When Did You Become Conscious of Race?

Question: When did you first become conscious of race?

Anna Deavere Smith: 

Well I can’t remember not being conscious of race. I guess I’d have to have been pretty lingual, because even though most of the people around me were African-American people, there was still a sense when you went into other parts of Baltimore that there were White people.

Or for example, my maternal grandmother took my brother and I and enrolled us in a camp when I was eight and he was six. And everybody in that camp was white except for one African-American girl. My brother had blue eyes and blond hair, so people didn’t always know that he was black. And so, you know, I was very conscious in that camp of not being white, and I was eight years old then.

So I think it’s something that in my generation is pretty deeply ingrained. I don’t think that my niece, who is nine, has the same experience. She’s conscious, but I don’t think she’s self-conscious in the way that I was, because the message to us was that it was something that wasn’t necessarily that great. And so you had to count on the people in your family, your church, and the people who were closer to you to try to make sense of that.

Recorded on: Aug 15, 2007

 

As a child, Anna Deavere Smith attended an all-white summer camp, and felt out of place. Her young niece, fortunately, hasn't had such an experience.

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