Posts Tagged ‘race’

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The Invincible Decision

The Invincible Decision

by Jordan Atkins

IMG_9186I was one of the invincibles in eighth grade. Family, friends, and fans called us the “B5”– five talented black athletes within a predominantly white community. With 31 wins and 0 losses, we reached the goal of a perfect season while dominating our opponents and inspiring excitement in our community. We could make history if we continued to play with the same level of intensity in high school. It would be the first time in our high school’s 65 years that African-Americans would comprise the entire starting lineup in any sport. Our future high school basketball careers and prospects for a state championship looked as bright as the infamous “Fab Five,” Michigan’s 1991 recruiting class. There was one problem: I knew that basketball at the next level would consume all my free time and prevent me from pursuing other interests.

Community and friends versus my own heart: At the end of freshman season, I had to choose between succumbing to the pressure of pleasing others and following my true interests. In looking back, I tapped into the courage I found when I began to negotiate the boundaries of stereotyping.  It started in sixth grade, with friends often saying: “Jordan, you’re the whitest black person I know,” referring to my proper style of speech.  These comments were hurtful, and although said jokingly, I felt the stereotyping and disrespect inherent in them. I was born in the same suburb as my friends and had experienced a strong sense of community. Yet, I realized the powerful stereotypes of race and athletes. In the beginning of eighth grade, I built up the courage to confront those making such comments, and the jokes stopped.

Months later, it hit me. If I continued basketball, I would have limited time to improve football and baseball skills, explore my interest in business outside of school, or even volunteer in mentoring programs. Working with younger kids was a passion and skill that started when I attended a small private elementary school. In third grade, I began work with preschoolers, spending half of my lunchtime reading stories to them. Eventually, I helped those in younger grades with schoolwork. I never had time to pursue this kind of volunteering once I began playing basketball at an intense level. So, before the basketball season started in my sophomore year, I made the decision to walk away from the sport.

Without the added demands of basketball, I began participating in business competitions held by the Business Professionals of America. I spent countless hours taking notes and studying fundamental accounting, banking, and finance principles. The determination to dominate at these business competitions felt similar to the tenacity with which I used to practice my shots before game day. But rather than looking for external encouragement from coaches, I became self-motivated. In my first year, I qualified for nationals.

I always loved football, and could now explore that interest. At first, I faced discouragement from future teammates, since I hadn’t played on the freshman team. But again, I stayed true to my interest and ended up starting on both offense and defense my sophomore year. I am now a team captain for the varsity team. In some ways, my role resembles my elementary school mentoring, helping younger football players maneuver the grueling demands of football and academics. I also advise them on other off-the-field issues such as taking ownership for behavior in and out of school.

Quite honestly, I do miss basketball, and think about the missed opportunity for fame and heroism. But, I do not regret my decision. When my school’s team made it to the State’s “final four” with only three of the B5 as starters, I often thought and was told, “That could’ve been me playing.” Yet every good decision comes with sacrifices.

Jordan Atkins, a freshman at the University of Michigan, is a graduate of Adlai E Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

A Stolen Flute and the Search for Home

A Stolen Flute and the Search for Home

by Kennedy Sapp

kennedysappMy new flute devastated me. It felt nothing like my first flute–the one I loved at first sight. I was 10 when I walked into band, sat down, and opened up my case to the chrome keys and the gleaming gold mouthpiece. I immediately felt at home with the beauty in my hands. However, my flute symbolized the life that would soon slip away.

At 12, my family moved from Westchester, New York to Oak Park, Illinois. I felt like an outsider and hoped my love for music would connect me to a community of bandmates. On my first day, I opened my locker, reached for my flute and felt nothing.

My flute was not the only thing stolen on that day; I lost trust in the place I wanted to call home. I walked into the lunchroom, devastation still clear on my face, as I tried to find a place to sit. I looked around the lunch room, confusion immediately settled over me. I looked to my right and noticed table after table of black students, then I looked to my left and saw tables of white students .

In Westchester, diversity was not only black and white. I could walk down the hallway and see a girl wearing a hijab as easily as waving at a friend in a yarmulke. In Oak Park, I only had two clear-cut options that I disliked. So I made a third. I walked over to an empty table and sat down.

