These short stories about bias cover racism, discrimination, prejudice or stereotypes in different forms and degrees, from subtle to flagrant, from implied to violent. They deal with the harsh realities and uncomfortable truths experienced by those in marginalized communities. In some stories, the characters are fighting against the unjust treatment and in others there’s nothing they can do. For some related categories, see also:
Short Stories About Racism, Bias, Discrimination, Prejudice & Stereotypes
“The Flowers” by Alice Walker
Myop is a ten-year-old girl who is out exploring the woods behind her family’s sharecropper cabin on a beautiful summer day. As she starts to head home she makes a shocking discovery. (Summary & Analysis)
“The Flowers” is the fourth story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story. (88% in)
“King of the Bingo Game” by Ralph Ellison
A black man sits through a movie, waiting for the bingo game to follow. He’s very hungry but knows he can’t ask to share anyone’s food, because things in New York aren’t like back South. He’s unemployed and has no money. He needs to win the bingo jackpot so he can take his sick wife to the doctor. (Summary & Analysis)
“Saturday Afternoon” by Erskine Caldwell
Tom Denny’s lazy Saturday afternoon is interrupted when a lynching party is formed. He joins the mob in search of Will Maxie, a black man accused of talking to a white woman.
This is the fourth story in the preview of The Stories of Erskine Caldwell. (43% in)
“African Morning” by Langston Hughes
Murai is a half Black, half White boy living in the Niger Delta. His mother has recently died and was African. His father is English and is the president of the only bank in the area. He’s ostracized from the community due to his mixed parentage. (Summary)
“Candy-Man Beechum” by Erskine Caldwell
Candy-Man is making the long walk to town to eat and see his gal. Along the way, he passes some young people who all warn him not to get in the way of any white-folks.
This story can be read in the preview of The Stories of Erskine Caldwell. (36% in)
“The Barber” by Flannery O’Connor
While a man gets his hair cut, his barber ridicules his liberal views, especially his support of a black candidate in the neighborhood.
This is the second story in the preview of The Complete Stories. (44% in)
“The Old Chief Mshlanga” by Doris Lessing
A girl grows up on a white farm in South Africa. She’s used to black servants, and being able to treat black people with little respect. When she was fourteen, she was out walking with her rifle and dogs. Walking toward her was a group of three Africans. They didn’t immediately stand aside, as was the custom. She found out the identity of the oldest member of the group. (Summary)
This is the fifth story in the preview of African Stories. (59% in)
“No Witchcraft for Sale” by Doris Lessing
The Farquars have a son, Teddy. He’s loved by Gideon, a servant of the family. When Teddy is six, he makes a disparaging comment about Gideon’s son, causing Gideon to distance himself from Teddy. One day Teddy has an accident.
This is the seventh story in the above preview of African Stories. (87% in)
“Arrangement in Black and White” by Dorothy Parker
A woman at a party accosts her host to ask a favor. She wants to meet the guest of honor, Walter Williams, an African American singer. She assures her host she doesn’t care at all that Williams is colored, unlike her husband who isn’t as open-minded as she is.
This is the first story in the preview of Here Lies: The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker. (15% in)
“The Comet” by W. E. B. Du Bois
Jim is a black man working as a messenger for a New York bank. Everyone is talking about a comet. The bank president sends Jim into the filthy and dangerous vaults to find two missing volumes of records. While he’s down there, there’s a great crash and the door slams shut.
This is the eighth story in the preview of The Big Book of Science Fiction. (61% in)
“The Park” by James Matthews
A black boy looks through the railing into the park where the white kids are playing. He wants to go in badly, but it’s against the law. A group of boys confront him, and he goes on his way. He has to deliver the washing his mother did. The park stays on his mind. (Summary)
“Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin
Desiree had been adopted as a toddler. She is now an adult with a baby of her own. She and her husband, Armand, are very happy. After a while, there are some whispers about the baby’s background. (Summary & Analysis)
This story can be read by selecting it in the table of contents of The Awakening, and Selected Short Stories.
