Pam Austin

by | Oct 1, 2013 | What BWO Interviewees Say Now

Age: 56
Residence: “Still in Philadelphia, same neighborhood more or less.”
Occupation: “Senior Tech Support Specialist, Computer Services, Temple University. I’m in the Computer Labs group. Nothing close to what I was doing twenty years ago.”

Have any of your attitudes towards race and/or identity changed over the 20 years?
Not sure if they’ve gotten better or worse. Race-wise, I think I’m more pessimistic. Obama being elected seems to have made every racist nut job in the country come out. I never thought they wouldn’t, but the level of absolute racial hatred that has come from the Conservatives in this country has even surprised me. And I’ve always been one of the most cynical people I know on that subject.

Something that’s stayed the same?
Identity-wise, I’m about the same. I still consider myself African American with a White mother. I don’t find it conflicting or confusing, just a statement of fact. I still consider myself Jewish; I still don’t believe in organized religion. It makes sense to me, if no one else.

Any way in which you’ve seen our society evolve in terms of attitudes about mixed race people?
There seem to be more of us, at least from what I’ve seen. I work at a University and the number of mixed race kids of all varieties, not just Black/White seems to increase every year. I haven’t seen or heard anyone outwardly having an issue with it. I’ve noticed a lot more of the Black/White kids refer to themselves and identify as Biracial. Not all, but some, and they’re comfortable with it.

Anything significant happen as a result of participating in this book?
I think I was a minor celebrity for about 10 minutes. Not really. My best friend argued with me about what I wrote. It seems that we didn’t have the same memories of my high school years. She never realized that it was as segregated as it was. I don’t think anyone really did. There really wasn’t anyone else around for me to talk to about it who would understand.

What was it like to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show as a result of being in the book?
I’m glad that my ten minutes of fame was only ten minutes long. It was really spooky to be recognized on the subway going home the day the show aired. Just as odd to go to my 20th high school reunion a month or so later and have people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in twenty years be really happy to see me. I’m not an extrovert in any sense of the word; the attention was a little disconcerting for me. Even now it’s a little uncomfortable when someone finds out and starts asking about it.

Any general comments about the book?
I think it was a good experience to be involved in, even if I was uncomfortable at times. I was happy to find out that I wasn’t as unique as I thought I was. I knew that there were others like me, I had even met some, but a whole book-worth was kind of warm and fuzzy.