashamed. It was OK for me to have my black girlfriend, but not OK to "be seen with" a black boy. She ended up driving me to the party.

    I never gave up the fight to convince her that she had been brainwashed by her upbringing. Her arthritis flared up when my sister's black boyfriend visited. They eventually had a baby and my mother would have nothing to do with him. She knew the baby had done no wrong, but she couldn't stand to look at him! And he was so beautiful! And when I talked about a great guy I was dating, she cried when she found out he was black.

    Tthe oddest part of my story is that God used my mom and a black preacher to bring me back to Him. When I walked away from God, somewhere between high school and my sister having her baby, my mom would call me and tell me to watch some boring white preacher on TV. I was never inspired until one day she called and asked me to watch Dr. Fred Price, a black preacher. I could so relate to what he was talking about and decided to drive the 45 minutes to attend his church. It was at his church that I rededicated my life to Christ and received excellent teaching over the next 2 years that changed my life. I will never understand how my racist mom could be instrumental in getting me into a predominantly black church in South Central Los Angeles, but she did. Maybe God wanted me to know it was really Him calling me. And my mom probably only expected me to watch Dr. Price on TV where no one could see me. She's gone now, but I think she would have liked Barack Obama, you know, from a distance.

  • Taryn

    My first babysitter was a black lady. I live next to a military base, and many different races live around me. I never saw those of a different race as that different, they just had darker skin than I did. But my father sees things differently, and one of my earliest memories is of him calling our neighbors at the time clowns. To a 3 year old, clowns are the funny people at circuses, but not to him. I've lived with his racist views all my life, but tried to ignore them. But one year I just couldn't ignore it anymore…we were sitting in church on Easter Sunday and a biracial couple was sitting in front of us several pews away. My dad leaned over to my mom, as the preacher was preaching, and espoused how disgusting it was to see them. And then I knew there was no denying. I'm 23, and when people say that rascism isn't that prevalent, I know…I don't have look very far.

  • Carol McCormack

    My very first friend at school (it was 1954 & i had just started kindergarten) was this kid named Richard who liked horses as much as i did. We both brought our toy pinto cowboy horses to school & played with them together. (I can't remember if we snuck them in secretly or if we were ALLOWED to bring toys to school.)

    Neither Richard or i noticed or cared about our differences: he was a dark-skinned boy & i was a white girl. But evidently the adults involved DID care, because we were moved into separate classes. That killed our friendship, because i never really saw Richard much, through the rest of elementary school.

    Years later my mom told me that the school principal had called her about this "inappropriate" relationship. I wonder if the school called Richard's mom; i wonder if our moms could have just said NO to the plan to separate us. I wonder whatever became of Richard. I'm 59 years old & haven't forgotten my first friend.

  • Carol McCormack

    My very first friend at school (it was 1954 & i had just started kindergarten) was this kid named Richard who liked horses as much as i did. We both brought our toy pinto cowboy horses to school & played with them together. (I can't remember if we snuck them in secretly or if we were ALLOWED to bring toys to school.)

    Neither Richard or i noticed or cared about our differences: he was a dark-skinned boy & i was a white girl. But evidently the adults involved DID care, because we were moved into separate classes. That killed our friendship, because i never really saw Richard much, through the rest of elementary school.

    Years later my mom told me that the school principal had called her about this "inappropriate" relationship. I wonder if the school called Richard's mom; i wonder if our moms could have just said NO to the plan to separate us. I wonder whatever became of Richard. I'm 59 years old & haven't forgotten my first friend.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Wow. These are really something. Just … deep. Rich. Wonderful. Terrible.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Wow. These are really something. Just … deep. Rich. Wonderful. Terrible.

  • arlywn

    not much of a story- but I remember in high school the black guys would do that handshake thing with me. It's terribly complicated, and each person has their own spin on it; but I knew most of the handshakes. Apparently I was pretty okay for a white chick.