“Blood-Burning Moon” by Jean Toomer
Louisa is a black woman working as a domestic helper for a white family, the Stones. She has a secret relationship with Bob Stone, a son of her employer. A black man, Tom Burwell, is also interested in her.
This story can be read in the preview of Black Voices: An Anthology of African-American Literature. (Pg 19)
Short Stories About Prejudice & Discrimination, Cont’d
“Revolution Shuffle” by Bao Phi
A man and woman rest for a while at the top of a hill. They talk about the food they miss and prepare their guns. Below is the prison camp and the huge metallic pistons. Inside are the inmates who maintain the hydraulics. Outside, attracted by the noise and the bodies inside, are the zombies.
This story can be read in the preview of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. (29% in)
“The Token Superhero” by David F. Walker
Alonzo Ramey was born with the genetic anomaly that causes superpowers. Fortunately, his powers were of the Standard variety. His father warns him that white folks wouldn’t take kindly to a colored boy with superpowers. He ends up getting offered a position with Teen Justice Force.
This story can be read in the preview of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. (53% in)
“A Grain of Mustard Seed” by Ellis Peters
When they lived in Lahore, the narrator’s father, a Hindu, had a Muslim friend, Mahdar, who was a struggling shoemaker. Her father gave him some business and recommended him to others, which allowed him to get out of debt and save some money. Her father believed in God, and believed that people were inherently good. The troubles surrounding the partition of India, when hostilities broke out between Muslims and the Hindu/Sikh populations, caused a major change in their relationship.
This story can be read in the preview of The Lily Hand and Other Stories. (29% in)
“Flower Garden” by Shirley Jackson
The extended Winning family lives in an old Vermont manor house. The daughter-in-law had hopes of moving into an old cottage nearby with her husband and children. It’s been empty a long time, and now she would like to see it lived in. There’s some talk around town that it’s being fixed up and someone is coming. One day, after a trip to the grocery store, Mrs. Winning drops by.
This story can be read in the preview of The Magic of Shirley Jackson. (63% into preview)
“Say Yes” by Tobias Wolff
While doing the dishes together, a husband and wife start discussing interracial marriage. The wife thinks it is fine, but the husband believes the cultural differences would be insurmountable. (Summary & Analysis)
“Indian Education” by Sherman Alexie
A chronicle of the life of Victor, from grade 1 through high school. Victor gets bullied, wrongly judged by teachers, and sees his peers take destructive paths.
“Indian Education” is one of the stories in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
“A Dark-Brown Dog” by Stephen Crane
A dog follows a small boy home, even though the boy tries to scare the dog away with beatings. They become close, but the other members of the family, and sometimes the boy, continue to treat the dog badly. (Summary)
This is an allegory for the Jim Crow South.
“Black Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat” by Russell Banks
During a heat wave, a man and woman go out on a boat and discuss a major decision that the woman has made. (Summary)
“The Dinner Party” by Mona Gardner
A colonel and a young girl disagree on whether women can keep cool in a crisis. (Summary & Analysis)
Read “The Dinner Party”
“Wilshire Bus” by Hisaye Yamamoto
Esther Kuroiwa is riding the Wilshire bus to a hospital for soldiers to visit her husband because his old back injury is acting up. She’s allowed to go twice a week. She enjoys the long ride; she usually has an amiable seat companion, and she like looking out the window. An extroverted man gets on the bus and makes a loud, light-hearted remark to the driver. He sits behind Esther. At the next stop, an elderly Chinese couple get on, and the man has difficulty asking the driver a question. The extroverted man talks loudly, causing the Chinese woman to look at him. The man is offended and goes on a rant. (Summary)
“Black is My Favorite Color” by Bernard Malamud
Nat Lime, a Jewish bachelor, is drawn to African-American people. He thinks about his experiences with them, which never seemed to go the way he wanted.
“Town and Country Lovers” by Nadine Gordimer
In part 1, a white geologist and a black cashier become involved even though there’s a law against such relationships.
