Race/Related: My First Encounter With Racism

Youth Radio in the NYTimes, Race/Related newsletter

As part of our partnership with the New York Times Race/Related, Youth Radio correspondents from around the country described their lasting memories of a first encounter with racism. Whether it was being stopped by a police officer, called a racial slur by kids in elementary school, or experiencing stereotypes as an unaccompanied minor in a new country, these experiences shaped who they are today.

Youth Radio has a long history of reporting on issues of race and identity. The work represents the heart of what we do: exploring society’s most complicated issues through the experiences of young people. We’ve gathered some of our reporters’ most memorable stories on these issues below.


Photo courtesy of Riley Lockett

Riley Lockett, 16, Black – Oakland, California

About a month ago, I was walking to the BART station from school, sipping on soda, and listening to a podcast when I noticed a blue uniform following me like a shadow. It was a white police officer. He scanned me like he was the Terminator trying to see if I was a threat. I had never been stopped by a cop before. But I wasn’t scared or even nervous. I was prepared.

Read the rest of Riley’s essay here

Photo courtesy of Marianne Nacanaynay

Marianne Nacanaynay, 15, Filipina – Mountlake Terrace, Washington

The first time someone directed a racial slur towards me, I was at a pizza place in Everett, a town in western Washington State…I was waiting outside of the restaurant and chatting on the phone, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw two dudes walking by. They were young-looking — teens or 20-somethings — with light skin and blonde/brown hair. As they passed me, I heard them laugh and say, “f—king chink.”

It took me a few moments to process what I had just heard. I was taken aback, but not exactly surprised. After all, there I was, a Filipina reporter covering a Pro-Trump rally.

Read the rest of Marianne’s essay here

Photo courtesy of Maya James

Maya James, 19, Biracial (Black/White) – Traverse City, Michigan

Shortly after enrolling in elementary school, one of my classmates threw the n-word at me in a small scuffle. I cannot remember what the little boy was so upset about — it was probably something elementary school students usually get upset about. Maybe I was hogging the markers; maybe I cut in line, or vice versa.

It was the first time I had ever heard that word. I didn’t know how to react. I had many questions. Should I be upset? Could I call the white student the n-word too? Who invented this word? Do adults use the word?

Read the rest of Maya’s essay here

Photo courtesy of Bresee Youth Center, Los Angeles

Jose, 16, Salvadoran – Los Angeles, California

(Jose is using his first name only to protect his privacy. His essay has been translated from Spanish to English)

I remember the first day I learned what American “racism” means. My friend and I were walking home from school, and we walked by a white couple. They looked at us and started talking to each other in hushed tones. We couldn’t understand everything they said, but we caught some bad stuff about Latinos and immigration, and we knew they were talking about us. We just kept on walking. It’s not worth getting into a back-and-forth. It’s better just to be quiet.

They don’t know the stuff that we had to go through back home.  

Read the rest of Jose’s essay here

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