Graduating senior shares her perspective on race

Jun 05 2020

Graduating senior shares her perspective on race

Senior Isabella shared her perspective as a young African-American with this essay. She prefaces it with this: Please read this through. This post is my own opinion, based on my own experiences. I’m always open to dialogue and modifying my beliefs, and I hope you read this and allow it to sink in. I don’t harbor negative feelings for anyone mentioned in this, nor was this made to “call them out,” but I wanted to use my own experiences to educate those around me and offer maybe a new perspective.

I’ve refrained from sharing my thoughts on recent issues until now, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to speak on such a personal matter on my social media, or if I could effectively express myself in a post instead of a dialogue.

Instead of talking about police brutality, as I think enormous awareness of that issue has been raised by myself and my peers, I would like to talk about a bigger picture of racism in America, and the little ways it is prevalent in our day to day life that you might not realize. Part of sharing my thoughts include sharing my own experiences, so I ask that you read this with an open mind and heart.

I’ve lived a very privileged lifestyle, and I’m very grateful for my parents for providing me such an environment. I’ve luckily avoided many overly racist encounters due in part to my socioeconomic upbringing and living in San Antonio. I myself have struggled with the difficult but underrated struggle of simply “looking different.” Until very recently, beauty was defined very strictly: full lips, but not too full. A straight nose accompanied by straight hair, and most importantly fair skin. It’s hard to feel beautiful and worthy when every day the world around you tells you your appearance is not. As I said, to some, the Eurocentric beauty standards are unfortunate, but no more than that: I want you to consider that to a little black girl, not being able to live up to these standards comes to define her self-worth.

At a school dance when I was 15, a group of non-Black girls screamed “nigga” as a part of a song: to my knowledge they never apologized for it, nor showed remorse for it, and only a few people held them accountable. Though I’m sure I don’t have to explain, using the n-word when you’re not black is racist. For efficiency’s sake, I won’t delve into that here. The girls’ behavior was not appropriate. People shouldn’t be shown favoritism or have racist behavior excused because “we know they’re not really racist,” or because they’re our friends. These same girls, who lacked any black women in their friend group, a couple years later, made a “joke” about me behind my back, exclaiming that “Bella isn’t black enough,” and “Bella is so loud cause she wants to act black.” Very few people knew about this, and the few of my friends that did know didn’t call them out. They brushed it under the rug, and this hurt my feelings more than I could describe: I felt like my value as a person was worth less to them than their friendship with these girls. These girls should’ve been held accountable, and this is a perfect example of subconscious racism that pervades our society today. With their comments it’s clear that they have a judgement about how Black people “should act,” and this judgement is most likely stereotypical and negative. Their comments also demonstrate ignorance, as it is not their place to deem what I have to behave like in order to call myself a Black woman. Truthfully, I don’t think these girls are bigots. On the flip side, these girls have demonstrated racist behavior and weren’t held accountable for it. It’s ironic that the same girls are now posting criticism about George Floyd’s death, police brutality, and the lack of equality in this country.

You might be wondering “how is any of that related to George Floyd’s death or police brutality?” My answer to that is I believe the racism seen in recent events is more than police brutality. It’s more than a non-Black saying the n-word, and it’s more than cultural appropriation. I truly believe racism pervades in so many aspects of our lives, and many of us don’t even realize it. Many people in this time, though not maliciously, have pointed fingers at others and criticized some of the more outright racist statements or actions.

Many people have condemned the behavior of people in power like Derek Chauvin, and his actions on May 25, 2020. I would like to challenge everyone who’s posted about Black Lives Matter, who’s criticized racism and police brutality to be introspective and self-reflective. Ask yourself, “have I ever been racist? Have I ever been subconsciously racist? Have I ever seen an impoverished, Black man on the street and walked faster or crossed the road to avoid him because I was nervous? Have I ever been surprised when a Black girl is professional, educated and doesn’t ‘talk ghetto’? Have I judged others’ beauty based off of Eurocentric standards? Have I ever said, ‘I don’t think a certain race is attractive,’ making mass generalizations about the appearance of an entire ethnicity group? Have I myself ever succumbed to the negative black stereotypes and felt differently about a black person because of it?” If the answer is yes, I would applaud you for recognizing this. I would also tell you that I too have fallen prey to this nasty, false prejudice, and it’s upsetting because those stereotypes are about my brothers and sisters, and about myself.

Next, I would ask you to actively work to change your way of thinking. Don’t let yourself fall prey to the negative portrayal or mass generalizations of black people in the media. I think racism in this country can only be fought if everyone is first introspective, and then if everyone holds himself and those around him accountable. The solution to this pandemic in our country is more than fixing policy or legislature, and more than bettering the justice system. The solution to this problem requires more than the leaders in our country initiating and leading change. I believe the solution starts with you. Thanks for reading.

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  • Thank you, Bella, for a bold and beautiful, insightful and incisive commentary. It takes every one of us, questioning ourselves and our complicit silence or cooperation, to begin to reduce the racism in our societies, and redefine what “freedom” means in “America.” I hope all Keystone high students and their families read your commentary.
    Love and ánimo!
    Dr. Carmen Tafolla

    June 5, 2020 at 4:35 pm
  • Doris Helene White, Esquire
    Reply

    I am proud of this Keystone student for putting pen to paper to share her personal experience. I don’t doubt her for one moment, but am saddened by it. My experience as the lone Black student among the Class of 1974 gave me many moments to confront racism in many forms,at times overt and often very, very subtle. The moments that loom largest to me involve the adults in my school world—the ones who should have known better/done better. Please let Isabella know that she has learned some valuable, poignant lessons that will help her navigate similar problems in “the real world.” She and her generation of Black students behind me are well-equipped for the struggle they face in places like Keystone and Minneapolis and everywhere in-between. I am just sorry that they are still grappling with these issues. If she ever wishes to talk about this, I am happy to listen.

    June 5, 2020 at 4:56 pm

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