In part 2, a white farmer’s son has a relationship with the black daughter of a farm worker. Shortly after, she marries a black man who has loved her for a long time.
“Judgement Day” by Flannery O’Connor
Tanner, an elderly white man from the South, goes to live with his daughter in New York. He thinks he knows how to deal with African-Americans, but when he tries befriending one of his daughter’s neighbors, things go wrong.
Short Stories About Racism & Bias, Cont’d
“The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses” by Bessie Head
In South Africa under apartheid, a group of political prisoners are used to having some leeway in prison. There’s news of a new warden, known for being strict and harsh.
“A Party Down at the Square” by Ralph Ellison
A young boy is at his uncle’s house in the South when the town’s white population excitedly gathers in the town square for the lynching of a black man.
“Brownies” by ZZ Packer
A Brownie troop of fourth grade African-American girls goes to a summer camp. They quickly develop a dislike for a troop of all white girls, and after one of them is heard using a racial slur, they decide to beat up all the white girls.
“Elbow Room” by James Alan McPherson
Paul Frost, a white man and a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, marries Virginia Valentine, a black woman who has traveled extensively.
“Slave on the Block” by Langston Hughes
The Carraways, an affluent white couple in Greenwich Village, love all things African-American. They have a black cook, and they hire the nephew of their previous cook to be a live-in model for the wife to paint.
“The Sheriff’s Children” by Charles Waddell Chesnutt
In the small town of Troy in North Carolina, Captain Walker is murdered. A mulatto man had been seen at the Captain’s house the previous night, so he is apprehended. The men feel that they should mete out justice themselves and decide to lynch him. The sheriff hears about the plan.
“On the Road” by Langston Hughes
An African-American vagrant looking for some food and a place to sleep gets turned away from a parsonage and a shelter before trying to break down the door of a church.
“Black Boy” by Kay Boyle
A young girl rides a horse on the beach and joins her grandfather to get pushed around on a chair (like a rickshaw) on the boardwalk by young black boys. She develops a friendship with one of the boys, but her grandfather warns her to stay away from him.
“Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird” by Toni Cade Bambara
Some children are playing in the front yard with the two neighbor children while their grandmother works in the back. Two men are in the field nearby with a movie camera. They say they are making a film about food stamps. The grandmother has asked them to stop, but they simply moved farther away.
“Recitatif” by Toni Morrison
Twyla and Roberta meet at a shelter when they’re eight-years-old. They have to stay there because their mothers are unable to care for them. Despite being different races, they become friends. One day their mothers come to visit.
“The White Horses of Vienna” by Kay Boyle
When a local Austrian doctor gets injured, Dr. Heine arrives to help him. When the unnamed doctor’s wife finds out the visitor is Jewish, she’s unhappy about it and knows the townspeople will be too. Nevertheless, she knows his presence is necessary and she must assist him.
“A Way of Talking” by Patricia Grace
Rose returns from college and gets fitted for a bridesmaid’s dress for her sister Hera’s wedding. The dressmaker, Jane, makes a comment about some Maori workers that upsets Rose and Hera.
“Jacob” by Jack Schaefer
The narrator tells how he came to have a pair of Indian-made moccasins. When he was a boy, there were Indian settlements in his area. People started moving in on them and they fought back. It turned into a major confrontation. Anti-Indian sentiments are strong, and the boy wants to see some up close.
“The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” by Sherman Alexie
A Native American man goes to the store for an ice cream. He is used to being viewed as a crazy Indian by white people. He remembers a relationship he had with a white girl and how it ended.
“Going to Meet the Man” by James Baldwin
Jesse, a white sheriff, lies in bed with his wife, impotent, thinking about a black protest leader he had beaten that day, and a childhood memory of going to a lynching.
“Previous Condition” by James Baldwin
The narrator, Peter, is a struggling African-American stage actor. The show he was in back in Chicago closed, and now he’s in New York living in a miserable furnished room. His Jewish friend Jules got him the room and snuck him in at night. It’s a white neighborhood so Peter tries to stay out of sight. Jules plans on getting his own place and says Peter will be able to stay there.