Suddenly, six girls joined my table. One of them, Briana, was new to Oak Park as well but already knew everyone. “Once you start meeting new people it gets easier. And then once you know them all, you can’t help but be yourself.”

She became one of my best friends and I tried to follow her advice. Yet feeling at home was still a struggle through middle school and first year of high school. Ironically, I found comfort in an unlikely place–the Chemistry Club in Tenth Grade. English and history were always my favorite subjects. When my brother suggested I join the Chemistry Club, I thought it wasn’t for me. However, my willingness to try something new led me to that morning meeting. I saw kids from my science class, but also girls from my dance team, kids in Model UN, and so many other types of people. Students eagerly showed me how to make the glow-in-the-dark slime.

Growing up my parents constantly preached of the importance of diversity and I saw the concept in strict terms of race, ethnicity and religion. The Chemistry Club–mostly white students with a few blacks–would not seem too diverse by that standard. Yet the interests, opinions and passions of everyone in that room were so diverse. In that moment, I began to truly feel at home in Oak Park.

Changing my frame of mind allowed me to meet extraordinary people and hear unique stories of my classmates. Initially I saw Oak Park on the surface as black and white and failed to dig deeper.  

I have also formed a lunch table that looks so different from what I saw on my first day in Oak Park. There are blacks and whites, dancers and athletes, and males and females. When I see new students or others sitting alone, I invite them to our table.

Seven years ago, someone found my old flute in the bathroom and it sits in the guest room of my house, while my newer flute is in my closet. I rarely play either, but they are reminders of how far I have come. In Oak Park, I have learned that one must take initiative to turn a community into a new home. There may be bumps along the way that may become opportunities to produce change. Just take a look at my lunch table.

Kennedy Sapp, a 2015 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, is a freshman at Vanderbilt University.

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

A Rough Field for Everything….Everything but Race

by Conner Chapman

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A right arm hung from a body after our linebacker picked up the opposing quarterback and slammed him on the turf. The kid’s season ended with the nearly detached arm in front of my eyes. A year later, I rushed past an offensive lineman and dove for the quarterback. I missed. When I looked down, my mangled pinky finger barely hung on my hand. A trainer popped it back in, but I was done for the night. At least I had the rest of the season.

My finger still hurts, but not enough for me to abandon the sport. I am content playing football, not because of the brutal impact on my body, but largely since the game provides a level playing field where performance–not race–matters. Moreover, strong performance in football does not produce the remarks I confront for academic achievement, which are often blatantly couched in terms of race: “Now here’s a black kid who studies.”

Football isn’t a world free of problems. Yet on game day, my school’s black and gold are the only colors that produce team loyalty. If Trayvon Martin was on my team, he would have been safer on the field of broken fingers and arms than he was in the neighborhood where he met George Zimmerman. Moreover, if Martin confronted any brutality on the field, it would have been part of a play that had nothing to do with race.

A week after the not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I was at a forum sponsored by Jack and Jill, an organization of black families. An elderly man yelled, “It was Trayvon Martin’s fault for being killed. He shouldn’t have been out at night wearing a hoodie.” I was shocked, angry and offended. This man was actually a black father of a teenager. I guess it was his way of saying “pull your pants up.”  I stood and responded. “You are wrong,” I said. “There is no way you can justify Zimmerman’s actions or Trayvon’s death.”

After reflecting on the forum, I must admit it is only realistic to expect others to judge African-Americans based on prejudices tied to race and appearance. While the man’s comment felt outrageous, he raised a valid point, whether I liked it or not. If Trayvon had been wearing a suit, would his appearance have been enough to disarm some of Zimmerman’s racism, saving Martin’s life? This question is painful and disheartening, but real.

Unfortunately, I will probably spend my whole life disproving the stereotypes inside the minds of others. I will be forced to carry myself in a clean cut way that does not promote any triggers of black male stereotypes. In doing so, I will continue to be praised as an exception with compliments that don’t feel like real compliments. Achievements of mine are so often now called remarkable because I am black. This further inspires my appreciation of football where my abilities never wear a racial stain.

