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.