Racism Experiment: Dave

Racism Experiment: Dave

"I didn't find out I was African-American until I was 26 years old," explains Dave. "My parents were white, middle class, Midwestern parents. I always thought that my parents were my birth parents. My mother told me I had a skin disease and that's why my skin was dark. I believed it as a young child 100 percent. Why would my mother lie to me? I thought I was this little white kid walking around the neighborhood just like any other white kid."

But Dave knew he was different from the other kids. "The kids at school called me n***er, jungle bunny, tar baby. I didn't know what these words meant, but I associated them with bad things. When I was in second grade, one of the little girls brought in a poem that went, 'Inny, minny, miny, moe, catch a n***er by his toe.' That upset me. I did not want to believe that I was black because I saw how blacks were looked at," says Dave.


Dave continues, "Growing up in the 60s, I had no awareness of racism. There were no African-Americans in my neighborhood whatsoever. I saw news footage of blacks being sprayed by fire hoses, and I asked my mother why. And she said, 'It's because they were hot.' My parents were in denial and never talked about race. It never came up.


"I started to guess my true identity in my early teens. I dated an African-American girl, and I tried to tell her the skin disease story, and she cut through it like a hot knife in butter. She said, 'Your mom really put a whammy on you.'  


The truth finally came out when Dave was 26. His mother told him his biological father was black. "My life became more difficult after I learned that I was black," says Dave. Wanting to heal from the pain of living a lie, Dave went public with his story. "My parents are extremely angry with me for exposing the story of my past. My family feels like I outed them. I don't have any contact. My parents have disowned me. I'm not black and I'm not white. I'm both, and what's that?"


He turns to Dr. Phil. "Can you help me reconcile my relationship with my white parents?"


"We invited your parents to be here, and they declined to come," says Dr. Phil. "Where are you now in terms of having an understanding and peace about where you are?" 

"I'm realizing some things about myself, my parents, other people, and it's helping to fit into the big picture," says Dave.

"The bottom line is, there's no way that that's an OK thing to do with a child throughout their life," Dr. Phil tells him. "Now, you can forgive it. Once we become adults, whatever has happened during our childhood, good, bad or indifferent, we have to take that and make our own choices. And you're working really hard and doing a good job embracing that right now."

"Thank you," says Dave.


Dr. Phil introduces Essie Mae Washington-Williams, a woman who kept her racial identity a secret for almost her entire life. Her biological father is the late Senator Strom Thurmond, who was once the nation's leading voice for racial segregation. "You dealt with the secret for 62 years. What can you say to this young man to make his journey easier?" Dr. Phil asks Essie Mae.

"I think if he's tried to reach out to these people and they don't respond to him, I wouldn't keep pursuing it. I would just let it go, and maybe one day they will come to you. But I think you might be a happier person if you didn't keep trying to be a part of them," says Essie Mae. 

Dr. Phil recommends that Dave try to find his authentic self. "Once you decide who you are and what you stand for, then the rest of it is nice, if it's congruent with who you've defined yourself to be, but it seems to pale in comparison. It would be awfully hard to have you as a son and not be proud of you. And I predict they will come around. And it's something that is great
to want, but the truth is, it's not something you need. Sometimes you have to give yourself what you wish you could get from other people. And you're making a really nice life and a contribution to this society in the meantime, aren't you?"

"I'm giving it my best shot. Yes, sir," says Dave.

"And that's something that you've got to be proud of," says Dr. Phil.