Friday, September 12, 2014

Chapter 15 - Getting under My Skin

This chapter follows the life and racial understandings of a man named Don Terry, who is the son of a white woman and a black man. Terry was a journalist and worked for the New York Times. This piece is different from the other articles we have discussed because it is told in the first person. Every article discusses other people and their stories and from all different perspectives. This is the only one solely focused on one man, with inserts of his mothers, fathers, and brothers lives to explain how a mixed race family dynamic is seen in America. Terry grew up in Hyde Park, a mixed race neighborhood in Chicago and didn't have to decide "what nationality" he was until his college years. In fact, it was those who were solely one race that had to define themselves and he even recalls one white girl making up a story about how her dad was a russian Black. College was very hard for him as he went through what most middle schoolers have to deal with with defining their race. Terry tried to keep ties with some of his white friends, but eventually "chose blackness".
One of the major elements in this article is the family dynamic. With two white older brothers, Terry was faced with a lot of discrimination because of who they were and they had to face a lot as well. Terry was deprived of a father figure because of the angry rage of his father, but deprived of a grandfather figure because of who is father was. We see a number of elements that relate to other chapters in this book like defining oneself by their race. Terry described it like this: "I wasn't split in two-the world was". There is no in between. The world is made up of black and white and the only time we try to justify any grey area is when it is us in the grey area, or our friends and loved ones. The world isn't made for just black and white though, it was supposed to be colorful, ranging in all different spectrums. So why do we insist on making the people "in between", "mixed", or "different" feel like they are in between and different? My favorite part of this chapter is how he ends it. He finds his birth certificate after his fathers death and saw that his father crossed out the races next to "father" and "mother", just leaving those words and leaving a gift for Don Terry to hold onto on paper.


  1. I was struck by a comment made on the bottom of page 272 and one on pg 273. On 272, Don's father makes the comment about the "red tint in his skin." He tells Don that the "red skin, " is the Indian blood that they share. Don further describes his physical attributes, explaining that when he looks in the mirror, he see, "Europe and Africa dancing across his face like lovers"(273). Don brings up that people inquire about his "nationality." He further translates the true meaning of such questioning to be social and behavioral determinations. This demonstrates the socially blurred terminology, and identification of nationality, skin color, and race.
    Throughout this piece, Don struggles with his own identity in a society where his physicality imposes one upon him. Again I bring this idea of liminality to the forefront. Don lives in between two distinct worlds. He neither fits completely into one category, not the other. So how does one identify when living right on a threshold? In Don's case, education helped him to learn more about himself and his own definition.

    I know this is all "touchy feely, let's hold hands and sing kumbaya," but I really felt sorry for Don. The pain of not belonging, and feeling responsible for the estrangement of the family breaks my heart. I could empathize with his battle.

    I did find it interesting that after the death of his grandfather, he and his brother's had two distinct perceptions of "grandpa's racism." David grew up with a loving version of Grandpa Raven. He remembers him as, "...a great guy...not motivated by prejudice"(274). Don's perception was influenced by hurt, and a longing to be loved and accepted by his grandfather. This caused Don to remember Grandpa Raven as a, "racist evil incarnate"(274). These were brothers from the same family, sharing the same maternal blood, with very different skin colors. It was these two different shades of color that created two very different perspectives.

  2. I was struck by the struggle of Don's family with race and racism, and how the family members handled it so differently. His grandfather was obviously a racist, and his grandmother, while not being nearly so biased, nevertheless went along with grandpa, not letting Don and his sister visit unless the old man was gone, presumably to keep the peace in her house. His brothers love him and accept him, but they still live in a different world, where grandpa was not a racist but a loving grandfather. His mother says he is "the best of both worlds", but didn't have her white children live with her mixed children. His father was proud of being black but insisted he was part Native American. His niece Julie, who called him "Uncle Don" and seemd to love him, did a school project about her family which left out all of the non-white family members, and then didn't explain why.
    The nonwhite population of our culture facesracism, both overt and covert, on a regular basis, but Don Terry also faced it within his family. At least his childhood neighborhood of Hyde Park was integrated so that he was happy there, but that may have made the shock of the racism and sense of not being black or white harder to handle when he went to college.


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