On the field, the roughness of the meritocracy inherent in the game compels players to think as a team regardless of race. The tough game provides a field where 22 players find equal opportunities to perform once they are in the game. However, I refuse to rest my laurels on football and allow centuries-old stereotypes to dictate my fate. Part of my life’s mission is to destroy barriers that confine blacks to narrow opportunities.

Coming home from a big win recently, my teammates were too happy to remain quiet. We sang, rapped, and made fun of each other and the coaches in jest. It didn’t matter whether you could sing or rap and, as usual, we were a team of only two colors–black and gold. I hope to create avenues where this kind of moment–so unburdened by race– is the norm. If only I could bottle that spirit on the bus and spread it worldwide.

Conner Chapman, a graduate of Long Island’s St Anthony’s High School, will be a freshman at the University of Chicago in the fall.

Winning Without a Label

Winning Without a Label

by Sydney Webber

11082549_10205536740953368_2880924316986633246_nI remember Fridays when I walked home from school with Eric, rushed to change clothes and headed across the street to his house to play.  At dusk,  I’d head home to shower and put on my black dress, stockings, and flats and return to Eric’s for Shabbat dinner.  I still remember the distinctive taste of Challah and tons of food that his grandmother cooked.   I never felt out of place as the only person in the room who didn’t understand the Hebrew prayers.  Then there were my Tuesdays, reserved for the playground with Uzuri and Hector, my friends from Nigeria and Colombia.  I always found time every week to hang with Sam, my Venezuelan best friend.

It all changed when I turned eight. My family left Maplewood, a town known for its diversity, for Morristown, where we were the only black family on the block.  On the surface, Morristown lacked diversity, especially considering my overwhelmingly white neighborhood that matched the makeup of the honors courses that I took in high school.  I spent years looking for a label to fit in besides “black girl.”  I would learn the irrelevance of labels in the spring of junior year when my name found it’s way to a ballot that read Bill, Phillip, Joe, and Sydney–the typical “hot guy”, the “jock,” the “class clown,” and me.  There was not a label for me, which, at first, made me think I must be crazy for running for class president.  The girls would vote for Mike, the basketball team for Drew, and Matt’s speech would make everyone laugh. Didn’t I need a label to win?

In Maplewood, there were not any two people who seemed alike so I never thought twice about being myself.  It wasn’t until I was placed in an environment where the white majority was dominant and seemed to be monolithic that I experienced a discomfort with myself.  I tried desperately to be like my friends.  I straightened my hair everyday to get rid of my natural afro I wore as a child.  I listened to the bands that my friends loved even though I hated the music. I wore Abercrombie, even though the clothes weren’t meant for my Beyonce-like curves.  I became secretly thankful for my light skin tone because it made me look closer to the majority than those with dark skin. Throughout middle school, I felt ashamed to be black because it differentiated me from everyone around me.

My family’s Kwanzaa celebration launched my journey to self acceptance.  When I was thirteen my mom invited our white neighbors to the celebration.  At first I was embarrassed to share this part of me with my friends.  I thought they might see me differently if they witnessed this hidden side of me. I feared it would accentuate the obvious differences I tried to escape.  At that moment I thought back to Maplewood and remembered its okay to be racially different. The girl who now believes Kwanzaa is for everyone became one who realizes the school is not just made up of labels.

I changed my definition of diversity beyond race and ethnicity. I saw that white people should not be defined by being white just as I should not be defined by a label of race. I also saw the superficial constructs of the labels my opponents wore and embraced.  I discovered I was not the underdog in the election and that lacking a label was my asset. I wanted to represent the majority of our grade that didn’t have a “title,” like those who do not like the lunchroom social world, those unafraid of being smart or being called a nerd, and those who value eclectic interests.  I had started to see my classmates and myself beyond superficial labels. Moreover I won the election because my classmates were able to see me beyond any labels while my opponents epitomized typical high school classifications.

Sydney Webber, a graduate of Morristown High School, is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

Who says “Asians don’t play basketball”?

by Calvin Ng

UntitledI was the only Asian freshman to make the Junior Varsity basketball team. My teammates questioned how I even became a Running Rebel. “Asians don’t play basketball.” This didn’t anger me; it just compelled me to prove myself in the sport I love. A year later, I was named captain of the team.

