The race we face

Race acts as a visible division between people. This division leads to self-segregation, which comes from prejudice. And prejudice, a preconceived belief of a group or person, creates apathy among the races.

Senior Nandi Salahuddin defines racial prejudice as not having equal opportunity.

“Most people think about it as black and white, but [it also includes other races],” she said.

Since elementary school, Salahuddin has lived and attended school in Decatur. As she’s grown, she has seen how her peers have changed and how they view one another.

“Instead of being called my name, I’ve been called ‘black girl’ by white guys,” Salahuddin said. “It used to make me livid. I guess I’m so used to it now that I don’t really dismiss it, but I might say something about it. It won’t be as aggressive as it might’ve been in the past.”

Salahuddin has observed similar behavior from teachers and administration. She commonly sees a teacher “go to the group of disrespectful black students before going to group of disrespectful white students.”

“I don’t think it’s intentional,” she said. “I don’t think they are trying to be directly hateful towards people, but it’s very apparent.”

Though the behavior of teachers and administration may not be deliberate, the school’s faculty has acknowledged its existence.

“I know they’re trying to make a difference,” Salahuddin said, “especially with the survey we took [in advisement] about what prejudice we feel.”

She thinks the actions of adults in school “is an issue that needs to be fixed.” She hopes the survey results, regarding race relations in school, are not taken lightly. In addition, she believes teachers should attend trainings on how to respond to race related situations.

From prejudice comes self-segreagtion.

Self-segregation serves as a visible divide for Salahuddin. In her opinion, “people tend to drift toward people who are similar,” but she attempts to stray from this norm by seeking a varied friend group.

“I like learning about different cultures, languages and people, so I tend to have a lot of culturally diverse friends,” she said.

Eric Deggans, NPR TV critic and author of “Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation,” believes that during high school, students are desperate to have their identity confirmed by peers. Comfort also acts as a component of self-segregation.

Deggans realizes that several factors create the inability to discuss racial matters in this country.

“The ultimate difficulty we have is that our differences in terms of racial issues are deeply tied into our country’s history,” he said.

He also believes that “part of it is that the nature of white supremacy is very subtle.”

White supremacy was once a public idea reinforced by the government, through Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation in Southern states. Because government policies no longer represent this idea, Deggans thinks people today believe that white supremacy does not exist anymore.

“The legacy of hundreds of years of defining people of color as not people, or flawed people or undesirable people” leads to the still existing sense of white supremacy, he said.

Deggans contrasts the U.S.’s racial circumstances with those of South Africa. South Africa’s government publicly had to account for their actions under apartheid through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission founded by Nelson Mandela.

“[South Africa] had a moment of truth and reconciliation,” he said. “We never had that in America. Never had that moment where the country had to admit what it’s done to black people, to Native Americans, to latinos in its history.”

White privilege is another limiting factor of equality. Deggans defines white privilege as “a set of social advantages that white people have in America simply because of their race.”

“Having a relationship with the police where you’re not considered a suspect unless you earned that designation, that would be an element of white privilege,” he said.

Another aspect of white privilege includes entertainment media in America, which, Deggans asserts, defines beauty as having lighter skin, blonde hair and blue eyes.

“Those are all characteristics found more often in white people than are found in people of color and because our entertainment system values people who look like that, they are exalted in our society in a way that people who don’t look like that aren’t,” Deggans said.  “That’s an element of white privilege.”

Deggans, who grew up in Indiana, was once followed by a store’s security officer without apparent reason.

“I’ve never shoplifted in my life, but I was immediately judged as suspect because of how I looked when I walked into that store,” he said.

Along with being affected by stereotypes throughout life, Deggans, as an African American, feels pressure to conform to white culture.

“I’m used to navigating in a world where my culture and people like me are in the minority,” Deggans said.

White culture is nearly “invisible” in America becuase it is interpreted as American culture. With this, he does not think the white race can comprehend what minorities in this country face.

“A lot of white people do not see racial issues as something that’s that important to them,” he said. “They’d like to have to world be a better place, but they are not losing sleep over it if it doesn’t happen.”

Deggans understands that, for blacks, racial challenges are “almost as important as putting food on the table or keeping their family safe, because it directly connects to those issues.”

Senior River Young agrees that in order to socially advance, adapting to white culture is what’s expected, but he does not believe white culture is invisible.

“Black people recognize that being white gets them farther in society,” he said.

Young admits that expecting minorities to adapt to white culture is unfair. He realizes that some see acting how society expects as a way to become more accepted.

“I’m not really sure how to describe that [role] because I am white,” he said.

He understands that this behavior creates a strain between minorities and their peers.

“They’re uncomfortable trying to be comfortable,” Young said.

This strain carries over into school settings.

“I don’t think education is built for anyone else but white people,” he said. “How can we ask African Americans to function in this school or in any public educational system if it was not designed for them? It doesn’t make sense.”

Young recognizes the difficulties minorities face in school. In addition to struggling to adapt, students are also discovering their place in society.

“High school is a scary time, and you don’t want to stay with groups you’re not comfortable with,” Young said. “You want to be as comfortable as you can as much as you can because most of the time you’re not.”

Though students may not be aware of their decision to self-segregate, Salahuddin believes intention is required to bring awareness to the issue.

“I think it just takes a conscious effort, on the faculty, students and staff, to get rid of prejudice and stereotypes,” Salahuddin said.

In an effort towards equality, Deggans thinks the country needs to figure out a way to articulate a common vision for our culture that includes people of color, an American culture that’s not a white American culture.

“We have to understand that there are differences in cultures and that tolerance is one of the most powerful things ever,” Young said. “Remember, the Civil Rights movement is not over.”