    I remember one time I needed a ride home from playmakers- and the only person still there was a senior black guy named dax. He warned me when I got in the car that his music was a bit odd. I thought he meant rap. When he turned the car on, brittany spears came blaring on. It was weird….

  • arlywn

    not much of a story- but I remember in high school the black guys would do that handshake thing with me. It's terribly complicated, and each person has their own spin on it; but I knew most of the handshakes. Apparently I was pretty okay for a white chick.

    I remember one time I needed a ride home from playmakers- and the only person still there was a senior black guy named dax. He warned me when I got in the car that his music was a bit odd. I thought he meant rap. When he turned the car on, brittany spears came blaring on. It was weird….

  • FreetoBe

    I remember when I was 7 or 8 (1961 or 62), my mom had us 4 kids in the back seat of the car, picking up my dad from work. It was downtown somewhere, and I remember a black man walking by, and my youngest brother (who was 3 or 4) was egged on by ALL of his siblings to yell, “Hey, nigger!” So he shouted it out the window. My mom was so embarrassed, and the man came over and said, “That’s OK, I hear that all the time.” I remember his suit, and how nice he looked. And I wondered why my mom was embarrassed, since she & my dad said that all the time at home, and told jokes about black people that way.

    About 25 years ago, as a newlywed, my husband and I were walking down the street in a small town in Germany. My husband had shoulder-length dreadlocks, which seemed to fascinate German people. A German couple was walking toward us and she started exclaming, “Oh, is it real? Let me touch it,” while reaching towards my husband’s hair. And he aggressively pushed her hand away and said, “Get your dirty paws away from me.” In Germany, anything said that relates a person to an animal is a serious insult, so this woman was very insulted and kept telling my husband that she meant no harm, she was just amazed, how could he insult her like that, etc, etc. He said something I have never forgotten–it doesn’t matter what you mean, it matters how I take it.

  • FreetoBe

    I remember when I was 7 or 8 (1961 or 62), my mom had us 4 kids in the back seat of the car, picking up my dad from work. It was downtown somewhere, and I remember a black man walking by, and my youngest brother (who was 3 or 4) was egged on by ALL of his siblings to yell, “Hey, nigger!” So he shouted it out the window. My mom was so embarrassed, and the man came over and said, “That’s OK, I hear that all the time.” I remember his suit, and how nice he looked. And I wondered why my mom was embarrassed, since she & my dad said that all the time at home, and told jokes about black people that way.

    About 25 years ago, as a newlywed, my husband and I were walking down the street in a small town in Germany. My husband had shoulder-length dreadlocks, which seemed to fascinate German people. A German couple was walking toward us and she started exclaming, “Oh, is it real? Let me touch it,” while reaching towards my husband’s hair. And he aggressively pushed her hand away and said, “Get your dirty paws away from me.” In Germany, anything said that relates a person to an animal is a serious insult, so this woman was very insulted and kept telling my husband that she meant no harm, she was just amazed, how could he insult her like that, etc, etc. He said something I have never forgotten–it doesn’t matter what you mean, it matters how I take it.

  • Chris O.

    I’m 45, and white. One time, when I was about 19, a black friend and I were out looking for jobs. There were some openings at this electrical plant. We both went in to fill out applications. He handed his to the (white) secretary, and then she put it face down on one pile. When I handed in my application, I noticed she placed it on a second pile of applications on her desk. She didn’t know that Mike and I were friends, or had come in together. Mike walked out after he’d dropped off his app, so the girl and I were alone. I asked her how come our apps had gone into different piles. Like we were sharing a secret or something, she taps the pile Mike’s app went on, and kind of whispers to me, “This pile is for colored applicants.” I’d always known, of course, that being white in America was a big advantage for me, but I’d never seen it happen in such stark terms. I found a job pretty fast (not at that place); Mike was unemployed for a lot longer, even though he had more training than me, and a better work history. Pure B.S.

  • Chris O.

