Reinforcing Racism?

Note: This is a letter that my daughter wrote as part of a high school English assignment. She and the other students in her class are sending letters to major media outlets in hopes of initiating a national conversation about race. This particular letter went to Greta Van Susteren, Anderson Cooper and Oprah Winfrey.

Americans are known for their unfaltering spirit. The “American Dream” was born in the 1800s as the nation was swept by Manifest Destiny’s call for expansion. This idea has carried on through history to form the concept of the “American Spirit,” built on the principles of freedom, opportunity, and progress. Americans are free to share their opinions, a right highlighted by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence in hopes that American citizens would always speak up for what they believe in.

We as a country have embraced that right wholeheartedly, voicing our thoughts with the exception of one subject: race. Tensions have been rising as a result of violence between races, primarily black and white. The issue is carefully avoided by politicians and leaders in our country for fear of offending citizens with opposing views. Race relations remain the proverbial “elephant in the room,” and even those who were elected to protect the best interests of the country haven’t made any attempts to fix it.

I am currently a student at a military high school. The students at the school come from a vast array of different ethnic backgrounds and have seen many parts of the world as a result of living at numerous duty stations. The school is an accepting environment for all students, and race differences have never been an issue.

In fact, the school is so well integrated that its test scores do not reflect the “black-white gap” (African-Americans scoring consistently lower on standardized tests than white students) observed across the country. Although the school is an anomaly, it proves that preconceived ideas about race can be overcome.

In 1992, The Oprah Winfrey Show conducted an experiment on a studio audience. Upon arrival to the set, audience members were separated into groups of brown-eyed people and blue-eyed people. The blue-eyed viewers were required to wear a green collar and were not seated in the studio, while brown-eyed guests were treated to breakfast and were seated early. Finally, the bewildered and angry blue-eyed group was permitted to enter the studio.

Diversity expert Jane Elliot (who has blue eyes) took the stage, and the group sharing her eye color immediately pointed out that she was not wearing a collar. Elliot explained that she did not need a collar, because she “acted brown-eyed.” Within minutes, Elliot had convinced brown-eyed audience members that they were superior to the blue-eyed guests. It was then revealed to the audience that the entire ordeal was meant to exemplify racism and how it is something humans invented in their minds along the way, not a belief hardwired into the brain.

Racial tension in America is a fixable problem. This school has proven that people of all nationalities and backgrounds can coexist and excel, when given the opportunity. Students of all races and nationalities are involved in Student Council, National Honor Society, class offices, and athletic teams in our school.

Researcher Jane Elliot demonstrated that discrimination can be taught, so it would stand to reason that perhaps we in America are reinforcing racism without realizing it. Although it is a conversation that has been avoided for years, it cannot be pushed to the side anymore. Recent events in Missouri and New York are proof that ignoring the problem is making it worse.

Instead, let’s use our freedom of speech responsibly and start a nationwide dialogue about race. Let’s be willing to listen to one another. Let’s not argue for “colorblindness,” but instead for equality. Let’s embrace cultural differences that make each race so unique. Let’s disarm race-baiters, who use racial differences to stoke the fires of anger. Our nation fought a war to stop practices that elevated one race above another. Let’s honor the sacrifice.

2 thoughts on “Reinforcing Racism?

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  1. Very well written! I agree that we, as a nation, can rise above racism. We will have to work together to get it done.

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