In the final game of our season, I look at the freshmen on the bench. Unlike me, they don’t have anything to prove due to race. Yet, there is a yearning in their eyes. They want a chance to play instead of sitting helpless in the last game.

We fall behind in the second quarter. Our starters, frustrated, argue on the court, blaming each other for missed shots. Coach Barbin calls a timeout. He yells at me–the captain–and the other starters. I cut him off and ask him to play the freshmen. His face says it all–who in their right mind would put inexperienced freshmen in a game right now?

“The starters aren’t doing well at all and we’re down by ten. There’s nothing to lose,” I reason.

He agrees and benches all the starters minus me and picks the four freshmen. This is a completely new team I’m leading now. My teammates listen and move the ball around. Despite their inexperience, they cut, set screens, and shoot well. We win the game and I see the leader in myself come alive.

For years, everyone pointed to me as a good leader–everyone but me perhaps. At my middle school graduation, I expected to win an academic award but was shocked when my name was called to the stage for the leadership award. It wasn’t until I played on a basketball team that I really saw myself as a leader, which grew out of my tenacity and devotion to the sport. The summer before I became captain, I went to Crocheron Park in Bayside, Queens daily to practice and play. I had already overcome others’ doubts about me as a player due to my race, and would play full court pickup games with the older guys. Whenever I performed poorly, I pushed myself harder in drills to get better. After this regimen, I was able to shoot further, jump higher, and dribble better.

When I returned to school, my teammates saw the improvement, acknowledging me as an equal. Yet I struggled as leader of the team with the starters all season. They always played every game despite poor performances. Perhaps the true lesson in the moment I pushed for the freshman to play was directed at the starters. They never focused on the consequences of playing poorly, not seeing how their bickering affected the team. By contrast, the freshmen always looked for advice when they took bad shots. Rather than merely citing their mistakes, I offered ways they could improve as players. In doing so, I experienced what I loved most about leadership–helping anyone who wants to improve.

This central trait to my leadership–my desire to help people–continues to appear beyond basketball. I apply the lessons of leadership on the courts as a volunteer tutor at a community center. My first student, Vivian, a freshman who had difficulty in Algebra, was unsure in approaching problems, often mixing up operations when solving equations. I recognized this right away. I did not make her feel bad about her shortcomings. I looked for a solution to help her as I did with the freshmen players. I immediately created a guide sheet for her, writing all of the basic guidelines for solving equations.

In some ways I thank those who doubted my abilities as a player. They inspired me to push myself harder as a basketball player. In the process, I discovered the leader in me and realized the values of practice and tenacity. I know I will be able to apply these lessons to so many avenues in my future.

Calvin Ng, a recent Stuyvesant High School graduate, will be attending Cornell University this fall.

Stereotypes: Black Muggers, Brown Terrorists; a Young Liberal’s Challenge

Stereotypes: Black Muggers, Brown Terrorists; a Young Liberal’s Challenge

by Curran Dhar

2014-05-23-10168197_10151966188332132_8827411258487239017_nI slammed myself for being a racist the second after I felt the impulse to walk away from the sight of two African American men. They stood huddled together in my view on the approaching subway car at the Wall Street train station. I first imagined they would jump me if I sat in “their” area, so my impulse was to run to an entrance of another subway car. I then scolded myself. After all, how could I fear them, since I too have been a victim of racial profiling and even once called a “brown terrorist?” I pushed myself to just walk into the train where they stood.

When I entered the subway car, a man obstructed my path with a concealed weapon in his sweatshirt. He used it to push me backwards. It was the same man who I feared earlier. He was indeed dangerous. I looked to my left, but it did not provide a safe route away from the danger. Two other men who were on the train blocked my path to escape. A fourth man emerged—the same man who stood beside the original man. Before I knew it there were four muggers and one victim. The men cornered me against a wall and demanded that I give them all of my possessions–my iPod touch and my wallet with the $80 I had saved to buy a gift for my mother.

