You Have Hair on Your Arms

“It’s those kinda questions that people are asking and…you have to have a little patience…because they don’t know.”

Transcript for You Have Hair on Your Arms

So, Valpo was kind of like a mirror image of a lot of places in the United States at that time. But the curiosity on the part of the students who had come from small towns in Indiana – they did not have any cultural exposure. So you come to the campus and you get a lot of staring, like, looking to say, “Oh my God, so this is what black people really look like.” You know, you walk, you talk, uh, people want to touch you. “Can I touch you? I’ve never touched anybody of a different color.” You know, one person touched me to find out if I had hair on my arms. They’re like, “You’ve got hair on your arms?” Yeah. “Uh, huh.” I said, “What’d you expect?” You know what the answer was? “I really didn’t know. Well, the only person I’ve ever seen who’s black or colored was on television.”

And the questions you ask…well, kids are going out, putting on suntan lotion and stuff like that and laying out off of Wehrenberg Hall. “Don, you gonna come out? We’re gonna lay out and tan.” And I said, “I don’t need to tan. Did you look at my skin?” But the other question is, “Why don’t you – you don’t like being out in the sun?” Well, you know what I’ve already got my skin tone, but I burn because I’m human. So you put sunscreen on and stuff like that, you’re trying to keep from having your skin burned. “So, you mean, that can actually burn, too?” It’s like duh! But it’s those kinda questions, you know, that become like questions that people are asking and the adjustment on the smaller group’s part is: you have to have a little patience because those questions are gonna be asked because they don’t know.

So those things, you know, from coming from an integrated environment and coming to one that is also integrated but it seemed to be more closed because of either the geographics or other aspects. So that was kind of a different environment to see and have to deal with that. But you know, you meet people and they get to find out that you’re not gonna bite. We walked one step at a time or whatever, we have rhythm patterns, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And you find out that now you can start to look at some of the things that are truly different and that list is a lot smaller. So, it brought about an opportunity for learning, an opportunity for real integration, in terms of like, integration of your mind, but integration of your reality in terms of like, there are other people in the world.

Hold a Conversation

Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.