In 2020 students have endured so many challenges — the pandemic, unemployment, loneliness, mental-health issues, and political and social turmoil. So this year, in two classes I teach at Santa Barbara City College called Public Speaking and Argumentation and Debate, I asked students to write about their experiences on issues ranging from family members to politics; to speak the truths they know. I couldn’t be prouder of my SBCC Communication students. They wrote confidently, clearly, and compellingly. The following three short essays are the product of that assignment which was titled: From My Standpoint.
Dr. Donte Newman teaches Public Speaking and Argumentation and Debate at Santa Barbara City College.
Growing Up with Three Generations
by Evelyn Bailey
Living in a multigenerational household for most of my high school career gave me the ability to connect across generations, to understand my past, and to grow from it.
When I was a kid, I was told a lot of bad news that I felt hit me all at once. I was also told that my grandparents would be moving in with us, and that turned out to be the good news that changed the direction of my life. Living with my grandparents gave me the ability to see things as they are and to allow me to grow as a person.
My grandparents were always a big part of my life. Even on the day I was born, I was brought directly to their house. When I was a young child, I spent every Sunday with them, and they often picked me up from school. But at my house, things were more difficult. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
This is when my grandparents started coming to our house more often. My grandma would teach my brother and me how to make traditional Turkish food while telling us stories of her childhood. My grandpa would always bring his backgammon set, and we would play it outside while he told us jokes he thought were funny. Smiling and laughter gave us a break from the tension we usually felt at home.
Then, once my parents divorced, my mom said that my grandparents were going to move in with us. When I heard that, I wasn’t happy. I thought they’d interfere with the kind of high school experience I was hoping to have. Little did I know that from the moment they moved in, they interrupted the chaos, allowed me to remember the good moments of my childhood, and to once again feel normal and comfortable.
For one of the first times in my life, I felt a sense of wholeness. For the first time in my life, there was no tension and no stress, just our family connecting with one another. And for the first time in years, we had family dinners. I was able to talk about everything with three different generations all at one table. Though our stories and opinion differed, our varied perspectives allowed us to feel connected, and I began to gain a sense of self.
I began to see the world within this multigenerational context. Whenever rough times came again, I discovered I had a changed perspective that helped me see a clearer meaning of the world around me. I hadn’t realized that such seemingly mundane activities, playing backgammon or cooking, could be so powerful.
I was able to open up to my grandparents for the first time about my childhood, and they, in turn, told me stories about their lives. How scared they were when they immigrated from Turkey to the U.S. Through their stories, they taught me the power of hope and will. I was able to appreciate my childhood with its lack of perfection and realize that such challenges are what allow us to grow.
Throughout my childhood, my grandparents were the rocks that held me down. I was lucky to live in a house with three different generations at such a pivotal time in my life. I learned lessons from them all, lessons I use every single day.
Is Racism Funny?
By Namya Pai
When we speak about racism today, no one finds the topic funny. The Black Lives Matter movement has shifted people’s perspective. Racism is increasingly accepted to be a serious problem in our society. Yet oftentimes when those same racist attitudes are directed toward those of Asian descent, it comes in the form of a joke.
Growing up watching the Disney channel, YouTube, and movies, the only Indians I ever saw were Raj from the Big Bang Theory, Ravi from Jessie, and Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb. These characters were deeply harmful not only to my self-esteem but also to how others perceived Indian-Americans.
To this day I still hear people making fun of Indian accents, calling us curry-munchers, Baljeet, and cow-worshippers and perpetuating the stereotype that Indians smell bad or are ugly. The entertainment media has painted Indian people this way, and now I often meet people who genuinely believe it is true.
By not seeing people in the media who looked like me, I came to believe that I would always be seen as Indian, and not as the person I really am on the inside. As a result, I have felt ashamed of my heritage for most of my life. I believe these racist images have held me back from branching out on repeated occasions. I often wonder if I would be the same person I am today if I hadn’t been so insecure about where my ancestors came from.
Growing up, I made a point to tell people I didn’t like Indian food and refused to eat it. I avoided the sun. I started to use heavy makeup to prove that Indians weren’t ugly. There is so much internalized racism in me, and people like me, because we grew up learning to be ashamed of our culture.
