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1964, Ohio, Caucasian

The first time I encountered racism was in 1st grade. I was on a waiting list to get into a Catholic school and was sent to a public school until a space opened. I had long blonde hair and there was a 3rd grade black girl that picked on me and wanted to fight me. She called me Blondie and Goldie. I remember her always making plans to beat me up because of my hair.


1965 -- Jacksonville, Florida -- Caucasian

When I was 11, I was bused to a 6th grade center as part of desegregation. I was one of two white children in my class, and it was a horrible year for me. During this year the movie "Roots" was also released, and it became normal for me to be harassed because I was white -- so I obviously had a hand in the abuse of slaves. I would run away from school all the time and walk or hitch hike home. It was the worst year of my life that affected me greatly. I had not experienced people being treated differently because of their color before this time, and at the school I attended, all the white kids were made fun of and treated badly.

Guess Who's Coming to the Birthday Party

I was born in 1969 in the great State of Florida. I self identify as an African American male.

I rarely went to school with whites. My elementary school was 75-80% African-American. My Jr. High and High School were all black, and I received a football scholarship to an HBCU upon graduating. However, after a couple of years of football, I got hurt and returned to my hometown and a majority white university -- which is where I first encountered racism.

I never really had any white friends because I lived a pretty insulated life. My friends and school mates were all African-American. However, upon coming home and going to college I developed a white friend on campus. We developed a friendship around hip hop music, and he invited me to his birthday party. Upon arriving at his house and ringing the doorbell, I could hear the people on the other side of the door and could see someone look through the peep hole at me.

After a few minutes his mother answers the door and said, "May I help you?" I tell her I am here for the party and I could obviously tell she was a little taken back that her son had invited me to the party -- let alone to the house. Needless to say: our friendship probably ended that day because I never talked to him again.

"Break Down the Hate"

I was born in 1995 and raised all my life in South Florida. Personally, being a black man in America, I was always raised with a cynical view about race relations in this country.

It's hard to pinpoint my first encounter with racism, whether it's obvious or implied, because I feel like it affects me all the time. I remember growing up I definitely thought my mom was over exaggerating when she would talk about the struggle black people face in this country, because I would naively assume that racism's a thing of the past, but I think the first time I actually felt like racism is still real in this day and age was at a school event during my freshman year at UNF.

It was called "Break Down The Hate" and the purpose was to bring out prejudices in the open by allowing students to write on a board how they feel about certain groups of people, so that at the end of it all, we would destroy the board and "break down the hate." But ironically, the event really did bring out a lot more hate than I anticipated. This board was filled with hateful words from students such as "I hate niggers," and "I hate black people." The board was right outside my residence hall, and because it was up for a full two weeks to allow for as many opinions as possible, I felt so embarrassed walking past this board to get to class because a lot of people would be looking at me pass by as they read some of the comments. This whole ordeal made me realize that when attending predominately white institutions, black students are bound to encounter racism.

"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.

I heard somebody call my friend an "Oreo."

I was born in 1974. I am a white female. I lived a few different places when I was young -- Maryland, New York, Germany, Virginia, and Florida. The racism question is very difficult to answer. I've never heard either of my parents say anything racist. I grew up having friends of all different races and nationalities. I don't remember thinking anything about race. They were just people. They were my friends. I believe part of that was also my religious upbringing. The people in my congregation were my brothers and sisters, my family.

The first introduction to racism was probably watching movies and learning history lessons. I learned about the concentration camps when I lived in Germany. I love musicals and have seen quite a few, starting from a young age. I think West Side Story and South Pacific were the first movies that showed me what racism looked like. I specifically remember the song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught." It gave an explanation of why people would think or act like that toward other people. It's something that still baffles me. I try to imagine making assumptions or disliking a person based on their race or nationality, but my mind rejects it. It just doesn't make sense.

As an adult I've seen and experienced it firsthand. Sometimes by people of the same race. I heard somebody call my friend an "Oreo" and say he was trying to be white. It was based on the fact that he's educated, articulate, and a responsible father. I was so confused by the comment. I know a lot of people of many races that have those qualities. I know quite a few white people that don't have those qualities.

Racism is real but it has become "normal" and misconstrued

1. I was born in 1989

2. I was raised in Jacksonville, FL

3. I identify myself as an African American

4. One of my first encounters of racism was actually not directed towards me but to my brother. We were in the grocery store and he was holding bags of groceries. A white woman walked past him and when she did, she clutched her purse. Now understand that my brother is tall, has tattoos and was wearing a tank top during the time of us being in the grocery store. At first (being uneducated on race issues), I just simply said this is racism without knowing why. It wasn't until I took Dr. Wilder's Racial & Cultural Minorities class at UNF I was able to tie the "why" to my thought that, that was racist. See that white lady assumed because my brother was covered in tattoos, black and tall (and a little muscular) he was going to try and take her purse.

Continue Reading

"What's the first thing you think of when you see her?"

An African-American woman with some Native American ancestry, born in 1976 and raised in Cleveland, OH, learns for the first time that her race is the most significant thing about her, in the eyes of some people.

