If I could let the Deerfield community in on a secret, it would be that we all have a false sense of security in the idea that there is no more racism. It’s a hard concept for some to wrap their heads around.
The idea that “if you don’t see it, it’s not there” should not be applied to this particular situation. Why? Because then it creates this elephant in the room for those who can see it. Afraid to be accused of hallucinating, they sit in discomfort.
It is true–long gone are the “Whites Only” signs and laws, the racism in our parents’ and grandparents’ lives. But that does not negate the presence of discomfort.
The truth is that the more hidden racism is, the more of a problem it is. And then we are led to treat the symptoms and not the problem itself. Hiding from racism is like telling someone that their brain tumor is just a headache and giving them aspirin, a band-aid over a bullet hole, so to speak.
Racism is an issue so deeply embedded in the foundation of America that although we have been freed from slavery, the country remains in a state of bondage.
We are bound now by the desperate desire to be “color-blind”–an unattainable characteristic in our society. So how do we free ourselves? The first step is to recognize the problem.
Recently a situation arose in which I overheard another student remark on how two black students would be first- and second-waiting for his advisory group–“the way it should be.”
Once the administration caught wind of this, they reacted swiftly–and the problem turned into a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if they were to act “mildly,” they would be seen as tolerating behavior unworthy of Deerfield students. But if they reacted too extremely, it would be as if they had never heard of such comments–as if the incident had been an isolated occurrence.
The administration in this situation went with the extreme, which led me to really question– what can be done? What can we do to change such behavior and attitudes? And how should the school be handling these incidents?
For me, the need for education is at the core of these issues– education beyond what the whitewashed history textbooks are willing to tell you–education through narratives and through conversations.
Ask questions, even if you think they might be uncomfortable. If the answer might get you closer to how the other person feels, it’s worth asking, worth trying. But do be cautious of how the questions are posed, as not to be offensive, or restrictive, since most do not come with a simple “Yes” or “No.”
And those questions will lead to more questions, and answers, and hopefully understanding, if you are an attentive listener. If you don’t understand, if something unsettles you, challenge it!
Ask why. Ask about everything until you think you’ve got it. It’s not just one conversation, either. If this is a commitment about which you really care, you will be happy to sacrifice something as trivial as time. And take as much time as you want–as opposed to having everything forced down your throat.
Then it’s your responsibility to not just keep that for yourself. Educate others. Take what you learn and bring it into context in your classes, in your everyday life with friends and family outside of Deerfield.
All of this is to say that you should not feel as though you have to walk on eggshells and filter yourself around people of color.
Those who want to learn will.