Civil Conversation Challenge for Teenagers, Forum 3: The Fight for Racial Justice | #students | #parents

From Sept. 22 to Sept. 28, our Student Opinion column will be devoted to the issues we’ll be discussing in our Civil Conversation Challenge, but, as always, any teenager is invited to respond. We hope you’ll not only post your own thoughts, but also reply to the comments of others.


What kind of conversations have you had about race and racism in the last several months? Do you talk about these issues at home, at school or with friends? Have the conversations you’ve had about race changed since protests began during the summer? Did the death of George Floyd and the following months of protest confirm, or reveal, that we are still very far from achieving racial equity and justice in America? Or do you believe that the country has already done the work to achieve equality and that conversations — or protests — about identity and injustice are unnecessary, or even harmful?

These are just some of the questions we hope you will explore in this Student Opinion forum, part of our Civil Conversation Challenge.

Some background on the issue:

On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis when a police officer pressed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes. After a bystander captured the tragic event on video, Mr. Floyd’s death sparked protests across the country and around the world. Scholars and crowd-counting experts believe these Black Lives Matter protests may be the largest movement in United States history.

Mr. Floyd’s death came just months after Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was pursued while jogging by three white men in southeastern Georgia and killed, and weeks after Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman and emergency room technician in Louisville, Ky., was fatally shot by the police. On Wednesday this week, a grand jury decided not to charge any officers with shooting Ms. Taylor in her Louisville apartment, and more protests erupted.

Their violent deaths have reinforced racial divisions in America and played out against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected African-Americans and Latinos.

For many, the events of the last several months indicate that as a nation we still have tremendous work to do to achieve racial justice and equality. They see issues such as housing and financial inequality, high incarceration rates and lower-quality health care as being intrinsically tied to the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws and institutionalized racism.

But for others, all of this focus on race is itself the problem. According to them, the police violence that has made headlines is, in the words of President Trump, a result of a few “bad apples.” They see some attempts to examine attitudes about race in the workplace and to explore the legacy of slavery in schools as “anti-American.” For those who see the issue this way, the continuing protests signal the need for law and order.

This topic is complicated and nuanced. You can choose to approach the conversation based on your personal experiences, or you may want to look at systemic issues and policy changes. The following sections will give you resources for finding our more information about the issue and then questions to guide a conversation.


Where to learn more:


Please remember our rules for the Civil Conversation Challenge as you comment:

1. Students can respond to any or all of the forums, as often as they like through Oct. 30.

2. When responding, students should not only post their own comments, but should also read and respond to the work of others.

3. All submissions must follow Times commenting standards.

4. Students should try to advance the conversation about an issue somehow, whether introducing a new idea or perspective, asking useful questions, making connections to other issues, reflecting back to the writer what you understand about his or her post, finding themes or commonalities among comments, presenting new evidence, or anything else.

5. Submissions should be grounded in fact and buttressed by reliable sources. Though you don’t need to footnote your comments sentence by sentence, at a time when the reliability of news is more in question than ever, we will reject comments that post controversial claims without sources.

6. Submissions should show evidence of “listening” and attempting to understand other points of view.


Possible questions to address:

  • Why does this topic interest you? How have your experiences shaped your opinions? What questions or concerns does this topic raise for you?

  • How do your own racial identity and life experiences affect your perspective on this topic? When was the first time you had to think about your racial identity? At home? In school? Do you talk regularly about race and racism? How much racism do you face in your daily life? If you do not face racism regularly, where do you witness racism around you?

  • To what extent do you think racism, and the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws and institutional discrimination, is still a problem in the United States? Do you think existing inequalities in our society, from education gaps and income disparities to divergent health care outcomes and disproportionate incarceration rates, are intrinsically tied to historic and ongoing racism? Why do you think the way you do?

  • Do you support the protests that emerged after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis? Were there protests in your community? Did you participate? Has your perspective, opinion and understanding of the issues changed since the protests began? In general, do you think these protest were effective in calling attention to the issue of police brutality against Black people in America? Do you think they have been, or will be, successful at spurring change? Or do you instead focus on isolated incidents of violence that have taken place during some protests and see the Black Lives Matter movement as more of a problem than a solution?

  • Do you think police reform should be a priority? What is your experience with the police? Is anyone in your family a police officer? Do you think that the police are a necessary means of control and safety in communities? Do you feel safer knowing that there are police? Or do the police make you feel unsafe or threatened? How do your experiences with police officers affect your point of view on police reform?

    In the wake of the protests, there have been varying calls to change police departments, increase police accountability, reduce police funding and replace the police with alternative public health and safety programs. At the same time, there is a counter-movement, known as “Back the Blue” or “Blue Lives Matter,” based on the premise that police officers are being wrongly vilified and that law enforcement should be supported. Where do you stand on the issue of police reform?

  • Does the United States owe the descendants of enslaved people an apology — or, as some argue, financial reparations? While the government has apologized and paid reparations for the forced relocation of 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II, it has never apologized for the nation’s treatment of enslaved people and their descendants. Is it time for an official apology? Should reparations be paid to advance racial equity? Or are these measures too late or misguided?

  • What do you think it will take to achieve racial justice? Do you think this should even be a goal? Why?


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