‘No One Can Take Knowledge From You, No Matter What Color’

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

An African American reader, Marcus, relates to Allene and the kinds of intraracial slights she’s experienced—but he’s not going to let it hold him back:

I, to, have experienced similar precepts from others, during various stages in my life, and concerning different traits of my being. And because of that, I learned early on to be confident of self—of who I am, who I know myself to be, and the TYPE of man I am. Absolutely no one, who isn’t you, can define what it is to be and how to be you.

Coming up in my hood, I’d get poked about the way I talked and how I sound. I’d get the “You tryin’a sound white” or “You think you smart/smarter than...You think you’re better than...everybody!” While I don’t get the “sound white” any longer, I do get the “better than...” comparison.

Does it bother me? In a way, I guess it kinda does. But better yet still, do I ALLOW IT to bother me? Definitely not. And that’s simply be cause I know me, myself.

This next reader, Orella, is a “bi-racial mom (half black, half Thai)” living in New York City:

I identify with Allene’s note in more ways than one. Hers was a great perspective on us as a people. It is so hard to move forward or to feel any type of unity when we are so judgemental of ourselves.

For example, I recently found a support group for mothers of black children.

Well, since being in the group for three days now, it has been more hateful than uplifting. They have gone after white mothers who adopted black children or even mothers and children who don’t look black enough. It has been another eye-opening experience that the more we want change, the more nothing has changed within us. We are our own worse critics and have never in many years taken the time to uplift ourselves.

Reading Allene’s note also made me think about one of my son’s classes that was led by a black scientist from NASA. He showed a picture to the children of NASA control and asked if the kids noticed anything. My son did not, but the NASA scientist was using it to point out there were no minorities in the picture.

At that moment I wanted the scientist to say that is why we need to work hard and continue to pursue science and math in school to land those positions. But no, he just said it is not right that they don't have anyone of color. I felt that moment could have been empowering, to light the fire.

Also, for a split second, I wondered if I should be out there protesting and really pushing the color issue, or if should I just continue to let my son know that he has the same opportunities as everyone else and to push himself to be the best he can be—that no one can take knowledge from you no matter what color you are. I chose the latter.

In general, in certain aspects, I let my son know what issues he may face due to the color of his skin. But a lot of times it is hard to explain the racism you feel from blacks and the racism you feel from the rest of the world.

So I thank Allene for shining a light on this. Many won’t discuss this and will continue to sweep it under the rug.

If you want to air it out instead, and share a personal experience, please drop us a note.