At first, it was irresistible to fall into the trap of identifying with people I previously would have considered obnoxious Americans—the kind of people who would not have thought twice of running in the other direction of the two black men I saw on the subway. Initially my new allies in thought were the kinds of people who would have safely fled to another subway entrance without any self-scolding. Shouldn’t I now be one of them? As the old saying goes, “a liberal is just a conservative who has not been mugged yet.” But I now have my own saying: A true liberal realizes that individual experiences are not an excuse to be a racist. I am proud that I criticized my first impulse at the sight of the black men, and am now even more disgusted by the idea of holding a race of people accountable for the actions of four immoral men. Why? First of all, I abhor people who immediately associate me with Osama Bin Laden because of my brown skin, as I am Indian American who has been mistaken for an Arab or Muslim terrorist.

Two years ago I was traveling to Florida with my friend, Ian, and his family, who are all white. We were all going through the security check when I was pulled aside from the group and asked to participate in a “random” security search. I obliged, and of course they found nothing but apologized for the delay. During the course of the search I clenched my fist and thought to myself how racist the white security guard was for picking me out of the group at “random.” His apology for the delay also seemed like a nonchalant version of saying “sorry I mistook you for a terrorist.” It felt humiliating to be treated differently than everyone else. Ian’s family looked the other way and said nothing, while Ian joked “Random my ass.”

It is also too easy throw a stereotype into the equation of a fight when the color of one’s skin has nothing to do with the battle. I saw this on the soccer field in a school match. An opponent tackled me maliciously as we were both trying to get control of the ball. I got up and went face to face with him as our tempers rose, and after a couple of seconds he told me that I was “just a brown terrorist.” I don’t believe he realized the gravity of what he had just said, but to him it must have seemed like a petty way to attack me.

I don’t think the liberal stronghold on my perspective is totally tied to my encounters with racial profiling. I was raised in the liberal enclave of downtown New York. I also have two Indian parents who have friends of several different races. My attachment to liberal family values has remained strong. No matter what happens it seems impossible for me to escape those hard-core liberal roots that discourage racist thinking and provide the foundation of how I see the world.

Curran Dhar, a graduate of Poly Prep Country Day School, transferred to NYU after two years at Gettysburg College.

Hallways of Trouble and Classrooms of Success

Hallways of Trouble and Classrooms of Success

By: Jakobi Jackson

2014-05-02-PD_0151Scene One: The Hallway of Trouble. “Hey you, I heard you were talking about me, bitch!” Mya yelled. She rushed straight to Susan and punched her in the nose. A large crowd encircled them as they scratched, kicked and punched each other. By the time security arrived ten minutes later, the hands of both girls were in each others’ weaves. They were both sent to the holding room.

Scene Two: The Classroom of Success. “Oh, really then, why do you have slaves running away or committing suicide if slavery is so positive?” Frederick Douglas says to a Southern farmer. Actually, I say that to Ian, my classmate. I am Frederick Douglas and he is the farmer in a class debate in AP US History.

“Well, those slaves are ignorant and wild, which is another reason why slavery should stay, to straighten the slaves for their bad behavior,” Ian, the Southern farmer counters.

“Alright alright that’s enough Jakobi and Ian,“ says Mr. Barry, our teacher who played President Buchanan. “Good supporting ideas and interpretation. You guys had a really heated argument.”

The bell rings and my classmates and I are going back into Scene One, the Hallway of Trouble. We may see a fight on the way. But in five minutes, we will be safe in AP Literature where we will discuss Death of a Salesman with the high level of engagement that characterized our staged debate on slavery.

My mind separates Stamford High into two schools or even two worlds: the Classroom of Success and the Hallway of Trouble. I am a full citizen of the Classroom of Success. As an African American male,  I am  a minority in this school. In all of my classes,  there are rarely more than two black students among the white and Asian majority in this school. Yet in the Hallways of trouble, I am part of the racial majority: 60 percent of the students at the school are black or Hispanic. I often feel like a foreigner in the halls and am careful not to bump into anyone or sport a facial expression that might incite someone to attack me.

