Sage Grouse

Skin Tones

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has been interviewing children and experts about “white bias” expressed by both white and black children about skin color. Children of both races, and mixed race, say that white children are better looking, more popular with teachers, more likeable and smarter than children with dark skin.

This, 55 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education. Some things change slower than glaciers.

I attended segregated schools in the Mississippi delta from 1957 to 1960. A third-grader does not spend a lot of time contemplating legal concepts, but I did wonder why the black kids walked in one direction toward a very new school while I walked the other to an old building, populated by white kids so poor they were barefoot, their clothes were ripped and torn, and many of them had ringworm and other diseases with visible symptoms. Those are things I remember.

We moved to Wyoming in 1961, in part because my father was trying to integrate his Presbyterian church in Indianola, Miss. I have written about this before. Things were tense and death threats were made (“we know where your son walks to school”), mostly by the parents of those kids with no shoes and ringworm.

We next arrived in 1961 in Buffalo, Wyo., where segregation was largely an irrelevant concept. There are Basques in Buffalo, some of whom have olive complexions and nearly all of whom have unusual names like Auzqui and Bordarrampe and Esponda, but no one thinks they are different except that some of them can speak the ancient language and many of them prefer sheep to cattle. Or used to. The only discrimination in Buffalo is that families who have lived there for many decades don’t welcome newcomers all that readily. Race, gender, color, don’t really matter.

Later, attending college in St. Paul, Minn., I participated in voter registration drives in the inner city. At Macalester College, the most liberal college in the Midwest if not the whole country, I occasionally helped a friend by filling in as a midnight desk clerk in one of the dorms. One night a bunch of black students walked into the dorm and decided to “mau-mau” the white dude manning the gate. It got noisy — loud dancing and screaming, pointing and threatening — verging on violent. It probably did not help that I yawned. What irony; My family left the South due to white supremacist death threats, and I end up in a narrow hallway at a liberal college which granted generous scholarships to these inner-city students, and they were mau-mauing me. They eventually tired of the sport and left.

There are events in every person’s life which leave marks and generate lasting resentment. This was not one of those. This was a cheap shot, not important, and has long since faded away. Black people might be entitled to be grumpy about historical abuse, and justify heaping abuse upon white people as a fair compensation. I wrote off the experience of six big African -American dudes dancing and threatening me as blowing off steam. Some people might not.

Scene change: Wyoming. Not many people in Wyoming lived in the Mississippi delta, or registered voters in inner-city anywhere, or were mau-maued at college. It is much easier to cultivate resentment of little wrongs, or perceived unfair advantages, than to transcend them. I no longer frequent several restaurants and bars in Gillette because I can’t stand to hear the “n” word used in reference to our president; I probably should inform the proprietors that they are losing my business.

But how sad it is that children of color, as reported by Anderson Cooper, keep believing that white children are better looking, smarter, more likely to succeed. Is that true on the Wind River Reservation? It’s hard to talk about transcending differences when the damage is done during the earliest formative years.

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  1. There are sane people in the country, and our voices need to be heard over the predominant din of voices that appear to be taking over the country and seem to be motivated by partisanship, selfishness, greed, racism, intolerance, ignorance and several other classical sins that escape me at the moment. Thanks for continuing to try to restore sanity. We shouldn’t need rallies to do so!

  2. Thank you , for a smart and intersting article. I wish I knew the places in Gillette where people still feel this way. As a friend put this to me, “He still is the President of the U.S.”. Jean Adams

  3. Thank you
    Often your writing brings a smile to my face or fires up a few brain cells that need to a nudge to wake up. This piece touched my heart.
    Here I am in Portland Oregon reading Wyofile because 2 years ago a client of mine from Wyoming starting sending it my way. I always look forward to reading your column. Please keep writing, your voice makes a difference.
    Sincerely, Nura Khan