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Reflections on race

Four writers share experiences that shaped their views.

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Small-town girl enchanted by hip-hop

I didn't have any definitive run-ins or conversations growing up that affected my understanding of race – that probably would have required at least one person of color in my tiny, rural hometown.

Instead, my formulations about race were slowly shaped and crystallized through the beats and breaks of hip-hop music, which enthralled me before I even entered middle school.

In the tales of young black men trying to "make it out tha hood" I saw myself, too, trapped in a place that I felt held few opportunities for greatness. Rap stars' abilities to meld wit, braggadocio, and civics lessons made them seem more genuine and relatable than pop or rock musicians who happened to look more like me.

In turn, I developed a sort of reverse racism in that I admired – almost idolized – an entire class of people with whom I'd had virtually no real interaction. I yearned to know African-Americans, yet was also uninterested in the Hispanic culture around me: the Mexican immigrant farmworkers now an intrinsic part of our rural West Coast community. Even so, once I did get to know an African-American in a deeper, more substantial way – my brother's Harlem-born best friend from college, who visited us in Oregon – I realized I wasn't the only one. Many people in town bent over backward to be friendly to Chad, seemingly to prove how unracist they were to the point where he joked that he felt like responding, "On behalf of my people, I bid you greetings."

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