• Monica Montanari

The Elephant In The Room: Racism


I have always held a deep interest in prejudice and intolerance. Why is the pigmentation of someone's skin such a defining characteristic? This is not a problem unique to the United States- in fact, in every continent, racism exists in different forms. In Europe, all people with darker skin are considered "gypsies", and there is a deep prejudice against them as well. Race is often a taboo topic- some people are taught that talking about race is impolite. Luckily, I've never had a problem with shaking things up, and I've gotten to have some incredible conversations because of that. When I came to the South, I knew what I was getting myself into: and I thought of it as a fascinating new opportunity. I'll start by saying this: compared to Southern California, the racial composition of the South is very different. In the suburbs of Southern California where I grew up, we had one black student in our middle school. (Note: "black" is considered politically correct these days, because not all people who have darker pigment are of African descent- so I'll be using that term in this post). However, in the South, I noticed that there were fewer people of Asian or Hispanic heritage, but many more black people. In the more modern cities such as Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, for example, I've never seen so many black and white people together- often in California our neighborhoods are socially segregated so our schools become that way as well. In South Central Los Angeles, it's a bit different than in Beverly Hills. Now, in California, we are taught in school to recognize our prejudices and work hard to discredit them. For the most part, people on the West Coast are able to look at their upbringing and experiences and recognize prejudices in order to combat them. In the South, however, race is still a very touchy subject. Nobody here thinks that the South has a problem with racism- they've been taught to not talk about it.

Upon first glance, I didn't think they did either. But that's the tricky part: I'm white. If you've never heard of a thing called "white privilege", read the link provided. It means that often, I cant see these problems because they dont directly affect me: which isn't fair. So I asked some of my friends, who had an African-American heritage, for their perspective. If you go to a rooftop bar in Tuscaloosa, which is a pretty progressive city in the South because of its university, you'll see something interesting. I didn't notice it until one of my friends pointed it out: even in this town, black people stick to their groups, and white people stick to theirs.

If you are a black male and you date a white girl, your friends consider you highly. Your parents might not, but your friends will. However, if youre a white female, you are socially expected to not speak to black men. I'm. Not. Kidding. I cannot tell you how many people I've been talking to who stop in the middle of a conversation and say that they are surprised I even acknowledged them. Of course I just stand there like "duh... why wouldn't I". But seriously, it's an issue. And we're still in Tuscaloosa-not the backwoods, which are considerably worse. One of my friends was telling me this story the other day, which is a pretty good illustration of the issues that still exist here. He was at school one day, and these three white girls all liked him. He kissed one of them and the other two were jealous, so they conspired to tell the principal that this boy had been sexually harassing them. Even though the principal had a note that the two girls had passed talking about this plan, he still suspended my friend. And that's not the worst part. One of the girls had a mad father, who brought a gun on campus and threatened to hang my friend from the tree in his backyard and light him on fire "like his people deserved" if he heard that boy had even looked at his daughter again. Oh yeah. He's black. Can you imagine being a seventh grader dealing with that? Like seriously?!?!? I'm not saying they haven't made progress in the South- but my friends will often tell me how people will step off the sidewalk to avoid each other. That's some crazy pre-Martin Luther King Jr. stuff. I didn't come here to just observe this, I came to shake it up. Why should we stay silent about this issue? I think of the race issue like a giant knot in someone's hair. You can either cut it off and look uglier than you did before, or you can slowly, patiently work through it, get to the bottom of it, and end up better because of it. I'd love to hear some feedback from y'all. Have you experienced prejudices in your life? How do we get to the bottom of the knot? And, as always, thanks for taking the time to read this- more to come.


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