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Growing Up Black, Wishing I Was White

Growing Up Black, Wishing I Was White
White people need to understand what Black people have had to struggle with. To that end, this is the second in a series by LaShondra Riddle. She shares her story. The first time someone called me the N-word (loud enough for me to hear it), I was nineteen years old. It was Friday, January 30…
By Seth Barnes

Growing Up Black, Wishing I Was White

White people need to understand what Black people have had to struggle with. To that end, this is the second in a series by LaShondra Riddle. She shares her story.

The first time someone called me the N-word (loud enough for me to hear it), I was nineteen years old. It was Friday, January 30, 2009. The day before my twentieth birthday. That Friday night, I was standing on the platform at Park Street station in downtown Boston waiting for the train to arrive. I was on my way to Harvard University for a weekly Campus Crusade for Christ meet-up. Normally, I travelled with friends from school, but this time, I was alone.

Barack Obama had just just been elected as President for his first term in November and ten days before this particular night, he held his first inaugural address. Excitement was in the air. The United States had elected its first black president and a celebration had broken out in the streets where I lived. Most of the people that I knew were excited, but apparently, not everyone.

I’m not sure if this is what caused this white man to start yelling, “You’re all a bunch of Niggers!” at the two black people standing on the platform or if it was something else that triggered it. All I know is that, in that  moment, I was terrified. I feared for my physical safety. I was alone in a sea of white people with the only other black person standing on the opposite side of the platform and I was scared. I wasn’t sure if this man’s tirade would end with the racial slur or if it would escalate to physical violence.

Thankfully, nothing transpired after that, but the damage had been done. For the first time in a long time, I felt alone. I felt different. I felt exposed and vulnerable and unable to hide. I was a black woman living in a predominantly white city, attending a predominantly white university, up north, far away from my home, my family, and my neighborhood in the South, where black people were the majority.

It took me months before I ever told anyone about that experience. I wasn’t sure how to even feel about it. Part of me wanted to pretend like it wasn’t a big deal and that it didn’t really affect me. Another part of me couldn’t detach from the shame I felt at having experienced it, despite having done nothing wrong. I was a black woman in America and this man had just made it impossible for me to pretend like my racial identity no longer influenced how the world perceived me, which was a pretense I desperately wanted to hide behind.

Growing up in the South, in Atlanta where black people are the majority, I spent the first eighteen years of my life mostly surrounded by other black people. Everyone in my family is black. I lived in predominantly black neighborhoods, attended schools where 99% of the students and teachers were black, and made friends with other black kids, with a few exceptions. I had interactions with people outside of my race, but for the most part, I only had to interact with them for very brief periods of time.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve been aware of my race and how the color of my skin “sets me apart” from other people. Black parents and black teachers made sure to instill this into black children at a very young age. In school, I learned about black history. I learned about slavery in the U.S. as well as Apartheid in South Africa. I learned about Jim Crow and the lynching of black bodies.

We had school assemblies around being black and were shown movies like, Roots, Amistad, and Selma in our classrooms. I learned about racism, segregation, and the Civil Rights movement. I learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and Rosa Parks. I learned about protests, and sit-ins, and boycotts. I learned that my ancestors had fought for the right to be viewed and treated as equals. I learned that despite their valiant efforts and the progress that was achieved, people may still view and treat me differently.

At home, I listened as family members and friends of the family talked about their misgivings about white people. Their mistrust. Their stories of mistreatment and discrimination. I frequently heard them say, “this is the white man’s world” and how black people would never succeed because white people were in charge and they would never allow a black person to have more than what they already have.

Despite hearing all these things, I soon became infatuated with white people. I spent a lot of my childhood watching white people on tv. The messages were probably subtle, but somewhere along the line, I began to believe that white people weren’t just “good,” but that they were “better.” White people were the people to be. I don’t know when it started, but by the time I was ten years old, I was already wishing I was white. I had already begun internalizing these messages of white superiority and in turn, black people’s “inferiority.”

I cannot begin to explain what this messaging does to the heart of a young black child and black people in general. To constantly be bombarded with messaging, that is rooted in real experiences and truth, that says, because of the color of your skin, there are people in this world who will not like you, who will treat you unfairly and unjustly, and may even seek to take your very life.

For many, it breeds mistrust in the hearts of black people and understandably so. For me, it bred self-hatred because, without realizing it, I had internalized racist ideas about myself and people who looked like me. And it has taken a lot of work on my part (with the Lord) to unlearn racist narratives about myself and other people of color and to truly see my racial identity as God sees it: beautiful and a reflection of His creative nature and glory. An identity that He desires and has already said will be represented around the throne room of heaven.


Tomorrow LaShondra will share how her experience changed her and the hope those lessons afford a world that is in turmoil.

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