Jesmyn Ward is the author of the novel “Salvage the Bones” and the forthcoming memoir “Men We Reaped.”
There are moments from childhood that attract heat in our memories, some for their sublime brilliance, some for their malignancy. The first time that I was treated differently because of my race is one such memory.
As a child of the ’80s, my realization of what it meant to be black in Mississippi was nothing like my grandmother’s in the ’30s. For her it was deadly; it meant that her grandfather was shot to death in the woods near his house, by a gang of white patrollers looking for illegal liquor stills. None of the men who killed her grandfather were ever held accountable for the crime. Being black in Mississippi meant that, when she and her siblings drove through a Klan area, they had to hide in the back of the car, blankets thrown over them to cover their dark skin, their dark hair, while their father, who looked white, drove.
Of course, my introduction to racism wasn’t nearly as difficult as my mother’s, either. She found that being black in Mississippi in the late ’50s meant that she was one of a few who integrated her local elementary school, where the teachers, administrators and bus drivers, she said, either ignored the new black students or spoke to them like dogs....