Very young impressions of people of other races

Until I was 13, we lived in a 100%-white, blue-collar suburb; then we moved to a slightly more upscale 100%-white suburb. Back then virtually everyone on tv was white, as well as movies and books. But sometimes, at an early age (maybe 4-6), my mother would take me downtown on the streetcar. This was the only time I ever saw black people in-person, up-close. I remember a few early impressions. First, I don’t remember ever seeing a black man who didn’t have a moustache; the only white men who had staches were old grandfather types. Also, I couldn’t help noticing that black women wore bright colors that white women would never wear. I remember a woman wearing a yellow and purple dress, which utterly fascinated me. And once, I saw a very dark young black man who was dressed up, and I remember liking the contrast between his white collar and his skin.

Those were my only impressions of non-whites as a child (there were no Asians at all). So to those of you who also had racially monolithic childhoods . . . what were your early impressions when encountering people of other ethnicities?

I’m no help. The only “black” people I ever met growing up were Sammy Davis Jr.'s kids.

They was jus’ like us’em! Cept they dibn’t haba ride no bus!

What are you going for here?

Anecdotal reply, my friend who is the son of Chinese immigrants, reported that he was taught:
“Black people care about their cars, white people care about their house.”

OF course its racist, and no, I don’t support it, but that was the impression that my friend went with until sometime around high school age.

One of my younger brothers had his first black classmate in about the second grade. Once while they were washing their hands in the restroom Shannon noticed Willy’s palms were lighter than the rest of his skin, so he thought the color washed off!

Also raised in a lily-white area, I am told my first glimpse of a black person was at the age of 3ish. In, of course, a public place, where everyone for miles around could hear my piping little girl voice as I asked, “Mom, why is that lady all dirty?!” :eek::smack:

My son was about 5 or 6 when we had the following conversation:

“Mom, is Michael Jordan black?”
pause for thought
“Mom, does Michael Jordan have kids?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
another looooong pause
“Mom, are Michael Jordon’s *kids *black?”
“Yep, that’s pretty much how it works.”

To this day, I have no idea what prompted that little mental exploration of Genetics 101!

One our neighbor’s children who are all chinese and having lived in Japan for most of his short life came to visit with us on a brief trip back to the states. James, who is about 2.5-3 yrs old, mentioned to me that " You have a HAIRY face! are you sick?" Once the laughing was over, his father explained to him that some men could grow beards. He was absolutely stunned by this revelation having never seen a man with a long beard, or really any beard before.

I was five years old when I came to the States, having never seen a white person. We lived in a very poor small village in India, and there weren’t any there. I kept asking my mom why there were so many “ghosts” everywhere.

All I can say is God bless Sesame Street (the early stuff, not the Elmo crap).

I was born in 1970. I only knew white people in real life, but I can remember lots of black and Hispanic kids on Sesame St, and thinking absolutely nothing of it. They just were. In fact, I might have gone slightly the other way, and thought they were “cool” because I only saw them on TV, and not in my boring suburb.

I only developed a childhood racism when I went to school (so age 5 and beyond) when things like “Ching Chong Chinaman” were OK. In fact, I said that exact phrase once when I was about ten. We were on a school excursion (field trip),and an Asian guy walked past as we were getting off the bus. A teacher scolded me. I can recall defending myself indignantly to the teacher with an innocent, “But he is!”.

There was a fantastic interview in the papers here once of a Vietnamese woman who came here at about age nine. She recalls walking out into the “land-side” part of the arrivals hall and seeing, “These strange people with long, glowing limbs covered in golden hair. And they all looked the same!:smiley:

Growing up in very rural California (Auberry) in the 60’s, most of the black people I saw were on TV, and they were all rioting, so I figured there was a pretty angry, violent bunch of people out there who I had never met. Given the TV was black & white, they were really black, not brown like the people I saw at the store sometimes. It was a few years before I made the connection.

Now imagine if you’d been having that conversation about Michael Jackson.

Dunno if this is significant, but…

When my (ethnically 100% Vietnamese) stepson was at pre-school (kids aged 3 - 4), I’d haul my white arse in there to pick him up, and the other kids would just naturally shout out, “Hey Ben! Your dad’s here!”

When Ben went to “Big School” (age 5 and up), I’d go there and the kids would say, “Hey Ben! Your… um… are you Ben’s dad?”

When I was growing up, my hometown was largely white anglos with a few Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics and maybe one or two black families. As I had an aunt who was mostly Native American and a relatively dark uncle and maternal grandmother, I was pretty much indifferent to any difference between my so-pale-I-make-milk-look-dark self and Native Americans. I vaguely remember being friends with one little boy whose family came from South Korea and his dad would tell us stories about it. On my part, there wasn’t much grasp of any cultural difference aside from the country. Hispanics, on the other hand, were a magical people who spoke the secret language I heard on Sesame Street! I was endlessly fascinated by this and so, so jealous that I didn’t speak Spanish, too.

