Beyond Skin - One Local Author's Response

Beyond Skin illustration
Justin Carter
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Nov 13, 2014

This fall, Johnson County Library has been looking at race: stereotypes, self-awareness, and what it means to look beyond the surface. We’ve invited you to tell us how you have been affected by race. Justin Carter, in the following essay, shares his experience. As a suburban white woman, it’s easy to subconsciously, or otherwise, believe that issues of race don’t happen in my community, my city, or even my state. My country, sure, but that’s Missouri. That’s the other United States. But he dispels the myths I accept as truth and exposes the subtle, and not-so-subtle, ways race is still an issue in America.

– Helen Hokanson

How has race affected you? Tell us your story here. This is Justin’s response to that question:

How has race affected me? It’s a knotty question, one I’m not entirely sure that I can truly answer. I mean, it’s so hard to answer, given that America is so famous for not having any racism at all, ever. No black women in car accidents getting shot in the face while trying to get help, no protests against illegal immigration by white people against Hispanics who either lack a sense of irony or just straight up don’t know history.

Definitely not a city under what’s basically martial law because the cops don’t want to turn in one of their own who shot a black kid and put him on paid leave. Nope, that just doesn’t happen in America.

I suppose I could start by saying me being black hasn’t affected me in the slightest with a story of when I was 12 years old at a Gamestop. My family was in the Macy’s next door and I went over to look at something to get a friend. The clerk (white, because of course) asked if I needed help, I said no and continued looking around for about 10 minutes before just playing the store’s Playstation 3. He asks me if I need help again, I say no again, he says that I need to either buy something or they’ll call security, I leave with a ruined day. Obviously it was my fault, not buying something after being in the store for 10 minutes and antagonizing the zero customers that were also in the store that day.

There was this other time when I was 13 and part of a jazz band. We decided to host a picnic at this park, and me and a few other kids were just talking over next to these two girls (again, white) playing tennis. Apparently we were extremely loud, because they asked us to keep it down twice, and then for some reason called the police instead of just talking to the adults who were also with us. The police didn’t give them the answer they were looking for, which I’m assuming meant arresting us or getting us to leave, making them upset enough to where they just left and shouted “go back to your ghetto hood!” as they drove off.

Oh wait, no, I can totally think of a way better moment than those two. See, back in March, I worked at a deli and was playing rock music from a video game. One of my coworkers, again white and a guy because white girls have some idea of what tact is, says and I quote, “Oh, you listen to rock music?

You just got a ton of respect from me, man! You’re not like other black people!” Leaving aside the issue that I’m just a bad standard to hold people up to in general, there’s literally no way for that to have come out without sounding incredibly offensive.

I’ve a list of other great moments in my life, such as the two white parents who didn’t want me dating their daughter based on my skin color instead of actual legitimate reasons like treating her poorly, which I didn’t do; the various “compliments” that are generally along the line of “you act pretty white”, because that’s always what a minority has wanted to hear their entire life; or the fact that on more than one occasion, I’ve had serious thoughts about writing my own obituary just in case and getting a childhood picture to use because I’m 99% certain the news will bungle that. So no, I don’t think my race has affected me in the slightest, and America is a great, post-racism country.

Reviewed by Helen H.
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