    I’m 45, and white. One time, when I was about 19, a black friend and I were out looking for jobs. There were some openings at this electrical plant. We both went in to fill out applications. He handed his to the (white) secretary, and then she put it face down on one pile. When I handed in my application, I noticed she placed it on a second pile of applications on her desk. She didn’t know that Mike and I were friends, or had come in together. Mike walked out after he’d dropped off his app, so the girl and I were alone. I asked her how come our apps had gone into different piles. Like we were sharing a secret or something, she taps the pile Mike’s app went on, and kind of whispers to me, “This pile is for colored applicants.” I’d always known, of course, that being white in America was a big advantage for me, but I’d never seen it happen in such stark terms. I found a job pretty fast (not at that place); Mike was unemployed for a lot longer, even though he had more training than me, and a better work history. Pure B.S.

  • Ed Street

    I'm a 48 year old black man. I'll tell you why I'm feeling so good about Mr. BO. It's so very, very nice to be able to walk down the street, and NOT be O.J. anymore.

  • Cynthia

    I’m an African-American woman, 54 years old. I don’t really have a story per se, but I did want to say that one of the effects of the pervasive racism in America that goes largely unnoted or uncommented upon is how easy it is, if you are someone of color, to grow, without even being aware of it, to dislike and even loathe yourself. When every day you receive all kinds of messages telling you that, just by virtue of the color of your skin, you are, in fact, a second-class citizen, it’s nearly impossible not to accept that message and image about yourself. It’s hard to believe in yourself when the culture you’re living in doesn’t. It’s hard to build up that self-esteem. I can say that I was successful in my life finally learning to love and accept myself for who I really am, but it took some doing. I can tell you, Mr. Shore, that you’re not alone in crying when you realize we now have an African-American president. Thank you, Jesus!

    • denver

      I have to say, that it is the same being gay: you internalize that you are a second-class citizen, and somehow "less than".

  • Cynthia

    I’m an African-American woman, 54 years old. I don’t really have a story per se, but I did want to say that one of the effects of the pervasive racism in America that goes largely unnoted or uncommented upon is how easy it is, if you are someone of color, to grow, without even being aware of it, to dislike and even loathe yourself. When every day you receive all kinds of messages telling you that, just by virtue of the color of your skin, you are, in fact, a second-class citizen, it’s nearly impossible not to accept that message and image about yourself. It’s hard to believe in yourself when the culture you’re living in doesn’t. It’s hard to build up that self-esteem. I can say that I was successful in my life finally learning to love and accept myself for who I really am, but it took some doing. I can tell you, Mr. Shore, that you’re not alone in crying when you realize we now have an African-American president. Thank you, Jesus!

    • denver

      I have to say, that it is the same being gay: you internalize that you are a second-class citizen, and somehow "less than".

  • http://ginamarie33.wordpress.com/ Gina

    Okay, I was born in the late 60′s in Southern California. I remember that there wasn’t much diversity in my neighborhood – everyone looked just like my family….white. However, I am fortunate that my parents have always been diverse in their choice of friends, so I always saw “colors” of all sorts around.

    But the story I wanted to share is kind of funny, and I have been sharing it for most of my life. When I was about a year old, my mother and I went to the bank. When she was there, apparently a black man came into the bank. I was standing by her side, saw the man, and wobbled very fast to him yelling, “DADDY!” Um, I can say my mother was very embarrassed (I guess in 1968 this was not PC!) but it’s hilarious now!

    I wish more people were like my family! I have cousins that are half Filipino, cousins that are half Mexican, 2nd cousins that are mixtures of even more races (including black). I never quite understood why people don’t look at a PERSON instead of their skin…..

    Thanks John for another great post!

  • http://ginamarie33.wordpress.com/ Gina

    Okay, I was born in the late 60′s in Southern California. I remember that there wasn’t much diversity in my neighborhood – everyone looked just like my family….white. However, I am fortunate that my parents have always been diverse in their choice of friends, so I always saw “colors” of all sorts around.

