Bet Menen, junior

Bet+Menen%2C+junior

Camryn DeVore

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 for you?

“Being a black person in America to me is something that is very complicated in terms of, most of the time, at least in Columbia, it’s never really like outwardly racism, or outwardly hating on black people it’s usually more so passive aggressive micro-aggressions. So, I think that’s something that every black person has to deal with and I think every black person has a different story and a different opinion on what it is like to be a black person in America, but from my experience it was pretty rough, more so in middle school. Because I was forced to hang out with, not hang out with, but forced to interact with different students then in comparison to high school where I can isolate myself with certain groups of people etc. So, for me it wasn’t, it was more so being a black girl it’s a little different because of … So in middle school it was pretty rough not just for me but for a lot of people, but since i moved from two different middle schools, from Jeff middle school to Gentry, it was a little different in terms of the population of black people. Not just the population of black people but also the population of people of color. So, it was definitely an odd environment to be the only black person in a classroom and be the only person aware of that as well, because I feel like a lot of the times other people don’t realize how easy it is for them in certain situations.”

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

“You know, it’s a two sided coin. I have always felt that black culture has always been embraced in society. Not encouraged by black people, but black culture has always been used through music, through sports, through dances through everything and I feel like that’s still the same today. You could even think about the current thing with the renegade dance, that was a dance created on the social media app TikTok and everyone was getting along with that and really trying to imitate that and think that was really cool, but not many people even knew that that was a black person idea. That’s what I am talking about like micro-aggressions, it’s not like outwardly be racist it’s the idea that we are not seen and we are not heard. People are like ‘it’s not that big of a deal’ but it is that big of a deal because this other person was able to profit off of it, was able to get recognition from it and this other girl wasn’t until black people, black women especially, but also black men, had to come together to support this girl so that she could get recognition that she deserves. That’s just an example to me of black culture being used being profited off of but also being rejected at the same time.”

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

“I think one of the biggest challenges is just, I don’t feel like there is understanding. I don’t feel like no matter how much people try to learn about it, even in classes we are forced to learn about black history month, and learn about like certain black people in classes. If you choose to sit there and not care and choose to not sit there and listen then I don’t expect you to think differently or even be open minded to anything because you didn’t even take the time to listen during your class. If you don’t even care in your class how are you going to care in real life situations?”

How can or should governmental organizations take action in addressing racial tensions in America?

“I think taking action is a very harsh word, because I feel like there has been action taken and it has been negative actions and I think there has been a lot of manipulation of black people and minority people as well and I feel like it’s more of regulation. There’s not going to be a law that’s going to stop people from being racist, there’s not going to be a law that’s going to stop discrimination based on color, that’s not gonna happen. If it’s a feeling it’s not going to change. I think it’s more so education and from a young age too and education for adults as well. I feel like when people go home, when kids go home, they go home to their parents, and if their parents aren’t educated how can we expect them to follow.”

What is the role of education in eliminating racism? You kind of just touched on it. What do you think schools should be doing to improve this?

“I feel like I don’t have all the answers as a black person and I don’t think any one black person has all the answers so this is just my opinion and I want to make that clear because I don’t think one person can represent all of black people. I think that giving an environment where it’s not just cool to be a black person, it’s smart to be a black person. There are so many inventors and so many innovations that were created by black people that no one really talks about. We will always have Rosa Parks and MLK, and Malcolm X and all those people are great and no one can deny them for their power but there are people that have done amazing things in this world that no one cares about or no one talks about or it’s not well known. Like today, I learned that the traffic light was created by a black person and that’s just an example of something that I found out outside of class, I found it out during the ACT. It’s something like that that should be taught, just everyday inventions.”

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

“That’s a hard question because I have lived in several states and each state is a little different so it’s not wide spread so there’s no one curriculum for black people that are taught, that’s taught about black people. I feel like blackness is taught, like black history is taught but I don’t think that even the teachers are at the level of understanding so it’s very hard to teach kids if you don’t understand it yourself. I think that barrier is where the problem lies, because if you don’t believe in it or you don’t really care or it’s something, just another history lesson then how are you expecting these kids to really grasp the realism of it.”

