On the collective, humanity has been through several crazy experiences in 2020, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. 2020 has been a year of bringing important issues to the forefront of discussion. In the past months, we have seen the surge of the Black Lives Matter Movement and a prouder-than-ever Pride Month, yet at the same time, outright racism. These matters have brought new life to an age-old movement in favor of acceptance and inclusivity.
The best thing for all of us, as students, to do is to strive to create a more accepting, equal, and harmonious society. But that is a long, rocky road, with a critical discussion at hand. How do we, as young adults, promote this message of unity in our divided world?
What is Racism?
To have this conversation, let’s first define racism. The Anti-Defamation League and ReachOut.au define racism as the hatred of one person because of their inherent biological characteristics. Racism is more than just being mean; it is judging a person for, most widely nowadays, their skin color or race and making assumptions/having bias based on this uncontrollable factor.
Opening a Difficult and Awkward Discussion
Raising and addressing the issue of racism is uncomfortable. Many kids refrain from commenting about this societal issue as they do not wish to confront the ‘awkwardness’ of racism. According to Drs. Kirti Saxena and Felicia Akingbala, starting conversations about diversity by addressing shared values is a better starting point than opening discussions with fear or anxiety. One approach that could make this conversation a little less awkward is to research more on the topic and learn about racism.
Drs. Saxena and Akingbala further say that “Exposure to different perspectives and a wide range of multicultural groups can reduce fear and anxiety. Participate in social and community activities, visit museums that promote cross-cultural programs and diversity. Make friends with people of different races, cultures, ages, genders, abilities, and beliefs.”
The more educated you are about other cultures, races, and perspectives, the less difficult it might be to start a conversation about racism.
Microaggressions: The Small Things Matter
Racism in our everyday lives has become more prevalent through minor ‘jabs’ known as microaggressions. Several examples of these minute yet hurtful expressions are listed below.
- “You speak English so well!”
- “You don’t look [insert ethnicity] to me.”
- “Oh, I meant, where are you really from?”
These can be unintentional or intentional; in fact, it’s likely you’ve either heard, experienced, or said a microaggression at least once in your lifetime. As Dr. Saxena and Dr. Akingbala explain, “The first steps to deal with microaggressions are understanding them and encouraging awareness to avoid doing them yourself.”
What Can We Do?
But how can we, as students, actually and actively stop the propagation of racism? The simple but not so simple answer: it’s up to you. A new movement has picked up momentum: anti-racism. Not being racist is not actively doing anything about the issue of racism. An anti-racist, in contrast, is a person who will take action to dismantle racism. Students can promote racial literacy (accurate knowledge about other races and appreciation of other cultures) in the classroom by enacting plays and taking part in different educational and cultural activities.
Bringing up these concepts with family, friends, and the community also encourages a culture of positive social health. Drs. Saxena and Akingbala suggest thinking ahead and talking things out. “It can be helpful to think ahead of what to do if you are in such a situation. It is important to state that the words and behavior are what you disagree with. These are difficult situations, and no one is expected to deal with this by themselves. Always ask for support.”
These are just a few topics to address when discussing the concept of racism and how we can fight against its spread as kids. I hope you found this article thought-provoking, and I hope that we all can keep this in mind as we re-enter, slowly but surely, social situations in school and outside.
Bibliography: Many thanks to the experts who lent their voices to this article:
Kirti Saxena, MD Interim Section Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Texas Children’s Hospital Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine
Felicia Akingbala, MD Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine
“Racism.” Anti-Defamation League, www.adl.org/racism.