Who is Claire Robbins?
Claire Robbins is a teacher and writer who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She grew up in the Vine neighborhood of Kalamazoo, which is racially diverse. While her church made efforts to welcome ethnic difference, the school she attended was primarily white. When she was 13, her family moved to Honduras where her parents taught at a school for four years. She later returned to Kalamazoo for college. She has a bi-racial son who is nine years old.
Excerpt from interview with Claire Robbins by Whitney Dow, 2017
Robbins: [10:51:36] I think moving from Kalamazoo to Honduras, I really was more visible. I was not as visible in Kalamazoo. I went to a primarily white school. I did have experiences here with black friends and neighbors. I knew people of other races but I don’t think that I was identified primarily as a white person in Kalamazoo because I think white was more of the standard, I guess. I would have been identified by my race if I hadn’t been white in Kalamazoo. But once I moved, I think that that became how people saw me more. And I think I definitely made a conscious effort to fit in more. I didn’t talk a lot because I didn’t want people to hear my accent. I didn’t want to make mistakes when I spoke Spanish. I liked to wear my school uniform. I feel like I blended in more when I was wearing that uniform. Obviously, I’m still very light skinned and have red hair so I stood out a lot. But I think I really tried to fit in and paid a lot of attention to what other people were doing and tried to follow those cues a lot.
Q: And how did it change your perception of yourself and your own race?
Robbins: [10:53:27] I think it made me see myself as having the distinction of being white and not being the normal, or not being the same as everyone else.
Robbins: [10:55:50] I think I think about my race when I’m around other people. So, in my neighborhood if I’m walking my dog I think about where I am on the sidewalk and who’s coming towards me and how they’re going to perceive me and my dog in my neighborhood. I also think about it a lot in the classroom. I teach, and I think about it in the readings I assign and how my students are comfortable or not comfortable in discussion and how I’m comfortable or not comfortable in those discussions. I think I think about it in family situations more so than I used to. My son is biracial, and especially on my mom’s side of the family, I think that it’s uncomfortable for me to bring him to family gatherings sometimes. And I feel really uncomfortable bringing him into all white spaces even though I might feel comfortable in those places. Even if I am alone in those places sometimes I think that—I don’t know. I’m not sure where that thought went.