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The First Black


I grew up in a small town in Maine. There are two general stores and a church–otherwise the town consists solely of houses, trees, and farmland. I attended school in my town until high school and do not remember a single black or indian person. There were twin asians two years above me, but that’s about it for diversity. As a child growing up in this environment I did not even know that there were people of other races and ethnicities. Seeing as I refused to watch anything but the Looney Tunes, the media did not inform me of “different” looking people either. While I was too young to remember the story, my mom has retold it to me several times. When I was four we went to NYC for the first time and were staying at my aunts apartment. My mom took my sister and I out to buy groceries and ended up in line behind a rather large black woman. While my mom was not taken aback by this, as a child I had no filter and made my confusion clear. Apparently I yelled to my mom asking what was wrong with the lady in front of us and why her skin was so dirty. My mother’s immediate reaction was fear–she was convinced this lady was going to turn around and knife us (clearly she still has some racist tendencies). Fortunately, the lady was extremely kind, turning around only to explain to me that there were people with all different skin colors and allowing me to touch her skin to see that it was the same.

More than anything, I think that this experience does not necessarily show racism, but rather how easy it is for people from homogenous and rural backgrounds to not understand that people can look different, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong. My mother’s reaction clearly does show racisim; a racism that came from her parents. After this experience the only black people (besides on TV) that I remember seeing until I went to boarding school were when I left Maine or went in dodgy parts of Portland, or my grandmother’s maid. becuase of these experiences, I will admit that I created a sort of negative category that I put black people in.

Fortunately, in 9th grade I applied to boarding schools and ended up at Milton Academy in Boston, MA. My sophomore year dorm only had 4 white students out of the 37 girls, and only 11 of the girls were from America. I roomed in a triple with a girl from Korea and a girl from India second semester, while finding my best friend to be from Jamaica. As cliche as it sounds, this experience really did make me who I am today.  While I do think that quite a bit of racism still does exist today, I think quite a bit of it is generational. People hear their parents making comments about certain races being stupid etc at the dinner table, and then assume this is correct. While the climate is definitely improving, I do think that there is a long way to go and people’s obsession with being PC is not necessarily helping. While people may say that people don’t need to be PC because everything is okay, I think that in reality people are overly PC because everything is not okay. Their  is still a fair to moderate problem with racism in our society, and I know from my high school experience that many of my friends would be extremely offended when people would use PC terms because it showed that they felt the need to think before they spoke meaning that they clearly did view other races as being different.

Overall, while I think that times have improved–even the fact that I was at a school where only about a quarter of the students were white americans and we didn’t experience a single racial conflict that was extreme enough to be discussed at assemblies–there is still a long way to go. Tensions still exist, and it does not help that people so readily take their parents views.

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2 thoughts on “The First Black

  1. While I’m sure it was a fascinating group of people, it is what it is. A Jamaican girl at Milton A is probably from a wealthy family. Is she the “same” as an Ad-am girl from a poor US family? How did living here make your friend see race? She had been the majority in her country.

    Posted by Jordi | February 28, 2012, 7:18 pm
    • She actually was one of the many students who came to Milton on a full scholarship, but I do get where you are coming from. There was definitely racism and people tending towards those who looked like them and came from a similar background. Whenever I watch the movie mean girls it makes me think of my lunch rooms (with the “cool asians” etc). It actually seemed that there tended to be more conflict within different ethnic groups depending on economic class rather than across different ethnic groups.

      Posted by Catherine Gibbons | February 28, 2012, 8:54 pm

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