“Black people are a different species…” & Other Things I Heard as a Child
I’m still in the process and on a journey of exploring my beliefs regarding privilege, bias, race and inequality in our country.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I want to raise my children differently than what I heard growing up. And it got me thinking- what did others hear? What if we said what we heard out loud? Acknowledge it. Discuss how this has probably effected our implicit bias as an adult.
White people always get uncomfortable when this comes us. Lets just own our childhood experiences, even if we don’t agree with it now.
Growing up- my “Nana” once told me that “Black people are a different species than we are.” I was 16.
I was confused by this. I told her that she was wrong. I cited my biology class and book. You see, we had recently learned in Ms. Beasley’s (yes, actual name, she was one of my favorite teachers) that “If two animals have an offspring and it is fertile, they are likely the same species, even if they don’t look alike. If two species conceive an offspring and it is sterile, than they may be closely related, but they are not the same species.”
For example- horse + donkey= mule. Mules are sterile. Therefore, horses and donkeys are different species, even though they look similar.
Chihuahuas and Great Danes look nothing alike, but they can have fertile offspring. Okay- so maybe that’s a bad example. We can say poodle and labs. Different breeds- but same species.
Another example- Lion + Tiger = Ligers- and yup, they’re sterile offspring.
This theory pretty much holds up.
Obviously, we are human, not donkeys and dogs.
But I specifically remember this conversation- I presented my evidence that I learned in school. I knew that bi/multi racial people existed, and they, to the best of my knowledge, were also capable of reproducing. Therefore, we are all the same species.
I know this sounds weird- but I’m a very logical person. And Ms. Beasley was a very good teacher- her word was the gospel as far as I was concerned.
My Nana become angry that I was arguing with her. And I swear to God this is what she and my “Papa Vada” said,
“We heard it on Fox News. It’s true. Black people have an extra muscle in their leg- that’s why they have an unfair advantage in sports…they are a different species.”
Hand on the Bible- thats what my grandparents told me.
I learned that sometimes its best to keep quiet when you’re young You can’t argue with an older adult who believes Fox News was the ultimate authority. But that was when I learned that my grandparents were wrong about a lot of things.
I repeatedly remember my mother telling me that Asian’s shouldn’t be trusted. Which was confusing for me- because she loved Chinese buffet restaurants- but my whole life I remember her saying,
“Just look at their eyes. They show no emotion. You can’t trust them. They’re sneaky.”
Growing up- my parents never had non-white friends.
We never went to non-white birthday parties.
Our neighborhoods were all white.
I remember one day driving on the way to school, “Well, those thugs look like they’re ready to learn…”
It was just 3 or 4 black guys in a baggy jeans.
I remember my parents mocking a very Deep South/ignorant sounding black accent.
And look. I’m not perfect.
I don’t seek out black/brown/asian people to be friends with. I’m friends with people because I genuinely like them. But I don’t go out of my way to avoid exposing my kids to families that look different than ours, you know?
And if I remember these interactions- what will my kids remember?
Am I saying things unintentionally that will shape my kids implicit bias in the future?
I don’t know. I’m still on the journey myself.
And the older I get, the more fucked up I realize the adults around me growing up were.
What do you remember being said around you regarding race?