The following is a draft of my exigency that I am continually (and will continue) working on. It deals with a passion of mine: racial discrimination and stereotypes. Although I have presented a problem and not necessarily a distinct solution, I am currently working on feasible solutions to implement within society. I would love any input or suggestions!
This past week in class Dr. Nikki Giovanni said, “We stay silent to keep from making a mistake, but the biggest mistake you can make is keeping silent.” Often I find myself not being able to shut up when I get deeply involved in a conversation, but there is one issue in particular that I cannot keep inside – racial discrimination. I am not just talking about civil rights and liberties; I am talking about negative racial slurs and stereotypes.
For a large part of my life I have been numb to racial diversity, whether African, Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, etc. My parents did not raise me to see myself as biracial or as black and white. I had always seen myself as a unique and loved individual. I didn’t have a group of black friends and a group of white friends. I just had a group of friends. Looking back at photos I can now notice myself being the only person of color or being the lightest person in the group, but it never dawned on me before. I never consciously chose to hang out with one group or the other. Much of what had played into who I hung out with was my environment. I grew up going to a small, private Christian school where the vast majority of the children were white. I couldn’t change that, and I didn’t want to change that. People are people no matter what color.
Growing up bi-racial, I understand what it feels like to be stereotyped as both a black and white female. Being told that you wish you could be “black like me” is not a compliment when you are implicating that the color of my skin gives me the ability to rap and dance. Because the truth is I can’t rap. Maybe I can dance, but just tell me that you like my dancing. Likewise, saying that I “act white” is not a compliment either. I am proud of all of my roots. I am proud to be me.
Although some of these racial stereotypes may be true, I struggle to understand why we use them. Why we can’t see people as people. Why we can’t look beyond the color of someone’s skin. I may be African American and Caucasian, but I want to be seen as Karli Bryant. Nothing else. Just myself…Karli Bryant.
Despite trying to convince myself that I am not racist, I realize that I am extremely racist just like everyone else. When I see a black man walking down the streets with his pants hanging off his butt, I immediately think – gangster straight from the hood. When I see a white girl dressed up in Lilly Pulitzer clothing on campus, I immediately think – preppy, sorority girl. When I see a Hispanic man doing construction work, I immediately think – illegal immigrant.
We are all racist, and that is why I am here to talk to you, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The first step to solving racial discrimination issues is accepting the problem. It is evident through the existence of this office that Virginia Tech recognizes the diverse community and need for a more inclusive university. However, I am not convinced that the university has realized the great degree to which racial slurs and stereotypes are exhibited.
It seems that the largest front to increase diversity and inclusion lies in the creation of the Diversity Development Institute aimed towards Virginia Tech faculty. The stated goal by the institute is “enhancing diversity and inclusion by developing the competencies of our faculty and staff as outlined in the Principles of Community and the Diversity Strategic Plan…” and “assisting with incorporating inclusion efforts into university messaging, events, and activities by providing a collaborative approach to enhancing institutional knowledge.” In terms of this goal, the institute has been successful in creating programming, such as the Spring Workshop entitled “Race Matters: Thinking About Racial Issues in the Classroom and Beyond”.
However, I see a flaw in that the institute has focused on how to handle individuals based on the student’s based on racial background. I am not refuting the importance of different cultural awareness, but I am asserting that awareness needs to extend to discrimination and derogatory connotations.
I was recently reading a story by James Baldwin, entitled Stranger in the Village, about a black man who seems to be a stranger within a small, white Swiss city.
“I knew that they did not mean to be unkind, and I know it now; it is necessary, nevertheless, for me to repeat this to myself each time that I walk out of the chalet. The children who shout Neger! have no way of knowing the echoes this sound raises in me. They are brimming with good humor and the more daring swell with pride when I stop to speak with them. Just the same, there are days when I cannot pause and smile, when I have no heart to play with them; when, indeed, I mutter sourly to myself, exactly as I muttered on the streets of a city these children have never seen, when I was no bigger than these children are now: Your mother was a nigger. Joyce is right about history being a nightmare-but it may be the nightmare from which no one can awaken. People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” (pg. 179).
Although the children were not knowledgeable about the impact of their words, the hurt still continued. The first step to this issue would be making the children aware of the power of their words, especially ones which they do not know the meaning.
I was just talking to a student the other day who was denied a job offer because of her racial background.
This is not acceptable!
We are not trapped by history, like Mr. Baldwin claims in his story. We have the ability to write history. Write our history. We have the chance to change the future.
The biggest constraint to fixing this issue is societal acceptance. For far too long we have allowed others to make racist and discriminatory jokes, while we pretend to go along and laugh. Embracing these racist jokes does not stop the pain or stop the person using them. However, it is not until something serious happens, like death, that we begin to become defensive.
I am sure most of you are aware of the recent murder case of Trayvon Martin. “Zimmerman, a Hispanic American, shot Trayvon on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Florida, claiming that he acted in self defense. However, Martin’s parents and lawyers insist that the shooting was racially motivated, a claim that a significant section of American people tend to believe, with President Obama saying that if he had a son, ‘he’d look like Trayvon.’” (NBC)
Whether Mr. Zimmerman was protecting himself or not is irrelevant within our context. What does matter is how the nation is viewing the case. One cartoon drawn by a student at the University of Texas shows Zimmerman as a “big bad white man” who killed an “innocent colored boy”.
The case has become a racial issue of black vs. white, despite the fact that Mr. Zimmerman is a Hispanic American. I am not saying this should be a black vs. Hispanic American issue either. I merely want to point out this tear within our society. We have decided to diminish people according to the color of their skin and racial background.
We are all people. Let’s start treating each other that way. No it’s not easy to break those embedded, society-driven stereotypes, but most things in life aren’t easy. It’s not impossible unless we decide to make it impossible.
We must start somewhere, and educating our students is the first step.
“We can do better!” (Nikki Giovanni)