Anti-Black racism is enduring, extensive and everywhere.
It is rampant. It has never ended. It has just covertly reformed and bent itself from the now socially unacceptable practices of slavery, lynchings and Jim Crow laws into other elements of our society’s designs. Anti-Black racism still exists within the South Middleton School District where people were and most definitely are still racist.
I’m Asia, a biracial Filipina and white woman.
My K-12 experience as a person of color was a seemingly irrelevant piece that makes up the racial macrocosm existing in the South Middleton School District. There is no question that my world does not compare to the world of Black students in the school district and beyond. This is exactly why “person of color” and “Black” cannot be interchangeable terms.
It was more than the racist white boy whispering the n-word in the middle of your 10th-grade math lesson thinking that he was being funny. It was more than the racist white girl from your soccer team who posted a video that she wanted to go “n-word hunting.” It is definitely more than a racist white boy turning around and yelling the n-word multiple times at a Black girl.
It’s not just that six-letter word and Ku Klux Klan cross burnings. It’s a socially constructed hierarchy that violates the humanity of Black lives in everyday interactions and in systemic and institutional frameworks.
It’s standing beside my Black friend at a football game in 12th grade and a white middle school student whispers in your ear, “Are you guys having a drug deal?” It’s your sixth-grade teacher answering, “Why is Trayvon Martin’s death so important?” with “I don’t know. I guess the media needs something to talk about.”
I have talked multiple times with the first Black girl to integrate into my former school district back in the 1960s. She was going through the defining years of her life around people who were racist. Her peers did not look or live like her. They had no idea what it was like to live in the complexity of her world.
A silver lining for her was that there was one Black teacher. The two never talked about their race and her teacher never treated her differently, but the teacher’s mere presence was a safe haven in her already difficult time at Boiling Springs. Over 50 years later, and there is, to my knowledge, not one Black teacher in the school district.
In 2018, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “Black students who had two Black teachers were 32% more likely to enroll in college.” Representation matters. For Black students, having Black teachers is a major sense of comfort and inspiration in a space that can already feel unwelcoming.
Maybe one day questions like, “Why is Trayvon Martin’s death so important?” will actually get a thoughtful and coherent answer.
It is silly to believe that racism is not an integral component to how the institutions and systems of this country function. The United States has never had a “post-racial” period like some people are so fast to claim. There is nothing “post-racial” about Black human beings being disproportionately killed by the police. This has been happening for decades.
Just like any problem, to fix racism we have to actually talk about it and talk about it more. We need to see race. I used to say I was “colorblind” before someone explained to me why that was wrong. To say you are “colorblind” is ignorant and counterproductive. Acknowledging the differences in lived experiences and recognizing sociopolitical disparities is how we start to solve the issue. Pushing for changes in policy and funding reallocation is how we stop Black lives — like Breonna Taylor’s, George Floyd’s, and countless others — from being killed.
And this is where it hits my world the most. I think about all of my Black friends — hometown and at college in Philadelphia where I attend St. Joseph’s University — and how their world is so different from my world. Their world is navigating through a lifetime where their Black skin and coiled hair could equate to a quick death.
My friends who check in on me and support me are the same friends who could get shot eight times in their sleep. My friends who confide in me and cry on my shoulder and lap are the same friends who could have a knee on their neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. I would walk two worlds if it meant eliminating the fears that overshadow every step that they take in a world that has never valued them enough.
The collective trauma that Black people have been through is very real and generations long. We cannot turn our cheek when they speak up about their individual and group pain. Empathy for Black lives is deeper than the friends that you make and/or someone who marries into your family.
Black people are human beings. That should be enough to step up and care.
Asia Whittenberger is a 2018 Boiling Springs High School graduate and will be a junior at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia this fall majoring in sociology and communications.