Amya Carson, junior

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Sarah Mosteller

Since 1976, a half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, every American president has designated the month of February as Black History Month, a celebration and remembrance of the accomplishments and lives of black Americans. This year’s theme is “African Americans and the Vote,” in honor of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 and the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Although America has long hailed itself to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, it was not until 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, that black people in America shared such freedom. Although they were legally free following the volatility of the Civil War, they continued to suffer during the Reconstruction period and the establishment of the Jim Crow South.

While the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s brought with it an increase in the equal protection of rights, activist movements have continued into the present day pushing for an expansion of true equality. It seems, however, we are once again experiencing an upsurge of prejudice in mainstream society. For this reason, it is imperative to have open, honest conversations about race relations in America with today’s youth, bringing attention to the role race plays in life and education.

What does it mean to be a black person in America today?

“So, I think that to be a black person in America today, it means that we have such a strong culture developed, even though we’ve been through all the prejudice and stuff like that, and we still have to deal with some of that. We have such a good community because [of] the culture that came from it.”

In what ways do you see black culture embraced in the world around you? In what ways is it rejected?

“As for black culture being embraced, I see it especially around holidays and stuff like Thanksgiving, for example. There’s such an embrace of our foods and stuff like that. So that’s a good example of [black culture] being embraced, but you can see it being rejected in terms of Eurocentric beauty standards; I would say [corporations] don’t like afros or cornrows and stuff like that.”

And what do you think are the biggest challenges facing us in overcoming racial biases and systemic racism?

“Something that we really have to get over is that a lot of children are raised to have certain prejudices, even if they don’t know that they’re being raised to have them. And there’s a lot of micro-aggressions that kids are being raised to utilize without knowing.”

And how can or should governmental organizations take action to address racial tensions in America?

“The government could definitely help in terms of the prison system. It’s really, really cruel against African Americans. So, I think that it would be better if the government could take action to help protect incarcerated black people.”

What is the role of education in eliminating racism? And what do you think schools should be doing to improve this?

“The role of education is to reteach some of the bad things that they’ve learned from the past. So, in our history classes, it’s really important that the teachers make sure that everyone knows that the things done against black people are not to be repeated.”

Do you feel African American and black history receives fair and equal representation in the classroom? Why or why not?

“I think for sure at Rock Bridge, at least, we get a really good amount of representation because like right now I’m in [Advanced Placement United States History,] and in that class we learn a lot about our history and stuff, which is really good.”

And what do you wish could change about Rock Bridge in that regard?

“Something that I wish could change … We do have a pretty good system in place with [Minority Achievement Committee] scholars and everything. There isn’t really one big thing I would change, but I would definitely continue support of organizations like MAC scholars and others that help get the word out.”

What does the school and it’s students do well when addressing and discussing race and discrimination, and what still needs to be improved?

“Something that our school does well is having conversations. I’ve heard and seen and been a part of many respectful conversations about stuff like, ‘Hey, you’re doing blank, and that’s not really OK.’ Something that we could do better is more acknowledgement of the fact that racist people exist.”

When in your life, have you experienced racism? What form did this take and how did you respond?

“The first time I got here, and I lived in South Columbia, was probably like the first time I ever really encountered [racism], but never in the form of slurs or aggression. But it’s always just been kinda subtle. Especially when I was growing up, and I would come to school with braids in or something, I’d receive little comments like, ‘Your hair was prettier when it was straight,’ and other minor racist comments like that.”

How have race relations in America affected you and your family now and in the past?

“When Donald Trump was elected, my family was kind of fearful. Because Donald Trump, in a way, can enable those people who have racist tendencies. He kinda enables them to be more outspoken about their racist thoughts. So, when he won the election, we were all like, ‘What’s going on?’ But in the past, my family’s always been there for each other in the case that anything like that ever happened. So, we’ve always had a good bond in that regard.”

How do implicit and explicit bias and stereotypes impact your sense of self and life in general? 

“OK, so I can’t swim. And a really big black person stereotype is that black people can’t swim. So, every time someone’s like, ‘Do you want to go swimming?’ and I’m like, ‘I’ll go with you, but I’ll stand in the pool because I can’t swim’. They’re always like, ‘Oh, is it because you’re black?’ I know it’s sorta just a joke, but also stuff like that — or any micro-aggressions — I feel myself wondering, ‘Can you say that?’ Whenever stuff like that is said, it’s just weird and uncomfortable.”

As a young person in today’s society, what steps still need to be taken in regard to the way people of different races or ethnicities interact? 

“There needs to be a lot more respect. Especially when it comes to people within our own race, like, there’s the stigma that if you’re darker, you’re lesser. So, I think that within our own race and with all races, we can definitely be a lot more respectful.”

Where do you see racism in RBHS? Let us know in the comments below.