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Nile Dixon, Challenge East Early College HS, 2016
Ever since the recent NAACP incident with Rachel Dolezal, her name is now associated not with “an individual that defends underrepresented individuals in society”, but with “a crazy lady that thinks she can ‘be black’ “. And for many, that’s where the conversation ends. Everyone comes to the consensus that only a crazy person would think that they could simply change their race. But, as the school year begins, I realized through Rachel’s incident that there are three major problems that need to be addressed in regards to racial relations in HISD.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is the lack of enforcement of race-based derogatory statements. Being a six foot seven African American male, it is always assumed that I play basketball, and that created a negative environment during my ninth grade year at Empowerment South Early College High School. Every day, I was greeted with “Hey, Tall for Nothin’ ,” and when I mentioned that I played baseball at the time, I was called an OREO because I played a “white man’s sport”. My height and the color of my skin were the only reasons for being socially isolated, even by other African American males, but these encounters were entirely dismissed because “it’s not racist unless it is a white person”. Even though such insults were spewed at school, no teacher dared to address these inappropriate statements. This is something HISD needs to address. Students shouldn’t be able to loudly proclaim racial slurs towards another individual in an academic institution. They should be addressed, but aren’t.
***Note: Now for those who don’t think that people asking me whether or not I play basketball is racially fueled, I might agree with you. People who play basketball are generally tall individuals. However, when I come to school with a button down shirt and tie and a teacher looks at me and says I look like a basketball player, but a white six foot four male can walk into a classroom with a tee shirt and ripped jeans and the same teacher says he looks like a Harvard-bound student, I think there is reason to believe that simply my height does not warrant people to believe that I play basketball.***
After leaving Empowerment, I went to Challenge ECHS. It was a more diverse school. Predominantly Hispanic, but a decent representation of White and Black people. I assumed that at a more diverse school, there would be a higher respect for different cultures. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Granted, it was nice being able to go to school and not be nicknamed “Tall For Nothing”, but some of the things I heard were even more derogatory towards African Americans.
For example, during Advisory (a.k.a Advocacy or homeroom), two Hispanic males were conversing with each other, and one of the Hispanic males said to the other, “That’s why we call you black. Because you always steal stuff.” Despite being on the other side of the classroom, I heard this statement loudly and clearly. A teacher was in the classroom and, nothing was done to address this extremely rude and hurtful comment.
Another example happened during lunch. A group of freshmen were talking about their distaste with a teacher, and one proclaimed, “If only I was black, I would have went off on the teacher and gotten away with it.” While a teacher wasn’t there at that moment, it is pretty clear to me that the school system fails to even attempt to address and debunk racial stereotypes, including negative ones. This needs to change.
The second thing that needs to be done is encouraging a healthy discussion of race-related issues during school, whether it be incorporated in lesson plans of English classes and history classes or during these Advisory periods. I think the way that HISD has handled the discussion of racial issues is like a tree that fell in the woods that no one heard make a sound.
A perfect example would be an encounter I had with an individual after English class. We were given the option of four books to choose from and after school we decided to discuss which book we picked. The most popular book was Into the Woods. When I asked one girl why she picked her book, her response was “I didn’t like the other options that were available. I mean, your book is just about a person with a shallow and superficial sense of beauty.” I was completely taken aback for two reasons. One, the book she assumed I was reading, The Bluest Eye, was not the book I was actually reading, Things Fall Apart (a good read by the way). Two, the book that she was referring to, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, was given an extremely superficial interpretation. It took me by surprise that this individual didn’t even understand the purpose of the novel and that other people besides her received the same impression. They didn’t understand the struggle that African Americans faced in order to feel accepted in society. What made this even worse was that the curriculum was never set up where we could collectively talk about the purpose behind the book because everyone was reading a different book. This was an opportunity lost that could have helped someone empathize with the struggles someone faced during another time period. This was also an opportunity lost to help correlate the issues that African Americans faced back then to the current racial issues in society. In my opinion, it was probably the AP test’s fault. But, I hope that this could be addressed as well.
The final issue that should be addressed is the lack of ethnic pride in schools. Now I would agree that many people now have a high sense of ethnic pride. However, I wish school would help foster the increase the ethnic pride among all races (including White people).
Back in my day , when I went to MacGregor Elementary, we did a ton of cool things that exposed us to other cultures and it was cool. We did our usual Black History gig, every Cinco de Mayo; we had an assembly to talk about Hispanic culture, and on Chinese New Years we had a day devoted to learning more about Chinese traditions. Once I left MacGregor, went to KIPP, went to Private school for two years, and then came back to HISD for my ninth grade year, it was all different. What used to be a lively assembly for Black History now ended up just a poster hung on the wall. That also went for Hispanic Heritage Month and Asian Heritage Month. It got even so bad to the point where my dad was featured in one of the Black History posters, but I didn’t know until he showed me because our school only had one poster. And it was hung up in the downstairs teacher’s lounge!
We used to embrace other cultures, now these iconic months have become even less relevant than a hashtag on Twitter. I think this is something that needs to be addressed.
So HISD, this may be a ton to ask, but would you address these three issues:
A Concerned Student