Growing up as a child during the 1970s in a predominantly African American neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, the differences between me and my playmates never occurred to me. Although my mother and I eventually moved to the suburbs, my father remained there well into my adulthood. However, it was not until late childhood, while visiting my father on weekends, that I started to differentiate between my friends and myself, and my father’s home and my home. The realization I was different may have come about because of the piercing stares and turned heads at the neighborhood market. Or perhaps it was the racial epithets exchanged in anger between childhood friends. However, the image indelibly etched in my memory is that others referred to me as “Casper.” Yes, I am white¬¬––chalk white, milk white, even ghostly white. If others had not continuously pointed this out to me, I doubt I would have noticed at such a young age. Nevertheless, when you are young and searching for your identity, labels have a way of adhering to you and images engrave themselves in your mind long after they fall into disuse.
While this self-image endured for decades, it was far less demeaning than the labels applied to an entire race of African Americans. According to sociologist Dr. David Pilgrim, during the era of Jim Crow (1877-1965), various “stereotypical depictions of Blacks, helped to popularize the belief that Blacks were lazy, stupid, inherently less human and unworthy of integration” (“Who Was”). Promoted and exploited by the entertainment industry, the stereotypical black “Mammy” and faithful “Tom” permeated American culture in the form of cartoons, movies, radio, television and theater, dehumanizing Blacks and ultimately providing…
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