Racism – it’s society’s most popular problem. Racism has continued to perplex even the most brilliant of students and educators. Exasperated sighs and frustrated expressions followed just about everyone I spoke with on possible solutions. Has the answer bank fallen empty on an endless issue? Has the problem grown so old that we’ve become bored with it? Is there an answer?
In comparison to other high schools, Santa Barbara High does not have a history of hate crimes or an outspoken problem with racism. The student body at my school is nearly equal in its Hispanic and Caucasian percentages as the county reported in Fall 2006, yet the majority of upper-level classes are filled with light-skinned faces. This issue has garnered attention as of late, and everything from student surveys to administrative trainings has tried to explain the phenomenon. If the question is why certain students are in certain classes, who better to ask than the students themselves?
Most students seem to think that the reason for the racial and academic divide is because of parental pressure. One Mexican-American student told a story of visiting a Hispanic family where the mother was unconcerned about her seven-year-old son’s whereabouts, assuring, “He’s outside playing. He’ll be fine.” The student was surprised at the lack of parental concern and noticed how often this occurred in families he knew.
When expectations are missing from students’ lives with no one pushing them to succeed, why would they? The solution is individual attention and support from people outside of the home environment, like teachers and counselors. However, the same student stressed, “Don’t assume someone’s background because of how they look,” as “everyone has a different situation.” Simply because someone is a minority does not mean that they are receiving inadequate support from home, as it could occur from other sources.
Social factors like peer pressure and a sense of belonging can be affected by race. Academically speaking, when placed in a high-level class, some minority students say they feel uncomfortable. They explain that their race is not represented and they feel targeted when the subject matter pertains to their background. Personally, I think this issue is attributed to the numerous cliques that exist, and it would help if other students made an effort towards including new students, minority or not, into their circles.
Socially, at lunch students visibly split off into different groups and even congregate on different parts of campus. Students defend themselves by saying they spend time with people who have similar interests, but generally speaking, the racial divide continues to happen. I think this is because students from different backgrounds don’t have a chance to meet in the classroom and as a result, they never get to know each other at all. Society as a whole needs to change by making diversity “the norm,” so the divide doesn’t have to be pointed out.
Racial profiling is other factor that keeps students from success. Hispanic students have complained of being automatically placed in lower-level classes because of their last name and have criticized the struggles they had to endure to convince the administration that they could handle higher level classes. Teaching the administration the dangers of stereotypes is necessary, as teacher trainings devoted to diversity issues have not occurred at Santa Barbara High in the last three years. Assuming students are making trouble or are uninterested in learning based only on their appearance sets a negative expectation and makes adults seem like a negative figure that deal out only punishment, not support. It would be great if teachers noticed the well-being of their students and reached out to make sure they knew that there is someone who cares, regardless of color. Racism isn’t the only deterrent students have to face to succeed.
For most teenagers, jokes often involve awkward topics or politically incorrect ideas. Racist jokes are made among friends, and as one Caucasian student noted, “Everyone laughs it off anyway,” another defending her comment by saying, “They know I’m just kidding!” However, one Mexican-American student uncomfortably admitted that “when one race isn’t present, jokes about them are given” and confesses to laughing at stereotypes that are so bluntly obvious that no one could take them seriously. I asked if this meant that he became immune to the jokes so that they no longer hurt him. Is laughing a defense mechanism for the comments minorities are forced to deal with?
Finally, there are events like Diversity Week intended to foster inter-racial understanding. While it’s a great goal, it’s been completely unsuccessful in the past. Diversity is rarely, if ever, addressed in education, and the interest level of the student body remains low. I don’t think anyone can truly understand the criticism minorities face without walking in their shoes. Racial differences exist, but with awareness and education, it doesn’t mean racism has to. Like one student said, “Can’t we all just get along?”