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"Does the Black Wash Off?"

I was born in 1980, raised in Mississippi, and I self-identify as Black.

I have had several experiences with racism, but I cannot recall the first. There is one that sticks out in my mind that I think about often, and one in which my thoughts and feelings have changed since this experience.

This encounter with racism took place back in 2002. I was in the Air Force at the time stationed in Wyoming. My unit wanted volunteers to participate in a parade and festival which took place in small Nebraska town. Immediately upon arriving to this town I felt very uncomfortable because this town consisted mainly of white people. I felt like all eyes on me as we drove through the town on our way to the community center to set up for the parade and festival that would take place later.

If I memory serves me correctly, I was the only Black person there and this includes the other members of my unit, which happened to be about 8 of us. Despite my feelings and high level of discomfort, I remained calm and friendly. Later on in the day I found myself talking with young white boy. He could not have been more than 7 years old. Our conversation began about the weapons and equipment my unit had on display and just general talk. Then out of nowhere he rubbed my hand and asked me if the color of my skin would rub off if I washed it really hard. I was so stunned at the question I asked him to repeat it and he asked me the same question. I was shocked, amazed, and angry. All of these feelings ran through simultaneously. I remember responding to his question with a hard "No!!!"

It took everything thing I had inside of me not to grab this little boy and shake him senseless. But I also remember there were older kids there snickering and laughing which led me to think they put that little boy up to it. I did not tell any of the members of my unit about what happened. As a matter of fact I have told probably three people about this experience.