Writing Prompt: Please write about how we can make the world better using attributes from our high school.
Through the looking glass, our school appears idyllic. It boasts students and faculty of varying cultures, gender, race, age, sexual orientation and financial status. In addition, we have above-average SAT scores, an acclaimed magnet program with award-winning publications, and a multi-million dollar renovation that is the new pride of the school. But things are not always as they seem.
Come with me, set your mind at ease. You are an honorary junior now. You wait in famine, insides itching from hunger. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for the bell to ring that signals lunch period. There it is, finally. You race outside and the sun’s resplendent rays greet you. The warm air gently gnaws at your finger tips. Will you consume your food in the courtyard? Yes, you decide, making your way down the new steps. But what an atrocious sight greets you! Only one race, Caucasian, stands before you. What happened to diversity? One race does not suit this definition, perhaps what you are searching for is in the cafeteria. You open the door. Is this what you were looking for? Yes, you think, now this is diversity. But, looking closely you see African Americans sitting with African Americans, Caucasians with Caucasians, Asians with Asians - you realize only five or six individuals are conversing with students of other races. Even after lunch the social standards remain constant. Well, your optimistic mind decides, perhaps all is well if, within the races, there is acceptance.
But the African Americans scrutinize one another to gain respect and popularity. Those not wearing name-brand clothes (Baby Phat, Enyce, Marithe Francois Girbaud, Ecko Red or Rocawear) will be teased. Don’t talk “black” enough? Still ragged on. Socialize with white friends? Now you’re an Oreo. If you are an African-American male and make it with 15 girls this school year, you’re “the man” and “get women like it ain’t nothin’.” If you are a female, however, and do the same, then you’re basically the school whore. Even if you are a girl and not promiscuous, be expected to be called some degrading names not only by black males, but also fellow black females.
African-American students refuse to socialize and accept other races and cultures, not because they don’t want to, but because they fear being criticized by their race. Feeling as if they don’t do what is “expected” by peers (cussing others out, wearing gold teeth, being unnecessarily loud and boisterous, selling drugs, etc.), will result in non-acceptance from African-American classmates.
Non-blacks literally fear black students. I have personally had non-black persons shrink away from me if I accidentally bump into them. I can sense the fear in their eyes as they apologize in shaky voices, even if I was the one who bumped into them. It is a scenario I see almost every day at school, this constant fear of a race of which I am a member. You will witness this phenomenon as you make your way through the hallways. Other races fear approaching blacks, in their eyes for good reason. You will take note that even though our school is “diverse,” it is never truly diverse.
In non-black communities, African Americans are the epitome of amusement. Calling fellow members of your race “Shankrilla” and “Delquavious” will cause you and your friends to roll in laughter. Imitating and making fun of African Americans, as they have so many times done, Caucasian and other non-blacks aid these races in dealing with the revelation, and afterward the pain of being the butt of jokes. You laugh and imitate them, they laugh and imitate you. A never-ending, complex social and racial cycle that seems to give no sign of ending. You secretly want to join them, enjoy and take part in their culture, as they in turn want to do with you. Yet both groups are inhibited by fear of rejection. The whole situation makes you shake your head in disbelief.
If one is a homosexual at school, expect to be persecuted to the point where changing schools may be considered. “That’s so gay,” “That’s why yo mama like girls,” “Ugh, I didn’t know she was gay, I better not hang around her anymore” - I’ve heard all these comments. Homosexuals wonder why they are always portrayed negatively and why their sexual orientation literally defines their social status. You will witness this same fear of the unknown, this constant outcasting of what is unaccepted in vernacular, obvious or discreet. You will observe that daily isolation gradually becomes a subconscious, uncontrolled permanent reaction. A multi-million dollar renovation, high SAT scores and award-winning publications do little to deter the eye from the multifarious number of divisions and underlying race relations at my school. Diversity and acceptance is something only seen in our dreams. Although our school was integrated many years ago, we still separate ourselves.
The truth is not always what is wanted, but rather what is needed. So you must learn that the world is better off not being like my school, a catacomb that is the very antonym of diversity.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.