    But the story I wanted to share is kind of funny, and I have been sharing it for most of my life. When I was about a year old, my mother and I went to the bank. When she was there, apparently a black man came into the bank. I was standing by her side, saw the man, and wobbled very fast to him yelling, “DADDY!” Um, I can say my mother was very embarrassed (I guess in 1968 this was not PC!) but it’s hilarious now!

    I wish more people were like my family! I have cousins that are half Filipino, cousins that are half Mexican, 2nd cousins that are mixtures of even more races (including black). I never quite understood why people don’t look at a PERSON instead of their skin…..

    Thanks John for another great post!

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    A while back (February actually) I wrote a poem called Unsettling Fear. It recounts my first encounter with racism back in the 60′s when I was 8-ish years old. Today, at 49, it seems like all that could not have happened… it just doesn’t make any sense to me or anyone else I know. If you like rhyming poetry/storytelling, check it. Feel free to skip of the long lead in…

    http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/2008/02/22/unsettling-fear-a-poem-about-the-pain-of-racism/

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    A while back (February actually) I wrote a poem called Unsettling Fear. It recounts my first encounter with racism back in the 60′s when I was 8-ish years old. Today, at 49, it seems like all that could not have happened… it just doesn’t make any sense to me or anyone else I know. If you like rhyming poetry/storytelling, check it. Feel free to skip of the long lead in…

    http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/2008/02/22/unsettling-fear-a-poem-about-the-pain-of-racism/

  • JP from Bako

    John –Thanks for the thoughtful comments — It was 1962 and I found myself traveling with a Christian singing group for the summer — – We were in Bristol Tenn/Virgina (the stateline runs right down the main street) WE had finished a concert and I had gotten on a public bus to return to the home where i was staying — the bus when I got on was pretty empty so I had a seat close to the front but it filled rapidly and soon people were standing — at one stop an older African American lady boarded the bus loaded down with grocries — I got up to offer her my seat so she could rest and sitt during the trip — the bus driver “slammed” on the brakes and said “make the N— lady stand the seats are for the white people” when I protested to the driver that I was only trying to be polite the driver “threw us both off the bus” saying theres no place for N—- lovers here — It was quite an experience for a 17yr old from Chicago who had been taught to respect and honor others — and as you can see an experience i have remembered with great clarity these many years — JP

  • denver

    I have two different stories: when I was growing up in New Jersey (1980s), I lived in an army town so we had people of every stripe from all over the place living together, and so I didn't think about nor care about any racial differences (I'm mostly European – a little Native American, but I look like an Aryan child so you wouldn't guess it by looking at me). My father's best friend was African American. They were great friends. But get a little booze into my father and he would start tossing around terms like "jungle bunnies" and the N-word in reference to black people. I never understood how he could say things like that when his best friend was black! And it's not like my parents had grown up in sheltered places, either: my mom is from the Bronx and my dad from Brooklyn. When I was in high school (90s), he once got drunk and told me he didn't want me hanging around with one of my best friends anymore because she was Filipino. When he sobered up, he told me he was sorry and that she was a nice girl and of course he liked her. Booze sometimes can show a person's true feelings, I guess… :(

    On the flipside, however, in high school we were living in a different neighborhood, and my siblings and I were pretty much the token white kids of the neighborhood. To this day I will still probably turn around and respond to "hey, white girl". One day I was waiting at the bus stop after school with a bunch of other kids. I did not notice until this happened that I was the only white kid there: two of the boys got all gentlemanly and said "ladies first!" and made all the other guys wait while we girls got in line to get on (it was a city bus). Well, I was the last girl in line and they both jumped in front of me and one of them said, "we didn't say WHITE girls first." And then they blocked me while all the boys got on the bus ahead of me. A bunch of kids in the back laughed when I got on the bus last. It can happen "in reverse", too. :(


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X