There was a time when I wanted to be stereotyped as bad. In middle school and my first year in high school I always wanted to fit in the cool crew that made it to all the parties.  I even did a few things to win acceptance in that group: I wore sagging pants and disregarded my grades. I remember the moment when I truly decided that I belonged in the Classroom of Success rather than the Hallway of Trouble. I was a sophomore when I heard the cannon. “Boom.” It touched the ground blowing up soldiers on the battlefield. “We Need More Ammo,” the soldiers said in German as they ducked for cover.

I was a sophomore in a history class when we watched a documentary that explored both World War ll and the Cold War. It turned on a switch in my head that made me love history. I still can’t turn it off. I want to become a history teacher or professor. My parents had been pushing me to engage in the Classrooms of Success since I placed into top classes. They pushed me to avoid the “crabs in the bucket,” their description of the “cool” kids in the other school. However I was the one that made the decision to become a citizen of the Classroom of Success when I realized history was my passion.  Ultimately, the liveliness of the classroom drew me into that school–not my parents’ demands.

There are a total of 2,000 students at Stamford High. In my junior year, I saw how I can still easily be mistaken for a student in the Hallway Of Trouble. I misplaced the room number of the yearbook club meeting on the first meeting date.

“Hi, excuse me,” I say to a secretary in the main office

“Hi, what do you want?”  She responded with an annoyed look on her face.

“I am looking for the yearbook room, do you know the room number it would be in?”

She looks surprised. “Don’t you have class? Why are you going to the yearbook room?”

I told her I had study hall, but she refused to check the list for the room number. I wandered the halls looking in rooms for the meeting. Fortunately, I found the group and avoided any trouble in the hallway.

   The Hallway of Trouble sometimes provides the entertainment for students in the Classroom of Success. I often arrive to class early and here my classmates talking about the fight or crazy behavior they witnessed in the hallway. “Did you see that?” or “That was crazy!” Another is, “This fight was intense!”

“Wow did you see her, oh my god she is crazy.” They sometimes jokingly alter their voices in a dialect they hear in the hallway and laugh outside of the view of any members of the Hallway of Trouble. In those moments, I realize our little school may be invisible to students of the Hallway of Trouble. Unfortunately, years later, those students may wish they knew there was a school like The Classroom of Success, which is so close yet so far away from their world.

Jakobi Jackson is a graduate of Stamford High School and is currently a sophomore at American University.

 

A Chinese-Jewish Christmas

by Saru Nanda

I am a Hindu who always wanted to trade in her religion during one month of the year: December. I could never resist my adoration of Christmas. As a child, I thought it was unfair that I could not have a Christmas just because of my primary religious beliefs. Though my family never celebrated the holiday, I secretly honored the season in my heart; loving the music, the trees and the glowing lights I saw throughout the city. But I was never able to outwardly celebrate the holiday until I acquired my second family in my junior year of high school.

Members of my second family are Jewish and Atheist. In fact, none of us are actually Christian. We all love the trappings of Christmas and decided nothing could stop us from celebrating the holiday. On Christmas Eve last year, we met at my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side. We dressed in our finest and set the table with fancy plates, beautiful silverware, and the embroidered napkins. We spread Chinese take-out on the plates and ate fortune cookies for dessert. In a sense, we were celebrating our friendships and diversity more than the holiday itself.

For me, the Chinese-Jewish-Christmas was an affirmation of a newfound independence that inadvertently came into my life with my second family. Before then, I had grown socially dependent on my six-pack.I became friends with six girls from Southeast Asia, other “Brownies.” We were inseparable in my freshman year. I always dreamed of attending Stuyvesant High School but it seemed like a foreign place in my first days of Ninth Grade. Initially gravitating towards people of my “kind,” other Southeast Asians, other “Brownies,” made the adjustment easier.

During the summer apart, I discovered more of my self beyond the group through my notebook. I started writing. My notebook started off as a diary almost, but it quickly became more. I filled it with everything I could: quotes I liked, scans of passages from books I loved, doodles and drawings, my own writing, lists of what my mother needed from the grocery store; anything. I let everything pour onto those unlined, recycled pages. These pages gave me a new view of what I wanted my life to become. So when I returned to school in the fall, it wasn’t a surprise when I pursued my interests more aggressively.