They Make Fun of White People Who Are Athletic

2001, Florida, Caucasian

I realized over the past couple months that there are black students in my school that think because I am white, I am not strong. They act like because they are black they are much stronger and better than everyone else -- especially the white kids. They make fun of white people who are athletic. Before this I had never experienced racism. There have always been black people in my classes and in my church, but I never had any of them act toward me like this. I didn't even know racism was a thing until this year.

The "N" Word on the Playground

1969, Michigan, black.

I recall my first encounter with racism on the playground while in elementary school. I was called the "N" word by class mates on the playground multiple times. I was also called the "N" word by a neighborhood kid all the time.

"I never looked at my dad the same way"

Born 1982 in Southern West Virginia, where I was raised until 4th grade. I am a WASP-y female.

I remember playing in the school yard with my friends in elementary school. We used to play on the swings, anything creative with a jump rope or two, and marbles or jacks. It was before the Internet and electronics were on school grounds. I recognized people only in terms of friendliness. One of my closest friends was a little boy named Curtis Cunningham and he was amazing at most games, but never gloated or was rude. He was skinny, funny, and my one of my favorite people.

I started noticing that other kids weren't as friendly to Curtis, and I din't understand, I mean, after all what's not to like about a funny, nice kid who is a great partner in any schoolyard competition? I remember asking some of the then forming "popular girls" why they didn't play with Curtis. They explained that he was different, that he was black. I looked at him with new eyes. I had honestly never really looked at him that way before. Needless to say, it didn't change my friendship with him, but it did with those girls.

Later as I got older, I remember talking with my dad about Curtis and how great he was. My dad was so worried that I would end up dating him as I got older. We lived in West Virginia in the late 80's and this was unacceptable socially then. As I got a little older my dad never forgot my friendship with Curtis, even when my parents divorced and I moved with my mom to FL. I would still visit and get so excited to see Curtis. My dad once told me he would rather me tell him one day that I was a lesbian than dating a black man, at least then I couldn't have kids. I was shocked and I never looked at my dad the same way.

This was my first experience with racism and realizing that besides liking or disliking someone, you were supposed to be BORN a certain way. It never made sense to me, and still doesn't. Though things have changed in West Virginia, and it's now more acceptable. I still always view myself as "very different" from society and someone who is proud to form their own opinions based off of personal experience.

"Am I a female white Cuban-Spaniard-American?"

I was born in 1950 and grew up half of my childhood in Havana, Cuba and the other half in N.J. where I ended up after escaping communism, came alone with another child.

I grew up as the child or grandchild of Spaniard immigrants as many Cubans are; and without intermarriage with any other nationality we are White Cubans or white Hispanics. Many get offended when I identify myself as white and I almost feel apologetic, but what else am I? Just as if I was Italian, French or whatever. I did not grow up with discrimination and the words black or white were use as a term of endearment, not an insult or just as an identifying fact. We still use “mi negrita," and “oye blanquita." I call my daughter "chinita" because of her almond eyes, these are all terms of love and acceptance, and just who we are.

The first time I encountered discrimination was in 1962 traveling from N.J. to Miami. I knew the bathroom and water fountains for whites only were wrong, I was just 11, I had never encountered discrimination and did not know how wrong these were, and what was going on in this country!

In Cuba, restaurants, hospitals, schools, transportation were equal for all, don’t let anyone tell you different. The then president was part Spaniard, part Chinese, part black -- not that anyone cared. Now only whites are the heads of government. Castro was a slave owner with his family and in a worse way he still is now. So, am I a female white Cuban-Spaniard-American? No I am just me, call me what you want, I know who I am and if you are too misinformed or too ignorant to know better, oh well, such is our new society, sad! Don't be afraid to ask, I will not be offended on the contrary. No labels for me.

Scottish "Alien"

1944. Scotland. I don't self-identify racially because I think it is divisive.

I applied for a Driver's License in Florida when I first arrived, even though I was told that a British license was acceptable. The clerk was confused because I was obviously not an American, but I was white. When I told her I was from Scotland, she asked me if that was near France. I showed her my "green card" which said "alien registration receipt card" on it. She promptly typed "alien" on the space for "race" on the driver's license. I kept the card for years, but eventually had to turn it back in for a new one. I don't mean to trivialize this project, but it shows how obsessive some people can be to distinguish people who don't look (or sound) like them.

"Whites Only" at the Laundromat

This story was conveyed to the project administrator verbally. We’ve paraphrased the story for inclusion in this project.

This story is from a white woman, born in Scotland in 1948. If you lived on a farm in Scotland in the 1950’s you had very little exposure to other races. Scotland is a small country, and in the 50’s practically everyone who lived there was Scottish -- white. Her family moved to the United States when she was in her teens. The first black people she encountered she described as “exotic and beautiful.” Her first experience with racism came when she went to a laundromat where she saw a sign posted that read “Whites Only.” She thought the sign referred to the laundry, not the patrons, and so she sneeked her colors into the laundromat until she discovered the true intent of the sign.

The First Black Family in the Neighborhood

A white man born in Queens, NY in 1957 recalls when local kids vandalized the house of the first black family to move into the neighborhood.

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