“How I Shed My Skin,” Part 1

Jim Grimsley’s book, How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood, is a testimony to the particular racist history of the South at the beginning of desegregation, but the value and purpose of his story are not location or time specific. His detailed reflections on the process of learning and unlearning lessons in racism and white supremacy offer a model for all of us white people to follow.

Exactly what had happened to bring about the new world I was not sure. Outside of school or church, adults rarely explained history or taught about how things worked, leaving us children to figure things out as best we could. Nobody ever told me why blacks and whites had to go to separate schools, use separate restrooms, and keep a distance from one another. No one ever pointed out a black person to me and said, “You cannot drink water out of the same glass as that person, or call him ‘sir,’ or sit next to him in a public place.” Yet the knowledge of those truths had come into me in spite of the silence. (p. 8)

Whatever our geographic area, class background, or year of birth, we absorbed truths from the adults in our lives, who in turn absorbed truths from their parents and role models. We are all connected to the country’s history of slavery and segregation in this way, back through generations. The degree to which our predecessors worked to challenge the white supremacy they were taught may lessen our own bias incrementally, but it does not erase it.

What did you learn by watching and listening to what grown-ups said, didn’t say, did, didn’t do?

What truths did adults pass on to you through their silence?

[Author’s note: This is a blog about undoing racism and white people’s accountability. See the resources post for definitions and further reading.]