At around three years old was when I think I saw a black person face to face for the first time, or at least it was the first time it left an impression. There was a very large, very grumpy looking woman in the grocery store and for some reason she scared me and I hid behind my mother. I can imagine that the fact that I was looking at her with terror and trying to hide from her was why she seemed so grumpy.

A few members of my family were pretty racist, which may have contributed to that rather bizarre reaction, though I got over it pretty quickly. By the time I was seven and my second grade class was going to the Junior High Civil War reenactment, I was lecturing one of my ignorant classmates who didn’t grasp what the Civil War was about and thought the South wanted to enslave everyone in the North.

And then I can remember watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and being shocked–shocked I tell you–when they made some reference to somebody dreaming of growing up to be the first black president of the United States. Somehow, I’d gotten it into my head that as soon as the Civil Rights Act was passed we’d elected a black president.

When I was maybe 3, an elderly relative taught me:

Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe
Catch a n**ger by his toe

When asked what that word meant, she told me it was like the stock boy at the A&P. He was a young friendly black guy. I liked him a lot. My relative cautioned me never to say that word to a black person or they’d get really mad.

It was about a year before I’d speak to the stock boy again. I was terrified that if I opened my mouth, I’d accidentally say the N-word and he’d beat me up.

Sorry, stock boy, wherever you are.

When I was 3 my best friend was black. I vaguely remember him, but my Mom tells stories about us riding in her little red wagon together.

I knew I had black friends, I knew that they were black, I just didn’t care. My Mom actually talked to me about prejudice and slavery from a very young age. I am very grateful to her for that–but if anything it warped my perceptions in a way that made me have a positive bias toward black people. I didn’t realize how long ago slavery happened–I figured it was very recent, so I tried to be really nice to black people, considering they’d just suffered the horrible oppression of slavery. I also assumed that everyone else treated them in the present day the same way they were treated in the 1900s. I didn’t have a very developed mental timeline or understanding of history. I just thought my Mom was really progressive.

The one thing I do remember is asking my mom what ‘‘Blackmail’’ meant.

I really thought this was going to be an easy answer. Her response was very confusing and I didn’t understand why it had nothing to do with African American men.

I grew up in Peru, and there were indigenous people, mestizos and whites, in order from least prestigious to most prestigious. I, being a blend of all three (My maternal grandmother was indigenous and married my mestizo grandfather, and my paternal grandparents were of Irish and Italian descent), thought that everyone was a mix like me.

I didn’t have a strong sense of my own ethinicity until I came to the United States and realized exactly how many variations on a theme there were. I never saw a black person other than on tv before I was fourteen, and I had no idea what the concept of “Jewish” meant. I thought everyone was Catholic.

The first day my father took me to school to sign me up, I sat net to a girl with headphones on under her hair and I thought she was sick. I couldn’t tell she was dancing.:frowning: My impressions of black people were so friendly due to all the tv that I was amazed when she threatened to slap me for looking at her. :confused:

I grew a thicker skin ater that.

I grew up in a really white place, and don’t recall having any black classmates until middle school.

When I was 8 our very awesome (and very white) neighbors moved and a black family from Alabama moved in. They had a son who is my brother’s age. We got on just fine but never became really close with the family. I think my parents are still kind of leery of them … 20 years later :rolleyes:

Anyway, since I did grow up in such a white place with sort of racist parents, I am surprised that I do not have any “recognizing race” moments like some others are describing here. It only stands to reason that, like TheLoadedDog, I got all of my “race education” from Sesame Street and everything was just ok.

Rock on, Sesame Street!

It’s funny, I’ve been trying to work this one out on my own recently.

I’m so white people use me as an example of how pale it is possible to be without actually having a melanin deficiency syndrome.

I grew up outside of Washington DC in a very integrated neighborhood, attending very integrated schools.

I cannot for the life of me remember when I went from seeing all people without the filter of race to recognizing [categories from my childhood mind] “Black, White, Spanish, Chinese” but I definitely didn’t have it yet by kindergarten and it definitely was in place by 4th grade. I wish I could see the world that way again.

My own kids go to a school where whites are a minority. A 2nd and 4th grader, they never use the words “black” and “white”. They will, occasionally, describe someone as being “brown”.

I don’t know if this is something they picked up at school or worked out on their own but in trying to puzzle it out I realized I never talk about “white people” or “black people” to them, trying very hard just to talk about people.

I’m from the Deep North (Duluth,MN) and we have a relatively small black population. My father loves to tell the story of he and my mother taking me to Florida as a child (5 years old). We were walking through Disney(world/land) and, according to him, every time a black person would pass us, I would exclaim loudly “Dad! Is that Webster!?!?!” The poor man spent the entire trip apologizing for his son.

As a preschooler, I began to notice that people had different skin colors. I remember explaining to my family my theory that God made people in ice cream flavors- black people were based on chocolate ice cream and white people were like vanilla ice cream. I was asked by my family what flavor we were supposed to be (Hispanic). I allegedly replied, “Umm, we aren’t any flavor, we are just people.”

There ain’t nothing like being teased about something that you said 40 years ago at every family gathering.