“My neighbors made me racist”

By Malena Amusa Jun 22, 2007

Gather ’round family. This right here is the strangest story about race relations I’ve read in a long time. St. Petersburg Times reporter Rodney Thrash examines a white woman’s feelings of racism, from their genesis, she says, living in a hood in Florida, to its coming out–when she went to the public about her dwindling respect for Black people. Thrash brilliantly weaves this tale that makes the case for why race will continue being important in many future discussions about human relations. While the story seems painfully sympathetic to the woman’s story, it gets props for exposing how some racist people can really feel justified feeling that way. So with no further ado, Here’s: "One woman’s lament: My neighbors made me a racist. How did tolerance and acceptance turn into judgment, and then something uglier? " *** ST. PETERSBURG – Cathy Salustri was typing without thinking. She was mad and she needed to get the words out. What spilled across her computer screen would eventually land on the front page of a Gulfport newspaper and spark Internet debate around the bay area. But that night in her living room, doubt filled her mind. Why did I write something stupid like that? Do I feel this way? I can’t possibly feel this way. The words on the screen did not lie: I’m a white woman living in a black neighborhood, and I’m turning into a racist because of it. She won’t use racial epithets. She doesn’t go around waving Confederate flags. She had to look up the word "racism" to see if it applied to her: The belief that race accounts for differences in human ability or character. She decided it probably does. Salustri, 34, isn’t proud of who she has become. It’s not a reflection of her upbringing, the first seven years in New York, the rest in Clearwater. "She really didn’t have an idea of black and white, " said her mother, Ann Salustri. "It was never brought up." All she knew was that she was Italian. If she saw someone lighter than herself, she thought the person was pale, not white. She was 9 before she discovered that her dad’s best friend was black. When she was in third grade at Belleair Elementary in Clearwater, some of Salustri’s white classmates started bad-mouthing the black ones. She can’t quote them verbatim, she said, but the gist of the conversation remains clear: "Black people are bad." After school let out that afternoon, she asked her mom what "black" meant. "People have dark skin, " Ann Salustri began. "Like Leroy, daddy’s friend." She looked at her mother and asked: "Does Leroy know that he’s black?" – – – How can someone so seemingly oblivious to color now view everything through the lens of race? That night at the computer, she kept typing: I don’t say this proudly; quite the opposite, in fact: I am ashamed of myself. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Finish here.