I live in Georgia, in a city so sheltered people say we live under ‘a bubble’. Let’s call this place West Bobb, and my school, my tiny predominantly white,stereotypical southern school, let’s call this place Francis.
I’ve been at Francis for three years, and in my entire time here, I’ve yet to have an educated, substantial conversation about race with anyone outside of my friends. Not teachers, not other students, not administrators, nothing. It’s as if they think if they ignore it, it will go away. The problem will cease to exist and everyone can avoid the awkwardness. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. Occasionally though, the topic comes up in a lesson or a book and we’re forced to talk about. Although if the teachers could just skip over those sections of the books i’m sure many of them would.
Last year, we read Huck Finn. I loved it because it was so raw and the words meant so much. My teacher loved it too. So much so, that for multiple days in class, she would make us ‘discuss’ how the N-word affected our lives. In my honors literature class,a class full of white children, with the exception of me of course, we discussed over and over again how a derogatory word aimed at people like me affected them. She asked students to volunteer to read sections from the book, they’d read Jim’s section the way they expected slaves to speak. And every time the N-word came up in a book where it appears 219 times, the reader would awkwardly pause,skip over it and continue on speaking like a middle-aged black man who had been a slave. My teacher read some parts too, she also explained her views on the N-word and her experience with it. I’m trying to paint a picture, imagine 30 white people and one black discussing race in a place where no one really wants to discuss it and no one really knows why they have to.
Like the rest of the nation, the kids at Francis are infatuated with black culture. They love the music, they love to mock the way ‘black people talk’ when they want to be funny and sassy. I’ve had a girl ask me to do corn-rows for her because she wants to be Kylie Jenner for Halloween and I’ve listened as kids yell out Future lyrics and say every word of the song because they feel as if they have the right to do so. As if it is okay to freely use words that were meant to oppress an entire race of people. I find it so ironic.
In one of my classes, I have a teacher who just started working at Francis. He constantly talks about how he used to teach in the ‘ghetto’. How he always had to break up a fight and how there was always weave on the floor. He tells us that we don’t know how good we have it here, that our school could be just like the ones where he taught. Are you kidding me? Last week, he and other students were talking about HBCU’s of all places. Most kids here know nothing of HBCU’s because they don’t talk about colleges and university’s like that at schools like Francis. Whenever someone asks me where I want to go for college, I say Howard or Spelman and they look at me as if they have no idea what those are. And it’s true, they don’t. When I say it’s an HBCU,they still have no idea, then I proceed to explain the acronym and they finally undersatnd. They say “ohhhh”,and in their heads I know they’re thinking “that makes sense”. I’m not sure why people assume that HBCU’s are bad places, well actually I am sure. Because to them, a college full of black people who want to learn about black history in a place full of other educated black people is bad. Okay.
So anyway, he says that HBCU’s are bad because “that’s not an accurate representation of what the world is like”. He is not wrong, universities full of educated black people are not something that world is aware of. Or cares about. It does not matter how educated I am, because the other people will still stereotype me, I’ve known this for years. At an HBCU, we are allowed to be around other people who want an education and who want to learn about the culture that America ‘forgot’ to teach us about. We are accepted here, we can feel safe here. There is no where else in the world that will allow us to feel this way. But of course, I know this is not what he meant. And of course he would know, this middle-aged, middle class white man. The most privileged type of person in America, he knows what an HBCU is like because I’m sure he attended one. He understands the importance of a black person attending an HBCU because he understands the struggles of black people, right?
Recently, I had a teacher teach a lesson about improv. And as a person who loves comedy, she showed us clips of Tina Fey and wanted to show us a sketch from Second City. Before the video began she said, “It is kind of weird” and kind of laughed it off. I didn’t think anything of it, until she showed us the video. The clip was of Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, two very funny, very witty white men. In the sketch, Colbert explains how when he returns to his hometown(which by the sound of the actors accents is supposed to be somewhere southern) he is “an old black lady”. The entire sketch consists of him interacting with other characters and speaking about his struggles as a black woman. The sketch itself was not offensive. It was the fact that this was considered funny. Everyone, from the audience on the clip, to the students in my class were laughing so hard they could probably start crying at any second. Except me of course. Oh, the irony. They’re afraid to address the race issue but have no problem or hesitation laughing about it. Out of all the sketches that we could have watched, I have no idea why we had to watch that one.
I’m aware that racism won’t end after I graduate. That much is obvious. But racism will never end if schools continue teaching the way they do. I’m not saying that every white person is racist,that every teacher intentionally makes the race topic an awkward one in class, but the lack of knowledge that most people have is the root of the problem. Kids spend 12 years in school and graduate knowing nothing about other cultures from around the world. Knowing nothing about cultures that exist within the tiny confines of this city. We don’t read books by black authors, we don’t talk about black artists, we ignore an entire sect of people and leave kids to fill in the blanks with stereotypes. We mention black people when the standards tell us we have to, that’s as far as it goes. I’m not speaking for everyone at my school. I’m speaking for myself. I’m not angry, as most people would like to assume. I’m just fed up, I’m 17 years old and I’m able to recognize issues that adults ignore.
I keep asking myself, how do they expect for things to get better and for change to occur. Oh, the answer is simple. They don’t want change.