Short Stories About Racism, Slavery, Discrimination or Prejudice

These stories cover racism, discrimination, prejudice or stereotypes in different forms and degrees, from subtle to flagrant, from implied to violent.

Stories about slavery have their own section at the bottom.

See also:

The Flowers | 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.

“The Flowers” is the fourth story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story.

“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.

The Barber | 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.

“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.

This is the fifth story in the preview of African Stories.

No Witchcraft for Sale | 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 preview of African Stories.

Arrangement in Black and White | 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.

The Comet | 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

Desiree’s Baby | 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.

This story can be read by selecting it in the table of contents of The Awakening, and Selected Short Stories.

Blood-Burning Moon | 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)

Indian Education | 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.

Read here

“Indian Education” is one of the stories in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

Town and Country Lovers | 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 | 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.

“Judgement Day” (PDF page 534)

The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses | 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.

Read “The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses”

A Party Down at the Square | 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.

Black is My Favorite Color | 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.

Read here

Brownies | 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.

Read here

Elbow Room | 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 | 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 | 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.

Read here

On the Road | 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 Man and White Woman in Dark Green Rowboat | 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.

Black Boy | 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.

Read “Black Boy”

Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird | 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.

Read “Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird”

Recitatif | 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.

Read here

The White Horses of Vienna | 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 | 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.

Read here

Jacob | 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 | 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.

Read here

Going to Meet the Man | 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.

Read “Going to Meet the Man”

So What Are You, Anyway? | 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.

Read here

My First Goose | 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 | 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.

Read “The Blues I’m Playing” (Pg. 91)

Flying Home | 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 | 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.

Read “Totem”

Act of Faith | 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 | 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 | 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.

Read “The Beautiful Thing”

The Only Man on Liberty Street | 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 | 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.

Read “Dry September”

Margins | 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 | 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.

Read “American History”

Where is the Voice Coming From? | 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.

Read “Where is the Voice . . .”

• Slavery Short Stories •

“The Cruel Redeemer Lazarus Morell” by Jorge Luis Borges

Lazarus Morell was an evil man who worked near the Mississippi river. He was one of the poor whites during the days of slavery, but he was proud of his “untainted” blood. He engaged in various unethical schemes, but one in particular was shocking in its cruelty.

This story can be read in the preview of Collected Fictions.

The Witness | Katherine Anne Porter

Uncle Jimbilly works with his hands, doing odd repair jobs and making small carvings. He tells the young people about the days of slavery.

The Beginning of Homewood | John Edgar Wideman

The narrator is writing a letter to his brother to tell him the story of his great-great-great-grandmother Sybela Owens, who escaped from slavery. She ran off one night with her two children and her owner’s son, the father of her children, on a five-hundred-mile journey.

An Outpost of Progress | Joseph Conrad

Two Europeans man a trading post in the African jungle. They’re involved in ivory trading, but there’s very little real work to do. A local wants to trade slaves for ivory.

Read “An Outpost of Progress”

Fever | John Edgar Wideman

There is a yellow fever epidemic in late 18th century Philadelphia. Allen, an African-American, chooses to stay in the city to help Dr. Rush find a cure and treat the victims. Popular opinion among the white population is that the disease was brought to the city by black slaves.

Read “Fever”