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A 16-Year-Old's View On Racism BY DANICA TREBEL

By Chared Cincoflores

This essay was written three years ago by a 16-year-old sophomore in a small, predominantly white attended and staffed school on the heels of what had developed as an “inside joke” between one of his African-American teachers and him. When the joke was taken across a line this 16-year-old didn’t even realize existed, the school handled the situation as a learning opportunity of a different kind for their student – one that took place off the pages of the textbooks. The upper school principal asked the student to write a report on the results of people’s actions and how those actions can affect others – especially people of another ethnicity from his own.

Props to this principal and teacher for the way they handled the situation, and props to this young man for being willing to put in the time and effort to really dig below a surface of an issue most people turn a blind eye to. Some of this young man’s closest friends were African-American, and the thought of “racism” was foreign to him. What he learned, however, was something that deeply raised his awareness, incited in him an indignation at the ignorance of classification and separatation and allowed him to grow into a more active champion against injustice when the need arises.

The words in this essay belong 100% to the young man who wrote them – except where I took out the names of the people involved. I know this for a fact because I was there when he sent them to his teacher and his principal. The 16-year-old behind this new awareness is my son.

A New Awareness

Dear (Mr. Teacher and Mr. Principal),

First I would like to say that I am extremely sorry for everything that has happened. I truly apologize for my lack of judgment, for my complete absence of respect, and especially for the offense against Mr. Teacher, my school and ultimately the African American community. Through the whole experience that I had this past week, I have learned many new things and became more aware of the results of people's actions and how they affect others.

The first thing I was made aware of was what people of African American descent have to deal with on a daily basis and how hurtful and detrimental stereotypes can be. My mother has helped reveal these things to me because her roommate is African American and they communicate on a very deep level - intellectually and spiritually. Ms. Friend has helped my mother, and therefore me, become aware of how a difference in skin color can make a person feel as if they are looked down upon and judged almost everywhere they go.

For example, when an African American person applies for a job, he or she also has to deal with knowing they may not get the job based on their abilities alone. Some companies are silently required to hire a certain number of people to make the workplace diverse, and the other side of that is they might not get the job just because of their appearance. There have been various examples of people who have participated in phone interviews for jobs and have practically gotten the job, but when they actually go in to begin working or follow up with the businesses, they have been rejected or blown off because of their appearance that was undetectable through just telecommunication. Even though this is the sad truth, it doesn't make it right.

Stereotypes and judgmental thinking can prevent you from possibly meeting the nicest person you've even seen or hiring the most prolific worker you could ever imagine just because of his or her appearance. When people stereotype, they take God out of the equation. God can use anybody or anything to help you learn a lesson or to help someone else out or for absolutely anything, and taking away that chance by excluding yourself from certain people is not a good thing to do.

I have also learned and investigated why people use racial comedy and some of the results of what it can have. In the case of Michael Richards, former TV star of Seinfeld fame, he was failing at his comedy stand up and he was being heckled by some people in the audience. He was frustrated and felt like he was out of control and there was no way to get his edge back. So, he reached for something that he felt would give him a lead of some sort or could possibly bring his act back together. Other comedians have done this as well and their attempts have all ended unsuccessfully.

Daniel Tosh for example, after his second season of his show, Tosh.0, began to run out of ideas for jokes and things to do. He became even more disgusting than before and started telling more and more inappropriate and sexual jokes until it became almost unbearable. The same happened with Ron White from Blue Collar Comedy Tour. In their first tour, he was really funny, but then on their second tour, he began to tell raunchier and raunchier jokes as well and he was just reaching for laughs instead of truly being funny. Even though his act didn't become racially inappropriate, it still didn't work out for him.

Michael Richards, too, reached for shock value. With his anger and rage of failure, he went off on an African American man. He yelled extremely insensitive things and even I was completely offended by what he said. After I watched it though, I wondered what I would have thought of the video before I learned about the African American culture and everything else over the past few days. I believe I would have probably just watched it and would have said something along the lines of "Wow, look at that crazy man" - focusing more on him rather than his words. But after becoming aware of what African Americans are up against daily, I was hurt, offended, disgusted and felt horrible about the things that were said that day. I thought some more and felt if I told certain people about what Michael did that they would laugh and would think nothing of it.

This helped me realize that I have to be careful who I associate myself with and the impact they can have on me. This weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Durham to play in a basketball tournament. While I was there, I was among was a very diverse crowd where I could have been considered the minority. And even though I will never truly understand the perspective of what it is like to be African American in a prejudiced white society, I feel I gained slight entrance into what it would feel like to be judged and excluded based on an external difference.

Last year, Mr. Principal asked me why I wanted to come to this school, and I responded to him via email. This is what I said:

'I want to go to this school one, for the teaching style and philosophy. I honestly love the fact that you don't just stand in the front of the room and lecture on set beliefs, but instead take what the Bible says then discuss it and see what comes from the discussion and learn from that process. I believe that is best way to learn and I would love to experience that for myself. Also, this would be a fresh start for me and after so many years of just going through the motions, I feel a new setting and better environment all around will help me focus on what I need to with my life spiritually, socially, physically, and educationally. I also sense a strong Christian community spirit at [this school] and would very much like to be a part of that.'

My mother had sent this to me earlier in the week to remind of what my purpose for being here was and to be able to pull from it and learn. I feel I have in fact gotten what I wanted from this school and am eternally grateful for it. I have received a chance for self-reflection to find myself educationally, socially, spiritually, and physically. Educationally, I have learned about a culture other than my own and what they have to go through.

Socially, I have learned that ramifications do in fact come from people's actions and how badly they can hurt somebody. I realize the fact of the matter is that I first of all should not have even messed with [omitted] to begin with - that if I wanted to know what Mr. Teacher actually thought of it, I should have shown it to him in person instead of [taking the action taken]. Because of the way I went about things, it came across as cowardly but more importantly, as racial.However, what I have learned from my lack of judgment is immeasurable. I now have a new perspective and appreciation for an entire culture that I had been previously ignorant about and unaware of. I have also been able to find myself spiritually.

My mother proposed to me that there are only two kinds of actions: actions that are out of love and actions that are a cry for love, and I completely agree with this. After discussion we concluded that my action was indeed a cry for love, and with the opportunity that you have bestowed upon me to learn from my mistake and enhance my awareness, I have been able to understand love on a deeper level and realize how God wants everyone to be loved equally. Physically though, during revelation of my life I found that I was over pressuring my self with extra curricular activities and not leaving enough time for God and for God to do his work in my life. God is the center of all things and when we don't put him at the center of our lives everything goes off course.

As I have learned in [my other teacher’s] ethics class, if you take a good thing and make it a god thing, then it becomes a bad thing. And I was idolizing using my time not for God and that became an extremely bad thing, so I have now realized I need to make adjustments in my life to fix that. Again, I would like to say how grateful I am to have been challenged and allowed to learn and grow from what started out as a hurtful and embarrassing situation. Because you viewed me as the lost sheep refereed to in Luke 15:4-7, I now have the knowledge and awareness that I can share with others in order to help people understand that God's love knows no color, status, or stereotype. Thank you for a lifetime lesson that I promise I will put into practice.