People have a tendency to categorize each other: all blacks do this, wear that and act like such and such. Or all white kids live like this, act like that and dress like so and so. But is this really true? Many civil rights activists have given up their time, energy and even lives to pave the way to racial equality, but there are still some people who refuse to accept people of a different color. Is this something that is so well-grained in the human persona that it cannot be removed? Is this behavior learned? If so, when and where is it taught?
Those were questions NeXt correspondent LeShante Garris was seeking answers to when she set up a discussion with a racially diverse group of students at City Honors in conjunction with Black History Month in February. Here are excerpts from the hour-long discussion, which was arranged with the help of English teacher Frank DiLeo.
>LeShante: Why is it that when teenagers walk into a crowded room, they automatically seek out people of a common color?
Ella Perry-Piniewski: I think it's because when we're in a situation like that we try to look for comfort, it's an unconscious thing.
Sophie Friedman: I think it's people that you know, the people you grow up around, the people you know the best, they're your friends, it's like comfort. You want to make sure you're comfortable.
Chantel Benton: I think if you're in a place where there's no one you know, you would automatically probably go to the person of your color because you can better relate to someone of your color. If I were in that position, I would probably go over to the black people, because they probably speak the same language, they probably are interested in the same things I'm interested in.
>LeShante: Do we feel safer knowing we have something in common?
Mark Jones: It's also how you were brought up. If you were brought up to love people, you sit around with whites, blacks, Hispanics, you sit around and get to know them. If you're brought up not liking Hispanics or whites, you're not going to go sit with them. It's also your upbringing and your parents.
Sophie: I think it's also like with boys and girls. If you're in a room and one side of the room is boys and one is girls, you're going to sit with the girls because you can talk to the girls about girl stuff, it's the things you have in common. It's also the way you were brought up. If your parents were really racist, then of course that's what you think is right, so you would be racist, too.
>LeShante: Have we been taught to color-stereotype. If so, by whom?
Chantel: When it comes to racial stereotyping there's like a general conception of black people, like they live in the projects or they're rude, they speak with y'alls and aints, they're ghetto; white people are preppy, they like rock, stuff like that. Now at our time and age, we've gotten to a point, that black people are like this, white people are like this, so therefore when you see them, before you even know their personality, you just see their skin color, you already think you know how they're going to be.
Ella: It's an easy way to put people into a category to say that all black people live in the ghetto, all white people wear polos. It's the same thing like all-blonds-are-dumb kind of thing. It's easier to put them down. It's easier to separate them from people you want to socialize with.
>LeShante: Is it something we do consciously or something we've been taught?
Joe Moran-Guiati: It's so well-ingrained, it's kind of a subconscious decision.
Courtney Carrington: It's more of a subconscious thing, when you see a person, you're automatically going to stereotype them, not try to get to know them. Stereotypes might fit that person.... you don't see past that stereotype.
>LeShante: Stereotypes may fit a certain person. I can't judge you before I know you. Shouldn't we do that with everybody?
Mark: I think we should do that but we're not going to be able to because of the way media people portray it. The media puts it as African-Americans live in the ghetto, I don't think it's the people, I think it's the media portraying it that way so that people follow.
Laura Klemann: Media is a really, really big reason. But a great reason is your parents and your area. I grew up in a school that was predominantly black. That changes my view of black people and people of other races because I realized these people are still great, they're really good people. I'm not trying to be mean to people from the suburbs but people who are from some parts of the suburbs who go to schools that are predominantly white, they don't understand. it's subconscious. They don't want to think that black people or African-American people are always the ghetto or shooting people, but they do because that's all they see on TV. They have no real-life experience of black people, of African-Americans.
>LeShante: African-American, it's labeling. My ancestors aren't from Africa, so I don't consider myself African-American, I don't put myself in that category.
Sophie: I think though in some ways that these racial issues are getting a little bit better. My little sister, she's going to be 11 next week. She went to Montessori and she grew up there and I know a lot of us did, too. It's predominantly an African-American school. She totally didn't care. When she would have birthday parties, it didn't matter that these kids were a different color from her or that they practice a different religion or they lived in a different part of the city, she would invite them because they were her friends.
