TED Conversations

Kyra Gaunt

Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur, Assoc.Professor, Kyraocity Works

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How did you first learn to be black or African or what was your earliest memory of learning about blackness/Africaness as different?

As a member of several social innovation communities, as a professor who teaches courses on the evolution and expressions of racism, and as a person of African descent in the United States (African American), I've been traveling around the world since becoming a TED Fellow and even before that asking people of all backgrounds, who did you first learn about racial differences between blacks and others, between Africans and others. The personal narratives people share have rocked my world.

A white woman from West Virginia who hated whites because the only people who ever loved her, kissed her, touched her with care, where two black woman her white father, a Vet caring for 4 girls alone after being abandoned by his wife. He had contracted them to raise her and her sisters. They had to leave in the midst of night to escape social services in the midst of the U.S. race riots of 1965-66. They moved to Ohio where people hated West Virginians (the politics of class among whites was surely at work her as well as the politics of state immigrations and unemployment at the time).

She remembered thinking "I can change my walk or my accent, if I wanted to." But the black women who were my caretakers while my dad worked could not change their skin color. That was her earliest memory as a white person. And she said that interpretation of life made her hate white people til she was well into her forties.

We met at a workshop I gave called AGREE TO BE OFFENDED (AND STAY CONNECTED) on racism as a resource in 2008 at the Conference for Global Transformation in San Francisco. I gave a workshop to 52 people from 3 continents and trained people in rethinking the social construct of race and difference that plagues all nations and groups on some level.

I could use any group here, but I think it's particularly enlightening to examine blackness and Africanness as member of the TED community and other social innovation settings where members of these communities are rarely prominent.

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    Apr 27 2012: The first time I remember being aware that people came in different colors was my first day of kindergarten. I climbed into the car when my mom came and picked me up and started rambling about my day. One of the first things that came out of my mouth was "Mom! There's a little brown boy in my class!"

    I don't remember attributing any value to this observation. I just thought it was neat. We became friends and he was my first crush. If I was aware of any negative attitudes towards blackness it was only through preventative anti-racism messages on TV and in school.

    I'm not sure if things would have been different if I lived in a more multicultural location or if I just was lucky enough to be brought up in a relatively tolerant place but racism is not something I have experienced first hand. Ever :)

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