In the beginning of my sophomore year, I wanted to join so many clubs.  As I branched out into activities that my six-pack blatantly rejected, I made new friends and ultimately found my diverse second family. I joined the school newspaper, read my prose at Open Mic, and danced in a school performance. Though those experiences, I met the new friends who became my second family. When rehearsals ran late, I ate with them and took the train home with them. After the shows, the bond between us continued. We live in different parts of New York City but we make it easy to hang out by choosing a location that’s an even commute for all of us. To this day, they’re my best friends; they’re my second family. We may not agree on everything, but that’s why our friendship is so strong: we respect each others’ views and opinions.

I don’t avoid friendships with people who are racially like myself, but I have learned to see the limitations when I confine myself to a friendship based on skin color. Through my second family, I learned I can adopt elements of any culture I choose to embrace on my terms. I can be happy eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve.

Saru Nanda, a 2013 graduate of Stuyvesant High School, will be a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the fall.

 

Values in Indecision Over the N-Word

By Chris Drakeford

“If it ends with an ‘a’ it’s ‘a’-ok” explained Todd, after seeing my face cringe when he referred to his white friend as  “my nigga.” As 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z use this word liberally in their music; teenagers have adopted the word as a synonym for good friends regardless of race. For younger generations, the shock factor associated with the N-word has faded. My parents would be appalled at the frequency of the word at my high school—even if it lacks an “er” ending. My own decreasing sensitivity is not disrespectful to my heritage but rather an uneasy adaptation to changing times.

I was the lone teenager at a table of black Baby Boomers last summer while out to dinner with family friends. My dad sparked a debate about whether racism was decreasing in younger generations. This question quickly produced a unanimous “no” amongst everyone at the table, with one exception – me. While finishing off my chicken, ribs, and macaroni, my mind drifted, blocking out the chorus of stories of “undeserved speeding tickets,” “overaggressive police actions,” and “suspected racial profiling.” I reflected on my experience in Yorktown, growing up as a black male in a town where I never felt that I was treated unfairly, differently, or unequally. Perhaps I have been lucky or maybe racism is present but I don’t see it because it lies outside the boundaries of my perspective. As I tuned back into the dinner debate, I defended my generation as less racist.

While the adults clearly had more experience on the race issue and experience is often seen as an asset when it comes to solving problems, it can also limit new thinking and ideas.  I have never been very passionate about race but my views can be an asset as it frees me from seeing the same predictable pessimism of race which seems so unfitting to the moment of living with the nation’s first black president.

I sit at a peculiar place at the intersection of race and class. I am a product of a proud black family that represents the diversity of black culture. My Dad, the son of a blue-collar lumberyard worker, was the first to attend college in his family. My Mom, the daughter of a doctor, is the fourth generation to attend college. Most of my friends are white and middle class; this has given me a unique window into both black and white worlds. I understand the older generation’s disapproval of the “n word”, but I also understand my friends’ confusion when I tell them the word is “off limits” while it slips so easily off the tongues of black rappers and comedians. “Why can’t we use it if they’re using it?” they ask me. I often remain silent because, the truth is, I don’t have an answer. I never use the word, and expect the same from my friends.

The only time I feel like a stranger in either of my two worlds is when the subject of race arises. I usually see both sides of the race debate, and regardless of the viewpoint I encounter, I often find myself taking the opposing side. I remember a peer arguing with me that racism is an insignificant factor in our society that is exaggerated for the benefit of certain groups. My first reaction was anger: How could anybody think such ignorant and misguided thoughts?  Ironically, I found myself arguing with my peer using some of the same ammunition the Baby Boomers used at dinner that night.  But I couldn’t dismiss my classmate as racist. This kid had simply experienced his whole life as a white middle class male, in a town with few minorities. What opportunity would he have had to look for or see racism?  None. How could I expect him to see something that lies outside the borders of his vision, something that is essentially invisible to him? How could I expect the Baby Boomers to see race based on anything beyond their experience growing up in a world still plagued by remnants of the racism that the Civil Rights movement sought to eradicate?

