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Sian Cullen and her daughter Aine. Cullen was a teenager in Dublin, Ireland when Aine was born. They now live in Seattle.The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at These are essays, stories told on stage, photos and zines.To submit a story – or note one you've seen that deserves more notice – contact Isolde Raftery at or 206.616.2035.

'Pretty for a black person' and other insults I've endured Vectorportal/Flickr Photo CC BY 2.0 Vectorportal/Flickr Photo CC BY 2.0

This letter was written in response to an essay, A man shouts racial slurs in a Seattle Starbucks. The silence is deafening. We have granted this writer anonymity because she expressed fear that including her name could make her a target.

I am an African-American woman who grew up in Bellevue. As a young girl, my friends told me I was "pretty for a black person." They thought that was a compliment. 

To be clear, I had many white friends and a fun and happy childhood. My friends’ families were open and kind, just like my family was to them. Yet there were times that I was reminded that some white people hate black people, like when I was called n*gger in 3rd grade. 

In junior high, my white, male social studies teacher stood in front of the class on more than one occasion and made racially offensive statements directed at me and regularly taunted me into a back and forth where I attempted to defend myself or my race.  

When I complained to the female vice principal she responded, "Jeepers creepers." Yet, she must have talked to him, because the next day the social studies teacher grabbed me by the collar when no one was around and told me never to report him for anything again. He scared me; I was a 7th grader and I never reported him again. Wish I had. At least to my mother.

In a high school AP class, a different social studies teacher insisted that everyone wanted to be white. Then he asked the three black students including myself if there were any moments in our lives where we wished we were white to try to prove his point. Crazy. 

I am now in my 40s and I am an attorney and I have many friends of all races, different politics, straight and gay, different religions and no religion, and I still have the same blonde BFF that I have had since the sixth grade and would never trade her for anyone. Yet, through college, law school, a law firm and a corporation, I still had many reminders that people can hate me because of my skin color.

This past July when driving down a residential street in Shoreline, a white man doing yard work mimicked the shape of a gun with his hand and pretended to shoot me as I drove by. I backed up and asked calmly and quizzically asked if there was a problem. He immediately looked ashamed and said, "No ma’am." He suddenly seemed harmless and demure. It hadn't occurred to him that I would throw my SUV in reverse.

I asked him why he tried to shoot me with his hand. He said, "I don't know ma’am." He was pretty convincing. I believed him. I could see that this particular white man's hatred for blacks caused him to hate me upon sight and instantly fake shoot me as if he were Dirty Harry – without really thinking it through.

I recall at an old job we had a paintball team building exercise and one of my coworkers broke all the established game safety rules and inexplicably stood over me and shot me nine times at close range while I rolled on the ground yelling for him to stop. I remember looking up at him, seeing his face and thinking, "This fool is really trying to kill me."

He only stopped when one of my white coworkers came to my aid. I had painful welts all over my chest and back from trying to roll around and protect my body. After I required him to be held accountable (I am a lawyer after all) he eventually admitted that he had some hidden "issues" that he had to deal with. No kidding he had issues; the very first conversation we had, when he first joined my company was him inexplicably sharing his unsolicited disparaging opinions about black people using a tone to denote that he held some sort of special expertise/insight that he thought he was entitled to impart to me. Really. He reminded me of my junior high social studies teacher. 

If I were sitting at a Starbucks and someone spat on me and called me racial slurs, I would expect everyone within ear shot or eye shot to get involved and help, speak, do something, follow the man, whatever, but something. I might have been too stunned to react myself had I been in Dr. Bob Hughes and Yoshiko Harden's shoes. Yet, I would have expected others to do something, even if it was just to check on me after. Not because I am an African-American. Not because they have white guilt, but because I'm human and they should be able to empathize.