The world according to Henry Shackleford

“Whatever he believed, he believed. It didn’t matter to him whether it was really true or not. He just changed the truth till it fit him. He was a real white man.”

“…for one thing you learns when you is a girl is that most women’s hearts is full of secrets.”

“I come to enjoy them talks, for even though I’d gotten used to living a lie -being a girl- it come to me this way: Being a Negro’s a lie, anyway. Nobody see the real you. Nobody knows who you are inside. You just judged on what you are on the outside whatever your color. Mulatto, colored, black, it don’t matter. You just a negro to the world. I come to the understanding that maybe what was on the inside was more important, and that your outer covering didn’t count so much as folks thought it did, colored or white, man or woman.”
(p. 251)

“Being a Negro means showing your best face to the white man every day. You know his wants, his needs, and watch him proper. But he don’t know your wants. He don’t know your needs or feeling or what’s inside you, for you ain’t equal to him in no measure. You just a nigger to him. A thing; like a dog or a shovel or a horse.”
(p. 276)

“A body can’t prosper if a person don’t know who they are. That makes you poor as a pea, not knowing who you are inside. That’s worse than being anything in the world on the outside.”
(p. 276)

“I had thoroughly been a girl so long by then that I’d grown to like it, got used to it, got used to not having to lift things, and have folks make excuses for me on account of me not being strong enough, or fast enough, or powerful enough like a boy, on account of my size. But that’s the thing. You can play one part in life, but you can’t be that thing. You just playing it. You’re not real. I was a Negro above all else, and Negroes plays their part, too: Hiding. Smiling. Pretending bondage is okay till they’re free and then what? Free to do what? To be like the white man? Is he so right?”
(pp. 278-79)