Laura: It's not just African-Americans, it's a lot of different races are being [stereotyped]. People might say that Asian people are always going to be smart or that people from Latin America are always going to be like drug dealers.
Joe: Going back to the whole teenage color thing, it's like you're kind of afraid to change it up, you want to make friends with everybody else, but you're afraid to.
>LeShante: Have we been taught color stereotypes? Who is teaching racial hate?
Courtney: I think it goes back generations where African Americans are allowed to talk about white people any way they want, but if white people say the n-word or anything about African-Americans, it's racist.
Chantel: I think family is a vital part in this. My great-grandmother, she was a slave, great-grandfather was a slave, they were on a plantation. They were growing up and they were just getting out of [slavery], they were still born with "look what they've done done to us." Because [for them] it's recent. With us now, it's like that was a few years ago that this happened.
>Leshante: What do you think is the age when children become aware of differences? Can love cross the color line, or will we always be on opposing sides of fence?
Chantel: This is my second year here at City Honors. Before this I went to School 3 which is all black people and all Puerto Ricans. When I came here for my very first year, I felt like this school was very culturally diverse, it's a mix of everything and it's great, but I was new and didn't know anyone so the first people I hung out with were black people. In my classes I was like with nothing but white people. After the second marking period I started talking to them and I was like oh "my god they're cool, they like the same music as me." [Now] half my friends are white. Before last year all my friends were black or Hispanic, because that's where my parents put me for all my life.
>LeShante: What are some racially discriminatory situations you have been in or witnessed?
Ella: I used to go to Montessori, which is pretty culturally mixed up. My best friend moved to North Carolina, where there's maybe three black kids in her whole school, and they all say the n-word, and she was so shocked and I think she yelled at them, but they're so stuck in their ways you can't change that.
>LeShante: What about racial discriminatory things in the media? This is what the media portrays, all white kids are really smart, really rich, wear cardigans and live in upper-class neighborhoods. Blacks all wear gang colors, sell drugs and live in the ghetto. I had to cut the TV off for 10 minutes because it was just so bad. Guys are just walking around with their pants falling off. Please, if you're not going to wear pants, you know you might as well take them off. We all know it's not right for the media to say, oh, this how all black people dress and this is how all white people dress. But why do we accept it? Why do we keep dressing like that?
Chantel: Yesterday I saw a Green Day video and I saw a 50-Cent video. Green Day, they're on stage, they're rocking, they got the guitars, they've got their rock hair, their heavy makeup. Then you've got 50 Cent with naked women across the street in bikinis dancing and shaking their butts, while he's rapping about selling guns, how he was shot nine times and survived, that's what black people listen to.
Mark: Everytime you see a video or listen to lyrics of a song, you hear someone getting shot, someone selling drugs, you hear it over and over. So this is where the media gets their projection from, from these rappers and their lyrics.
Courtney: It's not like it's fake. They don't show black people who are prosperous, who speak well.
>LeShante: Coretta Scott King is being buried today. She was married to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was like a great civil rights leader of my mother's and grandmother's time. Will there ever be a day when a person is judged not by color of his skin but by the content of his character, when a person's race will not be mentioned in their credentials? How do we as teenagers change things?
Chantel: I think what we have to start doing, we're the younger generations, we can still choose our careers. I actually want to be part of the government ... That's stuff we can change, getting in office, getting educated, going to school.
Mark: The thing we can do, is to start the next generation off well as little kids. I went to Olmsted for first grade. Since I've been at Olmsted, one of my best friends is a white person. It helps to grow up around people who are different so you get to know them. He's been my best friend. Me and Courtney go over to Bobby's house and when I tell people that, they're like "why are you going over to Bobby's"? You have to start kids off early.
Sophie: I think that it's really important that kids nowadays, and teenagers, they have a good teacher who teaches them about why you shouldn't be a racist. If all students had teachers like we do here at City Honors, then the world would be a better place.