Grow­ing up racist — then grow­ing out of it.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY JES­SICA CONTRERA jes­sica.contrera@wash­ Jes­sica Contrera is a re­porter for the Style sec­tion of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

From the protests in Fer­gu­son to the movie about Selma, race has been at the fore­front of the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion re­cently. On the news and at our din­ner ta­bles, the coun­try is dis­cussing how far we still have to go. “How I Shed My Skin,” by Jim Grim­s­ley, is a white writer’s story of that jour­ney — where we’ve come from and how we move for­ward.

It is told through the eyes of a young boy grow­ing up in North Carolina and be­gins as the lo­cal schools are about to in­te­grate in the fall of 1966, when Grim­s­ley is 11 years old. Eleven is old enough to have learned racism from the com­mu­nity around him but not old enough to un­der­stand the his­tory be­hind it. Eleven is old enough to mimic that racism but not old enough for it to be deeply in­grained. In shar­ing his child­hood, Grim­s­ley sheds light on how in­te­gra­tion af­fected chil­dren dif­fer­ently than adults. While adults of dif­fer­ent races could choose not to in­ter­act with one an­other, chil­dren in the same class­room had to ex­ist and work to­gether; in some cases, they be­came friends. Each time Grim­s­ley in­ter­acts with the black stu­dents in his class, he inches closer to view­ing them as his equals. “Qui­etly, one day at a time, I was los­ing my sense that black peo­ple were dif­fer­ent from me in the ways I had been taught,” he writes.

The book also shows the writer fig­ur­ing out who he is. As he slowly rec­og­nizes and ac­cepts his same-sex at­trac­tions, he re­al­izes that his out­sider sta­tus helps him feel a con­nec­tion to the black stu­dents in his class.

In the most com­pelling sec­tions of “How I Shed My Skin,” Grim­s­ley ac­knowl­edges the racism around him. There were many good peo­ple in his life— good peo­ple who were also bla­tant racists. When he ex­plores if and how those char­ac­ter­is­tics can co­ex­ist, he brings to­gether his present and his past.


Pres­i­dent Obama walks hand-in-hand with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Amelia Boyn­ton Robin­son, a leader of the march in Selma, Ala., to com­mem­o­rate its 50th an­niver­sary.

HOW I SHED MY SKIN Un­learn­ing the Racist Lessons of a South­ern Child­hood By Jim Grim­s­ley Al­go­nquin. 275 pp. $23.95

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