Race and Schools – Editorial

Thomas Wysocki, Reporter

Every day, it’s the same old thing: arrive in class, sit at the desk, take out supplies and look at the board to see what’s happening. Every year, it happens, and one word stands out on the whiteboard: Race. It’s a word that gets a reaction out of everyone. Some people feel their pulses quicken in pride, ready their speeches about personal views on race-related issues. Others roll their eyes in exasperation, mentally preparing themselves for yet another fall down the rabbit hole.

These discussions take place at one point or another throughout the school year. Whether they be in an English or History class, or at a Black History Month assembly, they’re unavoidable and seemingly designed to be that way. Talking about race isn’t a bad thing. Students are being taught tolerance, and being accepting of others regardless of physical or philosophical differences.

It’s clear, however, that there’s a breakdown in communication during these discussions. Instead of being taught about tolerance, there is a message that effectively demonizes white people. That they should be ashamed of themselves because they are white; that they are the boogeyman that hides under one’s bed or in a closet. “They (the people in charge of the equity meeting) do not like white people at all. They say ‘Oh, there’s a white privilege,” so they treat them worse…At the mandatory ‘promoting diversity’ lecture, they addressed specifically people of color, and not white people,” says Victor Chen. Chen is a Clackamas High School graduate and is very outspoken about his beliefs on race and gender issues.

The definition of racism is, according to the dictionary, “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” In short, it means that if one person hates another based off of their race, they are racist.

In schools, students are taught that racism is governmental power combined with prejudice: If one is prejudiced but is considered a minority, they cannot be considered racist. This brings about the idea that there is no such thing as “reverse-racism,” where only white people can be racist. “In senior year, I remember being told, explicitly, that only white people could be racist. And this was from a white person!”

While it is important to talk about racism and race-related issues in school, it is equally important to teach them the right thing. It shouldn’t be one-sided. Students need to be taught the correct ways to handle racism and realize that it goes beyond the “big bad white person.”  “You can’t say, ‘include everyone,’ then say, ‘except white people.’ It’s not right,” Chen stated. “It is important to talk about, but the bigger issue is how you address it. If you’re teaching people the wrong kind of message, the effect can be catastrophic. If you present them the data and history, they’ll be able to shape their own future. Y’know, don’t say slurs or anything derogatory. Accept everyone regardless of their differences.”

Even though racism is still considered a problem among Americans, it seems to go in both directions. Both sides of this issue appear to be in the wrong. “The thing is this attitude of ‘stop judging us based off our skin color,’ then going back and judging all white people based on the fact that they’re white; it’s counter-productive, especially if the goal is to end racism.”

The idea of being progressive means to focus on the future by learning from the past. It seems clear that this issue is perpetually stuck in the 1950s and 60s. A poll in 2016, by Marist College, found that 58% of Black Americans were in favor of paying reparations, while roughly 80% of White Americans were opposed to them. According to Chen, “If they did something dumb in the past, sure. That’s the past. If you want to move on, you have to be looking forward.”

There’s nothing to be gained through 20-20 hindsight. This is an issue that has to be looked at in regards to the present rather than the past. The first step is to teach children about race and related issues properly; give them the history and factual data. Don’t have teachers put their personal contexts or opinions into the discussions. Keep it to facts and the goals of having a society that is not racist. Then let the students shape their own opinions for their future.