Growing Up in White America

Published on my personal blog

I like to joke that I grew up in the whitest part of America, though sometimes even I’m unsure of how much truth lies in my own words. I once met someone from Chicago who laughed when I told her where I was from. “Do you guys even know what diversity is there?” Then, with a wry smile, she joked, “Am I the first Black girl you’ve ever seen?”

I laughed and shook my head. Of course she wasn’t — we both knew that. But the more I thought about it, the less funny it became. Something about what she said itched deep under my skin. I’ve never been able to shake away the feeling completely.

When I think about my childhood neighborhood, I can’t remember one Person of Color who lived on my street. All I can remember is the Asian man who lived a few blocks away who kids made fun of because he didn’t celebrate Halloween. I grew up going to the school that was known for having the most diversity in the district, but there still wasn’t very much at all. My classes were overwhelmingly white and full of overwhelmingly white ideas. I remember a boy once jokingly made a KKK hood and paraded through the halls wearing it. Someone in my history class once wore black face as part of a presentation on civil rights. When a new club called “Young Educated African Americans” started meeting, students asked why there wasn’t a club for white people. These actions and comments hardly seemed to phase anyone.

Was it because we were young? To an extent, I believe that’s true. I don’t think any of us truly understood the weight of the things we did. We grew up in a school system that taught us racism ended when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech, the same school system that didn’t teach us about Japanese internment camps or Native American history. We grew up with parents who never taught us better, maybe because they were never taught better; we were stuck in the cycle of living in white America.

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