“So What Are You, Anyway?” by Lawrence Hill
A young girl, Carole, is flying to see her grandparents. The couple seated next to her make inquiries about her life and background.
“My First Goose” by Isaac Babel
During the Russian civil war in 1918, the narrator, a Jewish man, is assigned as the Propaganda Officer to a Cossack Division of the Red Army. He is weak, educated, and wears glasses. He is treated with little respect.
“The Blues I’m Playing” by Langston Hughes
Mrs. Ellsworth, a wealthy widow, serves as patron for Oceola Jones, a young black pianist. Oceola tries to maintain some distance while Mrs. Ellsworth pries into her life, trying to control whatever she can. Mrs. Ellsworth doesn’t agree with all the music Oceola plays, and she doesn’t approve of her boyfriend.
Short Stories About Prejudice & Discrimination, Cont’d
“Flying Home” by Ralph Ellison
Todd, a young black man training to be a pilot in World War II, comes to after a crash landing. He is worried about the reaction of the white officers to his failure. An old black man, Jefferson, checks on Todd and sends his son into town for help.
“Totem” by Thomas King
Some visitors and staff at the Southwest Alberta Art Gallery and Prairie Museum are annoyed by the noise coming from a totem pole. The director, Walter Hooton, didn’t even know they had a totem pole. He decides to have it moved into temporary storage until they can remove it completely.
This seems like an allegory for the way First Nations people have been treated in Canada.
“Act of Faith” by Irwin Shaw
WW II is over. Sergeant Seeger and his friends, both privates, are getting together what money they can for a weekend trip to Paris. Seeger was awarded a Purple Heart, and has saved the lives of his friends. They’re still short on funds. Luger pistols are selling at high prices, and Seeger has one.
“Rose-Johnny” by Barbara Kingsolver
Georgeann, the eleven-year-old narrator, is curious about Rose-Johnny, a woman who runs the feed store. Parents warn their children to stay away from her. Georgeann thinks she seems ordinary, except she has really short hair and wears men’s boots. Georgeann comes up with an excuse to spend time around Rose-Johnny, to see what all the fuss is about.
“The Beautiful Thing” by Kit De Waal
The narrator’s father leaves Antigua to work in America and, later, to start again in England. He works hard and experiences some racism as he establishes himself.
“The Only Man on Liberty Street” by William Melvin Kelley
Jennie sees a white man, Mr. Herder, visit her home once or twice a week. Her mother says he is her father. One day he arrives with some belongings; he says he’s going to stay. Jennie starts seeing an angry looking white woman pass by her house in a carriage.
“Dry September” by William Faulkner
Miss Minnie Cooper has accused a black man, Will Mayes, of attacking her. Some of the town’s men discuss the accusation at a barbershop. They are easily riled against Mayes and make plans to mete out justice themselves.
“Margins” by Donald Barthelme
Carl, an African American, is standing on the street in New York wearing a sandwich board. It details some of the difficulties he’s faced, and he’s asking for handouts. A white man, Edward, analyzes Carl’s handwriting, including the margins on the sign.
“American History” by Judith Ortiz Cofer
A fourteen-year-old Puerto Rican girl, Elena, lives in a rundown apartment building. A new family moves in to the house next door, including Eugene, a boy that Elena wants to get to know.
“Where is the Voice Coming From?” by Eudora Welty
The narrator thinks he got the idea when he told his wife she didn’t have to look at or listen to a black man on T.V. He could find out where that man lives. He finds the man’s place but he’s out. The narrator has to wait for him.
“The Twenty-seventh Man” by Nathan Englander
Stalin issues orders for the gathering and execution of twenty-seven Jewish writers. They’re to be apprehended discreetly and simultaneously and brought to a prison. The writers all have something in common except for one, Pinchas Pelovits.
I’ll keep adding short stories about racism, prejudice, discrimination, bias or stereotypes as I find them.