We Need to Talk

Samael McCormick

Recently, there has been more talk about racism and inequality– both at Menlo and around the country. The deaths of innocent black men and women at the police and government’s hands and the lack of repercussions have fueled the fight for equal rights.  On November 3rd, a discussion about racism, racist policies, and racial inequality was held by members of the freshman class board (Brianna Valentine and Diana Guardado) with the addition of Menlo student Jayden Sanders and Professor Lakiba Pittman. In this discussion, they spoke about racial inequality, the Civil Rights movement, the Civil Rights Acts, sit-ins/protests, and past and current underlying racial injustices such as redlining and microaggressions. Additionally, they went over how people perform acts of racism that perpetuate these inequalities. The discussion started with an introduction by each group member and gave a broad overview of what would be discussed. 

Brianna started by discussing what civil injustices are–marginalized groups being treated unfairly because they are oppressed (especially by the government or other people in power). She then showed a video of a woman who talked about civil injustices and gave an example. The police had harassed her brother because he was a black male. He had been hanging out with a group of his friends and was then questioned about whether or not he had drugs or was on drugs. In the clip that was played, the idea that is brought up is that, in America, many people think the problem is a few racist people who are too stubborn to change their views. However, this is not the case, as racism exists in many forms. Instead of being convinced that there is a small number of racist people, we need to recognize that racism is perpetuated systemically through microaggressions, redlining, disadvantages in education, and in many other ways. 

Another topic that was discussed was the Civil Rights movement, along with sit-ins and civil unrest. Both sit-ins and civil unrest had a major part in the Civil Rights movement. These forms of speaking out were often dangerous for these Americans seeking justice. Even today, civil unrest is widespread in America as people all over are protesting the innocent deaths of black people.

Redlining and microaggressions were two topics that the group talked about, and I think that they’re important to speak about because of how badly they impact people of color even today. To give some background, redlining was a form of segregation created by Homeowner Loans Corporation after the National Housing Act of 1934. The HOLC created residential security maps. Green areas were the best ones (representing businessman);  blue areas were for white-collar families; yellow areas were working-class families; and red was for “detrimental influences” (immigrants, low-income white people, and a high presence of black and brown people.) These red areas received little help with buying or refinancing, received lower amounts of money for schools, and had higher crime rates. People who were placed into these areas and grew up in them were at an automatic disadvantage because they lacked access to the resources that other areas had. This perpetuated racial inequality in the United States. 

One of the last topics covered was microaggressions. Jayden, Brianna, and Professor Pittman pointed out the everyday perpetrators of microaggressions often do not recognize what they are doing. The students pointed out that although we are in an era that is supposed to be more civilized and accepting, they still encounter people who throw around racist slurs or offensive names as jokes, not recognizing the strength that those words actually carry. Similarly, Jayden explained her displaced feelings when she is “complemented” by many of her friends or peers as being “pretty for a black girl”– once again disregarding that she is an equal human just as they are. Professor Pittman and Brianna continued to explain their feelings as Diana followed by emphasizing how often we do not realize the power our words truly have. We often say things to our friends that they seem to brush off, but we can not be sure what things, like an inappropriate joke, might be deeply harmful. Equality is not something you will be given or earned, it is something that we are all born with, and many times we talk about people of different races, social classes, and even ages as if they are lower than us. 

The group also went over how Menlo could progress/continue progressing into an antiracist institution. One of the main points that they agreed on was that we, as a community, need to become even more equal and diverse. As Brianna stated, “we are not done mixing, we are not done with segregation [even] now.” While Menlo is extremely diverse in both its student body and staff, there is never a cap to equality and diversity. Professor Pittman also brought up the idea of being appeased and growing silent when it comes to fighting for equality. It is too easy to talk about issues and move past them, posting on social media or turning things into a hashtag being the most that some do. As both students and people, we need to ask ourselves– am I working on becoming an antiracist? What racist acts am I performing? 

Overall, everything that we watch in this video can be summed up to a quote from professor Pittman– “Wake up, everybody. You have to be paying attention.” We as a community need to continue having these conversations and continue being advocates for change and diversity.