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Journal Writing Project Discrimination

By Sam Stocker

Mon, May 14th, 2012
Posted in All Journal Student Writing Project

I have recently come to understand something new. I really didn’t see it before, or maybe I always knew it, and I just chose to ignore it. Maybe everyone does.

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to judge FCCLA STAR events in Minneapolis. These STAR events help students gain public speaking skills and can range in topic from saving money for college to first aid techniques to cyber bullying. I spent about three hours judging the events-a lot about cyber bullying.

But there was one presentation that stood out from the rest. The sophomore student told me and the two other judges about racial discrimination. It was very well prepared and informative. When he had finished, we asked him if he had experienced discrimination in his school. “When I first started going there when I was in elementary school, yeah, I did,” he responded. “My classmates would stare a lot and sometimes tease me. But after awhile, they realized that I was no different than them, even though I am not exclusively Norwegian and German. Unfortunately, when other minority students have come throughout the years, the same thing happens to them.”

By the end of the night, I can confidently say it was one of my favorites.

I also am confident that once you experience discrimination/prejudices/racism personally, you become much more sensitive to it, even if it is not directed at you.

Allow me to explain. I lived in Samsun, Turkey last year. In one sentence, I loved it. But there were challenges. For example, Turkey already has a fairly homogeneous population compared to the United States, and Samsun is not exactly what you would call an “international” city. In other words, Samsun is very similar to Fillmore County, just with slightly different demographics. While Fillmore county is 98 percent “white alone” according to the 2010 U.S. census information (mostly Scandinavian or German decent, I assume), Samsun is about the same, just Turkish. Most of those Turks were Muslim, just as many Fillmore County residents cite Christianity as their religion. I am a Fillmore County girl. I am not Turkish. And more often than not, people could tell just by looking.

Sometimes my hair color would give me away. Sometimes it was the shade of my skin. English always proved I was a foreigner and, until the end of the year, my terrible American accent when I spoke Turkish. The point is that the moment I was pegged “American,” people would claim to know something about me. Maybe it was that I was rich, only ate fast food, supported the wars in the Middle East and President Obama’s every idea, or was fat-which always confused me since they were looking right at me.

In short, these are insignificant assumptions. But they were wrong. Assuming things about Americans based on Hollywood films could lead to serious misunderstandings. I know my life isn’t like the celebrities’ who are recognized across the world. Is yours? If you are upset by these assumptions, that is good. It doesn’t feel good.

But the important question is, do you do the same?

Have you ever called someone smart “because they are Asian” or made an offhand comment about Mexicans and drugs? Or what about having to call the cops because your house “was being attacked by fifty Muslims”? If so, there is something you should know. Not all Asians are smart. Not all Mexicans are involved in the drug trade. And certainly not all Muslims are terrorists.

Take time to think before you speak. Ask yourself if you would want someone to make the same assumption about you. As the sophomore said during the STAR events, “We are all one race. The differences are not worth the trouble we make.”

Samantha Stocker is a student at Lanesboro High School. She is one of 8 area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its thirteenth year.

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