Claire Pistono, junior

Photo+by+Turner+DeArmond.

Photo by Turner DeArmond.

Turner DeArmond

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.

So, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing us in overcoming racial biases and systematic racism?

“Being able to just accept people as they are — as the person they are, not depending on what their skin color is — and moving away from the old ways of the society and being able to focus on accepting people for who they are.”

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

“A lot of it has to do with, I feel, teaching black history in history classes and how it’s taught based on how well-informed [teachers] are instead of focusing on white culture and [white] history. Also, making sure to make it just as important to include black history [in the curriculum].”

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

“I think [teachers] do a lot better now than they did than when our parents were in school because, recently, there’s been a lot more focus on slavery and the struggles that black people have gone through throughout history to make changes in society and in our government.”

What do you think should change about RBHS, specifically, in that regard?

I think that, all-in-all, RBHS does a pretty good job of being sure to include all different types of history, specifically black history — especially with the Black History Month and doing those announcements to educate people in the mornings.”

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

“In kindergarten through eighth grade I went to a private school, which are predominantly white, so I was surrounded by white people, and I just felt like an outcast because I was a little darker and had different hair and features than most white people do. So, I wouldn’t say it was racism in terms of being put down and bullying, but more in terms of feeling like an outsider.”

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

“The past, I know my mom’s side of the family talks about a lot because my father is black and my mother is white, so we’re a mixed family — and my mother’s sister is also mixed — so whenever my grandmother had her, she had to give her up for adoption because, at the time, having a mixed baby or a mixed relationship wasn’t ‘good’ and was looked down upon. So, [they had to] adjust their lives because my grandmother was black and my aunt’s father was white, and she was raised in an adoptive family.”

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

“Growing up, it was just hard to figure out — because I’m both black and white — what I should do to ‘fit in’ when I’m around black people or white people to feel more one race or the other even though I can’t do that because I’m both. It’s just affected me in terms of how I view myself when I’m around different races and then being more comfortable and accepting myself as I am around both [races].”

Have you ever experienced discrimination based upon your race? Let us know in the comments below.