Who is Linda Higgins?
Linda Higgins was born and raised in New York City in a very segregated neighborhood. Her parents had a very hands-off approach to parenting, which allowed her to experience more freedom than the average child. Growing up in NYC, she inevitably became more and more aware of racial difference and the tension mounting due to segregation. Linda went on to attend Yale University's theology school and now serves as pastor of a church near Richmond.
Excerpt from interview with Linda Higgins by Whitney Dow, 2017
Q: And do you—when do you remember first thinking or being aware of your own race?
Higgins: [09:29:52] So I would say it was probably when I was in junior high. Like all good prep schools, my prep school brought in a few people of color so that they could be diverse and help us white people have diversity. And I understood, by the time I was in middle school—I mean, I understood in middle school that those students were not there for them. I mean, it was very nice that they were getting an education, but that was not why they were there. They were there to provide an experience of diversity for those of us who were white.
Q: And were these homeless people that took care of you, were they mostly white, were they different colors?
Higgins: [09:30:39] They were all white. They would not have been able to be in our community, probably if they were people of color and homeless, that probably would have created a situation where they would not have been able to safely be in our community.
Q: And was race or your sense of your own race, in this time, during middle school, can you tell me some of the arc of how you start to think about race when you were young?
Higgins: [09:31:13] So, part of the arc for me, of course, has to do with being involved with the United Nations all through my life. The UN [United Nations] was my indoor playground. So people of other colors often, when I was a child, were ambassador-type people. They were higher on the social-economic scale than I was. [laughs] So most people of color in my world were people who I had to be careful around, in certain ways. I mean, they were, you know, staff.
And then I had people—and so, for me, the understanding of race and so forth, part of that came in terms of seeing the difference between African Americans and African diplomatic corps. And the diplomatic corps, of course, were even worse on African Americans, in some ways, than white Americans were, or the part of white America that I lived in. I lived in a community where, therefore, if somebody was a person of color, you assumed they were the same class or a higher class than you were. And other than if they were help, and they’re—i.e., a doorman, working in one of the buildings. So I didn’t have a class-race—I didn’t put class and race together in the same way that many people do as a child.
But on the same note, I mean, you know, the rules in my family, as I said, I was fairly allowed to run loose in New York [City], but I had this rule that you never went above 96th Street. So, you know, there were these rubrics that really had to do with keeping me out of black neighborhoods. And there was one day when I fell asleep on the subway—I went to school in Brooklyn Heights—and I fell asleep on the subway and I remember waking up at 125th Street, or as we were pulling into 125th Street. And I was on the Lexington Avenue Line, so 125th Street on the Lexington Avenue Line, when you get out of the train there’s no way to get to the other side without going out of the train station, okay. And there is no way to get right back in, because they don’t have—you have to have a token. And I had a bus pass. So here was this very innocent-looking young lady, who clearly did not know the world she was in. [laughs] And, you know, they would—somebody took one look at me and just gave me a token and got me back on the train, because they figured I did not belong where I was. So, you know, there were those kind of moments. But I lived in a—though there were people of color in it, I still lived in a very white world.