How Racism Harms White People

It was the beginning of the school year, and I was in first grade.  I lived in an almost entirely white rural town in Connecticut, and it was three months before I would move close to a city.  Even though I was in a large classroom, my only memory is of the bubble of space around my desk.  “Don’t talk to her.  She’s dirty,” a white boy said to me.  I turned to my right and saw a girl sitting at the desk adjacent to mine.  She was looking straight ahead at the front of the room, and her skin was slightly darker than mine.  Was she dirty? I wondered.  Was he right?  Should I heed his warning and stay away from her?  I was confused and afraid.

This is my only memory of that classroom.  As I think back on this brief interaction, I am incensed.  My insides wrench, and I feel hot tears in my eyes.  My heart breaks for that girl as I imagine the ways in which her sense of self-worth, confidence, and belonging were undoubtedly and unrelentingly assaulted at that school.  Yet my heart also breaks for my child self.  I remember that scene the way one often remembers trauma: in vivid detail...

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