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

“Well honestly, I wish there were more black teachers at Rock Bridge. I know that there are always circumstances and situations that prevent that from happening etc. You know, I know all the black teachers in this school not including faculty members, but all of the teachers that teach. I know all of them and there’s not that many of them and that kind of sucks and I feel like that’s lacking in education because we are such a wide variety of people on this planet and this classroom so how is it possible that even in Columbia, Missouri there’s mostly white teachers in the school.”

What do the school and students do well when addressing and discussing race and discrimination and what still needs to be improved upon?

“I like the black history quotes. I think they did better this year than previous years. Previous years I feel like they focused a lot on sports and celebrities that are black history people/figures. While that’s great, I feel like there is more to black people than just music, dance, sports and I feel like they did a better job with that this year. So, I was really proud of that. Also at the same time I feel like people aren’t listening. I don’t necessarily think that its Rock Bridge faculty or Rock Bridge teacher job, it’s also partly the kids. The kids are almost adults so either they are going to listen or they are not going to listen and there’s not really a way to force them to.”

When in your life have you experienced racism? I know you talked a little bit about this in the beginning in terms of micro-aggressions. What form did it take as well as how did you respond to that?

“I didn’t really experience racism a lot in my earlier years, but what I think what really happened when I experienced my first real sense of racism was in eighth grade. I noticed that when kids teased or whatever, they weren’t bullying me on, on me being, you know they weren’t bullying me on trivial things that everyone can relate to. They were bullying me for specific things that I couldn’t change about myself, for example my hair. I really felt that, and I felt really bad about my hair, because no one else has this hair texture but black people so it is a black issue and, although it may not seem like that big of a deal I was called names, I was compared to as a black male rapper, and all kinds of small things you wouldn’t think would hurt someone, but it is racism. You wouldn’t have said that to someone else. That’s not a comment you would have made to someone else that was not black and not a black girl. That to me was one of the biggest moments where I realized, oh this is racist, or oh this is racism. Especially when they had a meme page on Instagram where they had compared me and other African people to different kinds of things and it was a lot but ya.”

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

“Well, my mom has always tried to educate me on racism and I feel like almost every black parent has to. Not all because I don’t know every parent. What I am saying from my experience is that you almost have to have this talk, this conversation with your kid that you’ll experience different things, you will be treated differently sometimes, not all the time. I actually didn’t believe my mom when she told me this I was like ‘you’re being dramatic this isn’t happening anymore you know this is the 2000s or whatever.’ It was until I hit that moment where I realized it. I think it’s that moment where each and every black person experiences that, it might be different, it might be a larger scale thing, it might be a smaller scale thing. I think everyone experiences that. The way that I kind of took that and turned that around was that I became a freshman in high school I wrote an original oratory in debate about my black hair and learning about the history of that.”

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

“I mean this kind of goes back to the reason why in eighth grade I was compared to black rappers. You know it really hit my self esteem. I was compared to Wiz Khalifa, Kodak Black, and tons of other rappers and stuff. It wasn’t like they compared me to the supermodels and big stars like Beyonce or Rhianna, the black people that everyone likes. They compared me to black people that are “ghetto” and trashy in terms of how they act and not saying that they are like that and not saying that they don’t, but you know.”

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?

“I think there are a lot of steps that need to be taken and it starts in childhood. It starts with education, because nothing really changes unless you are educated upon it. I think people just need to learn what it means to be a racist, and what it means to be discriminatory, what it means to be a bigot, and what it means to be prejudice, because all these words have different meanings and all these words are important and they all relate in some way, but they all have different meanings. I feel like at a young age, understanding that helps you understand when you get older what you’re saying affects people, if that makes sense.”

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