What was your first experience with racism?
Because I'm white, I've almost never been a target of racism (on one of the rare occasions I was, I was called a racial epithet used for Asian people, despite the fact that I almost couldn't look less Asian, which typifies the erudition of racists), and I also grew up in a home where racism was not expressed by anyone in my family—not my immediate family nor extended family. I literally don't recall a single one of my relatives ever using a racial epithet or telling a racist joke or making a sweeping generalization about an entire race or ethnic group in my entire life. (Or about LGBTQs or the disabled or anyone else, for that matter.)
That said, my parents (both teachers) made sure I understood that racism existed and talked to me about it, but, still, the first time I heard someone singled out as somehow "different" because of his or her race, it shocked the fuck out of me.
I was 14 and dating a really super guy, my first holding-hands-in-the-hallway-at-school boyfriend, and one day a friend of mine said to me sort of wistfully how her mother would never let her date him. When I asked why, she replied, "Because he's a spic." So matter-of-fact.
It was the moment I became aware of racism as a practice, rather than just an abstract concept about which I'd heard, and really, the first time I ever thought about what "race" really meant. Until that point, it was if "blonde" and "black" had approximately the same connotation to me—neutral descriptors about what someone looked like. (Talk about privilege.)
It was scary to me to realize all at once how nefarious and present racism really was—and how close to me. It was like waking up in a swimming pool. I remember my breath sort of whooshing out of me like I'd been hit and feeling my face flush with embarrassment. Not for me, and certainly not on my boyfriend's behalf, but for my friend—for having a racist mom.
Easy to judge, of course. Recently, Mama Shakes told me how much thinking she's done about her own internalized racism because of Shakesville. We're all swimming in that pool, whether we've woken up there yet or not.