How I Fight Racism in the World and Within Me | #students | #parents

EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThis article was originally published by Youth Communications and is reposted here with permission. YC is a nonprofit publisher of teen-written stories and curriculum to help educators strengthen the social and emotional skills of youth.

Before the murder of George Floyd, I didn’t focus on racism I had experienced. Floyd was just a normal Black man trying to get through another day, like my father, uncle, or older cousins. It had infuriated me enough to see that I couldn’t ignore any more of the microaggressions I often faced, and I had to take a long look in the mirror.

I thought about the times white people touched my hair without permission or gave me weird looks on the train, like I was a threat. Or when I heard non-Black classmates in the boys’ locker room making fun of African Americans, who are a minority at my high school. Part of me wanted to retaliate with offensive jokes about white people, but I didn’t escalate, because I was afraid of getting in trouble. Being in the minority in middle school and high school, I had learned that that the best thing to do was to just ignore their jokes and move on. Ignoring offensive things is a talent Black people have had to develop. I thought a lot about that too, and started to resent having to do it.

I asked myself what I could do to help end racism. My parents thought last summer’s BLM protests were dangerous and wouldn’t let me go, so I had to make changes closer to home. I started with my good friend Richard, who is white and who used the n-word around me. He didn’t direct it at me in a disrespectful way, but it still made me uncomfortable. Richard and I are both LeBron fans and love to play basketball. We bonded for five years by laughing at dumb videos on the Internet and helping each other with homework, but it wasn’t until the protests of last summer that I got the courage to tell Richard how I felt.

My heart pumped faster as I waited for him to answer his phone. After some chitchat, I said: “We’ve been friends since sixth grade. But I need you to stop using the n-word. I know you don’t mean to use it in a hurtful way, but I’m Black and you’re white. Hearing white people say that word makes me uncomfortable. I hope you understand where I’m coming from, because the world around us is looking more and more divided.” He was silent for a minute, and it felt like a century. But fortunately, he said, “Damn. I respect how you feel bro. And I stand with you. I won’t use that word around you no more.”

I felt proud that I’d spoken up. I knew this conversation was a major step in confronting the racism that I had experienced for far too long. Since then, I’ve thought more about race in the United States. During my junior year of high school, I took a criminal law class and learned how systemic racism didn’t end with the Civil War or the civil rights movement. It was still prevalent, moving from slavery to segregation to mass incarceration. Voting laws, the death penalty, and other policies still unjustly punish Black people.

Yet this excessive adversity gives us a different kind of strength. My people are getting stronger and wiser, and seeing the protests grow and affect change made me proud to be Black. From my new vantage point of pride, I wondered why I’d avoided confronting racism. I realized that I sometimes give the same unwelcoming glare to “suspicious-looking” Black people on the train that white people give me. I was influenced by society’s messages just like everyone else. On the news, I’ve seen reports of young African American kids in hoodies committing heinous crimes, like robbing and beating people in broad daylight. On Twitter and Instagram, conservative commentators called police brutality “law and order” and Black Lives Matter “a symbol of hate.” Black people hear that we are dangerous, ghetto, and ratchet both from within and outside our communities.

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