To me, racism is a complex, ever-shifting entity that moves about class, generation, and community without any consistency. It may never disappear and individual experience, a much larger force beyond generation, will always shape perspectives on it. While my thoughts around racism are still forming, my particular experience provides me with insight into both black and white worlds. Some might see my thinking as indecisive, but I believe there is a need for leaders who can see multiple sides of an issue and can make informed and empathetic decisions about seemingly unsolvable conflicts, such as those between Henry Louis Gates and a white police officer or even between Arabs and Israelis and blacks and whites. This leadership, which is demonstrated by individuals such as Barack Obama, is becoming more important in solving the issues of our increasingly complex and globalized world.

Chris Drakeford will be a senior at Tufts University in the fall. He is a 2010 graduate of Yorktown Heights High School in Yorktown Heights, New York.

Influences that Last

Influences that Last

by Stephan Morse

560088_10151455248365557_1291777169_nI have a sister who is bubbly and energetic, parents who are both supportive and caring, but one of the two people who has influenced me the most hates my guts.

The first day of 5th grade: I sit on a rock wall and watch my mother’s silver Volvo slowly drive away feeling isolated and alone. I entered my first school assembly in a room filled with 500 boys, but every face is a stranger. The assembly ends. I reach for my bag but hesitate because a boy is choking. Then I realize what is coming and yank my bag. A new sixth grader, the choking boy vomits over 3 or 4 bags and an empty space where my bag would have been. My first day at a private school begins while I dream of returning to my old public school.

Soon the new kid fog fades and I still do not have friends. Then I meet John, a fellow 5th grade outcast. Our friendship grew and we became best friends. But when 7th grade football begins, things fall apart. Football formed a new clique and John influences me to join. “Soccer is Gay,” he says, knowing that I play soccer. “Football gets all the respect.”

Our friendship became more of a competition even though we are on the same team. He and I are in a guerilla war, instigated by his constant insults. My clothes, shoes, video games, footballs, anything I possess did not measure up to his–even my future: “I am going to be 6’2”, 195lbs, perfect stature, you will always be short and 5’2” for the rest of your life.”

I became the butt of his jokes, all of which touch the American Social Construct. “You are the least black, black person ever.” He and my other football “friends” expected that I would have extreme athletic ability and were disappointed when my 5 foot, 100 pound frame did not produce the results they wanted from a black “friend.”

I was simply too “white” to be black. I am not athletic enough, do not wear baggy clothes, but worst of all I can’t rap. I am doomed to being a “white boy.” John would offer me tips on how to be “black” from what he saw on television or the Internet. I spent three years trying to please John before I grew up, and returned to soccer. John hated my newfound independence and eventually, he hated me.

My exit from the football crowd compelled me to look deeply at my new identity. I like to play basketball, sing, and act. I study Chinese and Spanish. I am an environmentalist who enjoys classic rock, techno, not just rap music. All of these things make me who I am, not the color of my skin, or what boxes my ”friends” try to impose. There really isn’t such a thing as being black or white. I identify myself in a larger way, not by the labels of others that are tied to social constructs. I thank John for the experience of learning this lesson—though it came through a lot of angst.

Two summers ago, I met Jesus Russell, a Californian Latino artist who I roomed with at Choate Summer Programs. Jesus was the best roommate ever. We never fought. Our room was always clean and he was funny. When he told me he was gay, I was completely shocked because the thought had never crossed my mind. My stereotypes for gay people did not fit him. But why did I even have expectations of his behavior?  Why did I have a new fear of awkward moments if I changed clothes in the room or come into the room wearing only a towel?  I initially imposed a “Gay” box on Jesus, following a pattern like John—until I caught myself.  I discovered my own ignorance because I confronted John’s black box. As classes progressed, I realized Jesus being gay did not change anything. Before he told me, I had not noticed anything that I thought was a “Gay” characteristic.  In retrospect, Jesus’ coming out to me made us better roommates because he trusted me and shared his secret. Again I thank John, for I might have never identified my own limitations, had I not been a victim of the thinking that I temporarily imposed on the best roommate I ever had. Perhaps if other people survived an exit from friendships with people like John or experienced roommates like Jesus, tolerance would truly be all American.

Stephan Morse, a 2011 graduate of The Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT, received his B.A. in Political Science from Trinity College on Sunday.