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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Convoluted idea of race

Threatt emphasizes how difficult it is to explain racism to his daughters, who have had vastly different experiences with race in different parts of the country. He reflects on the convoluted definitions of race and the bizarre lengths white Americans have gone to in order to categorize members of different races. Threatt thinks the "Hispanic" designation is particularly silly.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

GLENNON THREATT:
With my twenty year old, as she grew older I let her watch "Roots." What I didn't want to do is to convey bitterness because it's difficult to talk about things that have happened to you without sounding bitter. In an hour and a half interview you can get a better sense of me as a person because of all of the things we have talked about, the good and the bad. When your child sees something on television about the 1960s or they see the images of the police dogs and stuff like that and she says, "Daddy didn't you grow up in Birmingham, did anything like that ever happen to you?" It's very difficult to talk to them about that in a balanced manner. It's difficult for a child that grew up in Washington D.C.-because my older daughter grew up in Washington D.C., it's difficult for her to come here and see the lack of opportunity and the obvious racism and class related segregation that occurs here. My daughter went to Florida A&M, and when she got down there-Tallahassee is still very segregated; it's like Birmingham, but it's the state capital of Florida. She's twenty now and she's a graduate of college and she understands the balance and she's gone to school there and gone to white private schools and black public schools in her educational history. So she has a balanced understanding of it and it's a lot easier to talk to her now. My five and a half year old is tough sometimes. She's in a summer camp now where she is the only black girl. Last week, she was in another summer camp where there were two blacks there and one of the white girls there wouldn't let her play a little game they were playing. They said, "We don't want to play with you because you're brown." That's difficult to explain to her, and I have to kind of do it because her mother is West Indian. She didn't encounter those things growing up. She grew up in Guyana and then she moved to Washington D.C. which had the largest black middle class and the most prominent black middle class of any city in the United States. That was where she grew up, so she had a completely unrealistic view of the way black people interact with whites in the United States by moving to DC. She comes from a well-to-do family in Guyana, and Guyana half the people there are East Indian or Portuguese, so they don't discriminate against blacks. They have other people to discriminate against. For my younger daughter who has always gone to predominantly white schools, it's just very, very difficult to explain to her why kids that don't know her don't like her.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Does she have any sense of racial prejudice at all?
GLENNON THREATT:
I don't know that she sees it as race, she associates it with color. We have people in my family that look like they are East Indian and we have people that are darker than I am, particularly on her mother's side. So, when a child says "you're brown," she doesn't think of that as ethnicity, she thinks of it as discrimination because of skin color. I don't know if I'm being clear about that, but there is a difference. If an African American with a light complexion was there with her she wouldn't expect them to be treated the way she was treated. The thing that was weird about the South was that if you have one drop of black blood you're black. People who have blue eyes and straight hair are black, like in New Orleans. In New Orleans they had quadroons and octoroons. When I talked to my twenty year old about that she said, "They have what?" Yeah, you were mulatto which is half white and half black, you were quadroon which was one black relative, one white relative of your grandparents, you were octoroon-it's just weird the things we came up with to deal with that stuff.
KIMBERLY HILL:
One black grandparent is quadroon -
GLENNON THREATT:
Is that quadroon? Because you have four grandparents.
KIMBERLY HILL:
If I have one great grandparent who's black -
GLENNON THREATT:
Okay, then you are octoroon. That's weird that we came up with these things. In Alabama, if you have one drop of black blood you are black.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Still?
GLENNON THREATT:
Still. Up until the last census people didn't have the opportunity to put biracial, even the respondents of the census, even on their tax returns. I've had people come in and talk to me complaining that their kids went to school and they had to be either white or black. She's like, my child has one white parent and one Hispanic parent or one black parent and one Hispanic parent, why do they have to put down black? That's like saying they don't have a white parent. I never thought of it as a big deal because to me everybody here that wasn't white was black, because we didn't have any Asians or Hispanics when I was growing up. The first Asian person I met was when I was a junior in high school, it was a Korean kid who came here and went to Indian Springs. His name was Jun Kim, and he was the first Asian that I ever knew personally. I never knew a Hispanic person until I went to Princeton. It was odd to me because the first Hispanic I met was Puerto Rican, and he was as dark as I am with nappy hair. He considered himself to be Hispanic, his name was Sergio Sotamundo, and he looked just like me!
KIMBERLY HILL:
Yes, the census is still trying to figure out how to make that cultural distinction and also make a race distinction.
GLENNON THREATT:
Hispanic is not an ethnicity, all it means is that you come from a country that speaks Spanish.
KIMBERLY HILL:
It has a cultural-
GLENNON THREATT:
That's like calling me English, because we speak English here, it doesn't make any sense. A guy that works here is a good friend of mine and he's Puerto Rican, so I asked him what do you call people who are from Guatemala, other than Guatemalan. It seems to me that a Guatemalan doesn't have anything more in common with a person from Madrid than I do with a white person from Fairfield. That just doesn't make any sense. Why are they grouped together? Guatemalans and Hondurans tend to be mestizo, they're more Mayan than they are related to white folks from Madrid. Many of them don't even speak Spanish! That's the thing about it, a lot of the people that are grouped into the Hispanic category don't even speak Spanish.