Standing Up For Yourself In The Face Of Racism, A Student Speaks

Aliyah Martinez, an eight grade student at Dunbar School in the East End, shares her experience about confronting racism in school in this commentary that appeared first in the Sunday edition of the Connecticut Post.

As a student in 8th grade, I hear a lot of things I wish I didn’t have to hear.

I’ve heard threats toward students; I’ve heard sexual comments made toward my peers, and the worst of all are the comments that are racist.

I know that racism in my school isn’t as bad as the racist comments you hear on television and outside of school. However, sadly, it all starts right here where I am now, in middle school.

Middle school students are old enough to be around students of different races and know the differences between their own cultures and others’ cultures. Everyone decides to help the adults with racism. How about we students? Hear this story.

The day started normally. We went to math, then social studies. Everything was going amazing until we got to language arts. I personally don’t like to get into arguments with people because I fear I will then be labeled a trouble-maker.

However, one day I couldn’t sit around and watch this go on anymore. It all started as a joke and everyone laughed. One person made a joke about being whipped and picking cotton. The person to whom the comment was made smiled and went along with it, but you could tell he was upset. He was told that since he was a black American, he was going to get whipped.

I didn’t say anything then, but after class I went to him and asked if he was okay.

He replied that he knew it was a joke so he wasn’t upset, but I knew he was covering up his true feelings. I didn’t want to keep bringing it up so I left him alone.

The next day, the same racial joking occurred. This happened for several days, yet the student never said anything. Finally, I decided it was time to make a change because as Dr. King said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

Being inspired, I went to the students who were teasing him and asked them why they made fun of his race. They responded that it was a joke and didn’t think he took it seriously. When I told them he did take it seriously, I was shocked to watch as they apologized to him. The student told them it was okay, that he just felt left out.

I guess it is true, as Dr. King said, “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”

My experience certainly changed my outlook. I stepped out of my comfort zone and it worked out. I hope my experience shows students that they, too, can stand up for themselves and others. Don’t be afraid to be labeled because you will always rise above racism. Trust me.



    1. DWOrr, I totally agree with you, the maturity and compassion of this student, Aliyah Martinez, is truly amazing because most adults wouldn’t share that experience with others. The ability to share your experience with others in dealing with a uncomfortable situation involving race goes a long way in an effort to deal with race in a honest way. How many times have people encountered a situation like this a work or at social affair but they say nothing at all and I’m sure a lot OIB readers know what I’m talking about because you said nothing. Aliyah Martinez, thank you acting as you did to bring light and honesty and thanks for sharing. Sometimes we fall down but there is strength in getting up.

  1. Amazing local story. What a learning moment for this young person to confront something that was at least uncomfortable for all, and might have had much more serious consequences down the road.
    Yesterday in the CT Post, Alyssa Rivera, an eighth grade student at Multicultural Magnet School wrote about EDUCATION … Part of King’s Dream. Her essay concluded with: “That is what Dr. King was trying to show us. It only takes one person to start change and encourage others to work together. He was that one person.”
    His words and example provided inspiration to Alyssa and to Aliyah recently in the community of Bridgeport. Can we step forward as well, with respect and understanding and take the time to really to listen to others? Time will tell.

  2. Aliyah Martinez, you are wise beyond your years and it’s young people like yourself who will ensure a better tomorrow for all. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

    Keeping speaking out on injustice where you find it young lady and America will be a better place to live and you will be a better person because of your compassion for others.


Leave a Reply