A Short List of Racist Experiences as an African American Woman

Jenny Sammons
Jun 4 · 8 min read
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I don’t usually share details of the experiences of aggression toward me due to my race for several reasons:

  1. I don’t always know if the treatment is because of my race or if the person is just being an asshole in general.

Now, in the aftermath of the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others before them — now that our country is being ravaged by riots, and liberal white people are more willing to listen, I am willing to share what I can remember of these experiences, one by one. I’m willing to recognize that the most loving thing I can do is shine a light so that my white friends can know the truth and do their best to correct the erroneous institution of white supremacy.

I know that this is not a comprehensive list, that it’s possible that I am describing less than 1/4th of the micro-aggressions and outright racist behavior I’ve suffered for seemingly no reason other than the color of my skin, but to the best of my ability, I’ve made an account of all of the experiences that linger with me, that I am unable to lock away in the space in my mind I’ve reserved for the things I don’t want to remember or believe could be true.

Some of this list contains events and encounters, and some are memories of feelings that remain locked up inside of me, like prisoners that weep for a glimpse of freedom. I’ve listed these experiences in order of where I have most recently lived or traveled.

IOWA

  1. Two white male friends over 60 calling me “exotic” on two different occasions. I know they meant it as a compliment and not an insult, but it’s difficult not to feel like an animal or a rare fruit instead of an American who was born in the same country they were.

GERMANY

  1. Shopping in an arts and crafts store and a woman approaching me, assuming I worked there.

CHINA

  1. Eating in a restaurant with friends in Beijing and being stared at openly with contempt by a Chinese woman on staff.

WASHINGTON, DC

  1. A group of white women passing while I locked the gate to the store where I was working, and one of them whispering “dyke” under her breath to the laughter of her friends. At the time I sported short hair and worked at a shop specializing in gifts for men.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

  1. White friends telling me that they were no longer allowed to play with me because of my race.

OTHER MISCELLANEOUS EXPERIENCES

  1. Having the word “nigger” whispered under the breath by one in a group of three white men at a gas station in Bristol, VA. I was en route from Memphis to DC and this was one of the scariest experiences, because I was low on gas, in the middle of nowhere and alone.

Thankfully my police encounters have been minimal, and the way I was raised to speak and my European-sounding name have granted me access to spaces in which I may not have been welcome otherwise. I’ve spoken respectfully and with poise to the police and have never been publicly loud or angry. My well-educated grandfather who partially raised me made sure that I disassociated myself with anything that would cause me to be rejected from white spaces. I was raised to fit in, to be comfortable being the only black person in a room. I was raised to perform for white people, to agree with white people, and to ease a white person’s fears when they first encounter me. To be friendly, happy-go-lucky. To let them know that I’m one of the safe ones and I won’t give them any trouble.

This conditioning has regretfully created an abyss between myself and my culture and heritage. As a child, I was bullied and rejected by many of my African American peers. I have received accusatory comments on my social media from black women who felt I was rejecting my people. It is understandable; I was taught to turn my back on my culture and walk with an air about me that elevated whiteness over anything else. There’s a subtle and complex racial hierarchy within the black community as a result of white supremacy within which I am keenly aware of where I fall.

I have had difficulty cultivating friendships with other black women and have very much felt like an outsider in the small cluster of African Americans in the small Iowa town where I have lived for six years until recently. I have struggled with a feeling that everywhere I turn, I do not belong. I am not white, I am not black enough, and I am not wealthy enough for it not to matter. In Europe, I am mistaken for a refugee. In China, the slang word for a black person means “dog.” In America, I am saddened and traumatized over and over again.

So where do I go from here?

To God.

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