White people tend to deal with racism in the abstract. We choose not to humanize those who bear its effects, because it’s too uncomfortable.
It occurs. It’s horrible. It’s rare. That’s typically the extent to which we acknowledge it.
If we want things to change, we’ll need to do more. We’ll need to listen to uncomfortable stories and reflect on how we might be guilty of racist or bigoted thoughts, opinions or feelings and find ways to rid ourselves and society of it.
The first question I have asked every person I have interviewed for the blog is “What is the first racist experience you remember?”
Here are their stories.
“Go Home, Nigger”
I was about 14 years old. I was on vacation to see my grandparents who lived in Covington, Tennessee.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was out on a run and a red truck flew by, threw a beer can at me and said “Go home, nigger.”
I kept going on my run. I never forgot about it. That was the first time I was called that. I didn’t think about it again until 8 or 9 years ago when I moved here and started CoHO. Someone sent me a letter, called me a nigger and a bunch of other stuff.
I was mentoring this group of guys at the time and I read it to the group to let them know some people want to carry silly ideas. I keep that in my book.
I use it as fuel.
I don’t get angry or try to say, “White people are this way, all of them.” I take it as an opportunity to say this is what some people believe. I take it as a chance to remind myself there are people out there who need some healing in their mind and heart and go from there. I try hard to understand this individual is more than what they’ve communicated to me.
Given an opportunity to sit down with them — I’ve sat down with people with white supremacist leanings or some who are OK with the Confederacy in the South — I take it as an opportunity to listen to them and understand where they are coming from.
“There’s Another Door, Nigger”
My mom worked for a company in Vilonia and I was going to work with her one day. We stopped at the Conoco in Vilonia and I walked in to pay for gas and some other stuff.
When you go in, there are double doors and there’s a guy leaned up against the door you would use to go out, and he was speaking to the cashier. Both of them were white. He was a biker and had his motorcycle outside.
I get what I need and check out, head to the door and I’m automatically thinking he’ll get out of the way. He looked at me and said, “There’s another door, nigger.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I’m originally from Brooklyn. We moved here when I was 10. New York to Arkansas is a different experience. I didn’t know what to say.
I went out the other door and this rage came over me. I was a hothead. I turned around and kicked his motorcycle over. He came out and went crazy, my mom didn’t know what was happening, but she got out when I kicked the bike over.
The girl at the register said she was going to call the cops. Nothing happened, we just ended up leaving.
I knew I was black.
It’s a lot to process, especially when you have friends of the other race. It makes you question a lot. It makes you question your friends you’ve known for years, question their parents and people they were raised around.
There’s a lot that goes through your head. You don’t know who to trust, who not to trust. You question your worth.
I think I went through two or three weeks of not wanting to talk to white people at school. It’s tough at schools like Conway, because so many people are white.
My most recent experience was around 2017. I had just moved back to Arkansas from Dallas and was living and working in Jonesboro. I was doing insurance adjusting at the time and worked in an office with about 10 white guys.
We went to lunch one day at Larry’s Pizza. I remember I had a blazer and a tie on. We drove company cars there and I drove mine. All of them were different colors and mine was white.
We went in to eat and there was a table of all white guys who I could tell were looking at me, but I didn’t think anything of it.
We finish our food, pay and go outside and I have a note on my window and it says, “Know your place, nigger.”
I didn’t do anything. I walked in the restaurant and ate. I didn’t look at them sideways, I didn’t speak to anyone and that note was on my window.
You become used to it. It’s not that you don’t get mad every time or feel a way about it, but — and I’ve only had a few real-deal ones — you learn to put it in the back of your head and move on. You notate it, I have to get back on my guard again. It makes you build up a wall against white people, again.
One of my best friends is a white guy. That’s my brother. It was one of my first friends coming here. It sucks because I know there are good white people, but when you encounter someone like that, you get to questioning everyone.
“Go Back to Africa, Blacks Don’t Play This”
I was probably 6 or 7 years old and was playing peewee baseball. I’m from Crossett and as a young kid, sports is one of the only things you have to do.
I was never fond of baseball at an early age, but I was playing and it was my first game. One of the white kids said, “Go back to Africa, Blacks don’t play this.”
I didn’t fully understand it. You know, you’re there to make friends in a cohesive environment. I blew it off.
“Why Does It Feel Like That?”
I was in elementary school. It was benign. It’s the little things that shape your view of yourself.
I was the only black person in the class, and kids would touch my hair and say “Why does it feel like that? Why does it do that?”
I remember sometimes hearing “You’re pretty for a Black girl.”
It’s hard to admit this now, but back then, I remember seeing it as you’re not good enough. You have to accept you’re not good enough for this or you have to be twice as good to be good just because you’re Black.
“My Dad Would Kill Me If I Dated a Black Girl”
You have to unlearn a lot of stuff. Like when white girls would touch your hair and wipe their hands on their pants. Back then, our hair was straight, we thought it needed to look like theirs.
There was one white boy I had a crush on who said “My dad would kill me if I dated a Black girl.”
He said the only pretty Black girl he knew was Beyonce. He was comfortable saying that to me.
You learn to brace yourself for those things. It was hard to speak up when you’re the only one. I was never called the n-word, but when I heard it, I knew it was my responsibility to speak up.
You didn’t want to draw attention to your Blackness. We were comfortable talking about Black history but not calling attention to the fact we were Black. We could be Black at church and Black at home, but we had to hide ourselves everywhere else.