I’ve heard people say, “You’re pretty for an Indian girl,” or “I would never date an Indian girl,” but I’ve never heard anyone say how racist that is. Not wanting to date someone because of the color of their skin or their racial background is racist, whether it’s outward or internalized.
When I was younger, I desperately wanted to be an actress and later on a YouTuber. But I wondered, would I only get the stereotyped roles? Would anyone watch an Indian Beauty YouTuber? Now I wonder who I would’ve been if, in the 8th grade, I was brave enough to start a channel anyway.
I even wonder if I eventually decided to become a makeup artist because of these stereotypes and if the only reason I want to work behind the scenes is because I don’t think I can be front and center.
I still deal with these thoughts on a daily basis whether it’s thinking a guy won’t go out with me because of my race or thinking I won’t be able to make new friends in Santa Barbara.
I believe I will always be on a journey to accept who I am and to overcome my internalized colorism, racism, and insecurities. At the same time, I hope that together we can make a better future and leave all traces of racism behind us, no matter how long that may take.
I’m Not Racist, but …
by Cara Fisher
Growing up, I’ve always known I was different. I don’t look like my parents, and I never resembled any of my friends. I am biracial — Czech and Dominican to be exact.
I grew up in a small town: the type of town where families have lived there for generations and everybody knows everybody. I am very privileged to have the upbringing I did, but there is a dark side to my town that often isn’t talked about and many don’t know.
The town is about 45 minutes south of San Francisco in arguably one of the most liberal, progressive parts of California. But for me, that wasn’t the case.
The first time I remember feeling less of a person, or that I didn’t matter simply because my skin was different, I was 7. My sister and I were at the house of our longtime family friends. The kids in this neighborhood were within two years of each other, so we all knew one another and would always play together. As we were leaving, a parent of another kid looked at my parents as I stood next to them and said, “I’m not racist, but you do know that it’s a sin to adopt black babies, right?” I wish I could say that this was the last time this happened, but it wasn’t.
Let’s fast-forward a year to November 2008. To some this was a historic time as Obama had just been elected the first black president of the United States. While I knew nothing about politics, I remember being excited to see a family of people who looked like me being celebrated on the covers of magazines. But that was soon taken away.
A lovely neighbor saw Obama as being unfit for office and spent the next 10 years keeping up a display of an Obama doll hanging on a noose. I spent the next 10 years passing by the display every day. It was very dehumanizing to have to see and understand what that meant. And the community which I thought was home reacted by defending and applauding the owner rather than being filled with outrage. I lost a big piece of myself during those years.
I have had teachers, administrators, parents of friends, and friends all be outwardly racist to me, yet they would never admit it or see it that way. Being told I’m the “good kind of black person,” that I’m LUCKY to be adopted by a “good white family,” and to ride in the car deemed the “nig-rig” — this was my normal. This wasn’t just something that happened every so often but every day.
For a while I tried to brush it off, but after the 2016 election things took a turn for the worse. The day after the election, students — the same kids I had gone to school with since kindergarten — hung nooses and confederate flags around campus and passed out flyers inviting people to join a local chapter of the KKK. As one of only FOUR other black students at the time, this was extremely hard to deal with. Not only did it feel like a total slap in the face, but I questioned my safety at one of the places I should have felt the safest.
I was sent home that day, along with the three other black or African American students. We weren’t sent home for our safety or for the environment the school had created. The four of us were sent home because the white students were concerned that the four of us may be “unpredictable,” and that made them — THE MAJORITY — feel unsafe. And still, this wasn’t racist?
It was after this that I began talking to my parents about the blatant racism I was being subjected to over the years. It’s not that they didn’t believe me but that they couldn’t. How is it that in the Bay Area — the forefront of the civil rights movement on the West Coast, the beginning of the hippie movement, and the start of the gay rights and LGBTQ+ movements — there could be such obvious hatred, not just by a few individuals, but by an ENTIRE community.
I have since been blacklisted. Blacklisted from my home, my community, the place I grew up. My parents have gotten threats, my sister has gotten threats, I am still getting threats after I moved 250 miles away. I lost a lot of myself, my identity.
You don’t think you’re racists, but you took my youth. You made me hate myself before I even knew what that meant. You’re not racist??? Yeah, right.