My first experience with racism

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My early school years were spent in East Orange, NJ. We lived on what I remember as the last street in the city populated by white people. We lived right near Watsessing park and I would walk through the park on my way to and from school. I remember the younger grades would enter the front of the building and there were trailers out in front for the 3rd grade population. On my first day of fourth grade I don’t know why none of my older siblings were with me but that was the big day! The day that you had to go to the back of the school to get to your home room.

I was a small mousy looking white girl in a predominantly black area heading into an unknown zone. My sister had asked me once back then how I would feel if she dated a black man. I didn’t understand why she even made the separation of black and white. Maybe I was a naive girl but to my mind and the way I looked at the world I didn’t see how dating could be barred because of someone’s race. Even though I grew up during the race riots I still did not harbor any hostile feelings towards black people. I had no personal experience to feel that way.

I made my way to the back of the building alone and there were two black boys standing off to the side and one said to me “Heeeyyy white cracker……” I don’t remember what he said after that because I was taken by surprise and didn’t know what to say. Before I gathered my thoughts, the other boy said to him “Hey, don’t call her that….” again, I don’t remember what else was said but it felt good, I gathered my thoughts and continued my way into my new classroom.

Maybe that experience is why I have a tendency to always stick up for the underdog. I don’t know who those boys were but they made a positive and lasting impression on me. I always try to make eye contact with people and smile. If I see anyone being mistreated you can bet I will be getting involved.

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