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The chocolate milk incident: On being young, black and confused in America

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Tyree Boyd-Pates
Tyree Boyd-Pates at Take Two's Millenial Matters event.

Tyree Boyd-Pates was a child when he learned he was black. In the decades to follow, he'd come to understand identity through his eyes and the eyes of others.

Tyree Boyd-Pates was just a child when he learned the truth: he was black.

An avid chocolate milk drinker, one day a group of youth posed a question that would spark a lifetime of racial contemplation. 

"Tyree, Tyree, why do you drink so much chocolate milk? Is it because you want to be darker?"

All this week, Take Two has been exploring the American identity through the eyes of people living right here in Southern California. 

Tyree-Boyd-Pates, is a regular on Take Two — especially in conversations about race. Long before that, however, he was a boy growing up in mid-city Los Angeles who often grappled with his identity as an African-American.  

After the awkward childhood exchange over his proclivity for chocolate milk, Boyd-Pates says things changed for him. 

"It was that very moment that I was confronted with what it means to be a black person, a black boy in the U.S.," Boyd-Pates says. 

Early years

An American Identity

A Turning Point

Boyd-Pates would go on to receive a master's degree in African American studies. He's currently on sabbatical from Cal State Dominguez Hills, where he teaches on the subject.

Press the blue play button above to hear Tyree Boyd-Pates' full story. 
(Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Series: A Nation Engaged

America is changing. The crosscurrents of demographic and cultural change are upending traditional voting patterns and altering the face of the American political parties in significant ways. As part of our collaborative project with NPR called "A Nation Engaged," this week we're asking: What does it mean to you to be an American?

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on Facebook.

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