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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Salter and Doris Cochran, April 12, 1997. Interview R-0014. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

African Americans internalize whites' degrading treatment

Doris reflects on the power of racism in this selection. Whites spoke to African Americans in such a degrading way that eventually, Doris believes, African Americans internalized that degradation. She refused to be spoken to in this way.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Salter and Doris Cochran, April 12, 1997. Interview R-0014. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

One of the things that really struck me when I first came here was the fact that black people were spoken to in such demeaning and degrading ways. It occurred to me not long after I'd been here that this mentality had been so accepted by the black community that they really believed in how they were being treated. When I would go in stores, you'd see an old black man who was addressed as "boy," and I would always intervene and say, "Look, that man's old enough to be my father." And you'd see such anger in the faces of the whites. But I couldn't stand it. Yet the black person would cringe, because they knew I was treading on dangerous ground. By being young, and not realizing what damage I could do, I couldn't resist coming in there and defending somebody. I'd get in a grocery store line, and an old black woman would be in front of me. "Girl, what do you want?" I mean, the tone was just so hurtful to me. I'd say, "Look, that's not a girlߞdoes she look like a girl to you?" And it would dawn on me, this black person is cringing because they saw imminent pain.
Yet my wife was inflicting imminent pain on the other person! And then they would be nice. When they got to her, it was, "How do you do?"
In some instances, clerks would find out my first name. I had never thought about this concept before I came here, and I realized it was a way of bringing me down a notch, by calling me by my first name when they didn't know me. I would say, "Come to the back of the store with me." And I would chew them out. I'd say, "We're not friends, we'll never be friends. Don't call me by my name." I had to become defensive. I started reading books that would give me and edge. James Baldwin would incite me, because that wasn't my personality, and I had to get an edge on my teeth. That wasn't my bearing, and I had to assume it, because I just couldn't take what I was seeing all around me. After a while, it dawned on me that these people being treated this way, after generations of it, have assumed that posture. "I'm not any good, I'll never be any good," and that's just the way this society had treated them. It became a reality to them. It used to incite me, to the point where I couldn't keep quiet.
She'd go in places that blacks had never been in, because she was used to going wherever. She was insulated in DC, and had gone anyplace in California, and nobody had said anything to her. If you sat down and ordered something, they'd serve you. But the word had gotten in around in this community, "Don't bother her, or she might cause you trouble." Even before the Brown decision on the schools in '54 started breaking the whole situation down.