My review of How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Lessons of a Racist Childhood by Jim Grimsley first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. This is one of those books that really had an impact on me. I hope you enjoy the review today.
First line: "On a day in late August 1966, my little village woke to the fading edge of summer and the beginning of a new school year."
In his beautifully introspective memoir, novelist Jim Grimsley (Winter Birds) says, "No one ever pointed out a black person to me and said, 'You cannot drink water out of the same glass as that person, or call him 'sir,' or sit next to him in a public place.' Yet the knowledge of those truths had come into me in spite of the silence." When he returns to his North Carolina public school in the fall of 1966, these truths are sliced wide open: school desegregation is now law and three African-American students are joining his sixth grade class.
While many of his classmates avoid integration by attending all-white private institutions, Grimsley's family is poor; paying tuition isn't an option. So he's exposed to a race of people he's never noticed before--they had never been important enough to acknowledge--and he discovers, "The differences were not what I had been led to expect... and they did not add up to superiority for me or for my skin color." The mere recognition of this fact doesn't erase the racism ingrained in him from birth, but seeing these children is his first step in overcoming a long-held tradition of hate.
Grimsley examines his intimate thoughts and experiences in order to gracefully retrace his odyssey through a world turned on its head. His adult insights of his child self are often humorous and always brutally honest. In a world that continues to struggle with race relations, How I Shed My Skin is a stunning beacon of hope.
How I Shed My Skin is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781616203764) from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. There is also an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781622315727), narrated by Henry Leyva and available from Highbridge Audio.