June 4, 2020
Below are three pieces from They Don’t See What I See—a collection of op-ed essays written by ninth grade students from the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in 2016.
I was around seven. I was playing in a park with a white child. His mother, realizing this, quickly took her child from me. I knew that it wasn’t right, but at that time I didn’t know the word racism.
My family lived in an area mostly populated by white people in Lowell, New Hampshire, for a year when I was 12 and 13 years old. I was stared at and shunned for being an African American; in certain areas I would be purposely avoided. Women would discretely move their children away from me in stores or in the park. They didn’t care if I smiled, or if I wore pink with my hair in pigtails. I was black, so it didn’t matter.
My feelings didn’t matter. I felt empty. Why me? Why did my skin color matter? I was confused. It didn’t make sense to me: how could I treat someone with kindness and respect, but in return be shunned and spat at?
Anger ran through my veins. When I was stared at, I stared back. People would quickly turn their heads, but they got the message: I don’t care if I make you uncomfortable; I will not back down because I am African American. You and your ancestors have done this for years, and now I am fighting back. Glare if you want. I am a human being just like you.
Others in my life have had racist encounters as well. Being pulled over by the police was a daily routine for my mother and my father. If someone bumped into my brother on the street, a thousand apologies were said to my brother, because people expected a violent reaction.
In my own way I rebelled. No one would look at me or my family like that. I would let my emotions be known; I refused to back down. African American inequality is important to me because I have experienced what inequality is. So many times, I question if it will ever truly change.
There is currently a public outcry about the African American victims of police brutality. You may have heard of Michael Brown, and 18-year-old African American. He was unarmed when shot six times. He was peacefully walking down the street, perceived as a threat, shot and killed. Tamir E. Rice was shot and killed playing with a fake gun; he received medical aid four minutes later. He was only 12 years old. (MappingPoliceViolence.org). Many police-shooting victims are never heard about. Imagine the families’ grief and pain. Their children, spouses, or siblings were killed and no justice was served. Cops are walking away free, as my people are six feet under. Those people I listed are only a few out of the hundreds of African Americans who have been killed. Mothers and fathers have to worry if their children will run back into their arms again. They have to worry about if they will see their children smile again. African American families are now telling their families how much they love each other because they may not living the next day.
We are living in constant fear every day, while white people skip out of their houses, carelessly, not having to worry about being shot or being pulled over by a cop. We are enraged. For so long we have been discriminated against, shunned, killed, and disrespected because of the color of our skin. We cry out that black lives matter; we scream to be heard. We live in a world where people play God, and where 12-year-olds are shot because of the color of their skin. Not every white person is to blame, that I can admit. Some grew into racism, saw how their parents acted towards blacks like it was normal. Sadly, their world has already been set, and so has mine.
I have hope for the future. I hope for peace and equality. But that’s the thing about hope; you can only hold on to it for so long.
– TaVonna is sarcastic, funny and friendly with everyone. If you met her, she would make you laugh. She encourages her friends to try harder in school. She loves music, anime, and video games…PS4 or Xbox One? PS4 is her choice every day of the week. She wants to become a famous author. Her inspiration are J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss.
The first time when I went into a grocery store by myself without my parents was the first time I was followed by a grocery store clerk who assumed I was a thief. My friend and I wanted something to drink; we were maybe ten or eleven years old. Shaw’s has good deals, but all through middle school their clerks and sometimes their store manager would follow me to see if I would steal anything.
Being a young African American man, people ask me all the time, “How are you so smart?” Even a couple of students at my high school ask me questions like that. I guess they don’t see many black kids who try to get an education. It started happening in fifth grade. There were only seven black kids in the advanced class with me. They were smart too—I would even say they were smarter than me. When we hung out with our friends in the “regular “ class, kids would ask us “How do you know that?” They would say it with the most attitude, like a slap in the face.
Was this offensive? Yes.
Even today, people automatically assume because I’m black I don’t have any manners or that I won’t show any type of intelligence. It kind of hurts that people in my neighborhood say it’s weird for me to excel academically. They assume I’m smarter than them, tease me, and they try to bring me down a little bit sometimes.
For years I’ve experienced racism, from the supermarket, to school, to the people in my neighborhood. Racism is only going to get stronger as I get older. Unfortunately, at age 14 I already know this. You can tell right now things are heating up. All you hear about in the news or on your computer are police abuse and mistreatment—black people are just going to get more and more mad, and things are going to boil over. And when things boil over? It’s not going to end well. There’s going to be violence and riots countrywide.
Sometimes I worry for my safety with all the police shootings. I always watch my back when I go out, and when I see a police car drive by I watch my back even more—because that’s where the target is.
In five years, I might be an engineering sophomore at MIT or Harvard. I’m going to have to work extra hard, because if I don’t do as well as other people, everyone will automatically say “it’s because you’re black, you can’t keep up with others.” My friend’s dreams were crushed by one teacher during his senior year of high school because he was told he wouldn’t be able to cut it in college. I’ve had to work extra hard to be where I am today. I like to read a lot, I like to expand my vocabulary—and this has paid off, because I’m in a good high school. When I excel academically, I feel like something might change.
Mostly though I’m kind of afraid to do well in school, because racists want to keep the ones who are trying to get out of a stereotype down.
– Darronté was born in Boston. Darronté always says “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” Darronté is going to own a multi-million dollar company when he gets older and is also going to be President in 2036. Darronté’s favorite hobbies are playing sports, playing video games, reading, and writing books.
On a breezy afternoon in Georgia, my cousin Jane and I were walking to my aunt’s house. We were planning for a fun weekend, since she was going to receive her monthly allowance. On our way there, we walked past a group of giggly white boys. Jane and I, feeling carefree and oblivious, ignored them and went on with our planning. “What’s up Sharkeisha and Lakeisha?” shouted one of them.
All of a sudden it hit us—the boys were laughing at us. We were astonished and insulted; the boys were shouting stereotypical African American sounding names at us, as though having names that end in “sha” was some sort of insult! We continued to ignore them, but they were relentless and would not back down. “I don’t know what y’all are happy about. Y’all are just going to end up working at a retail store or a hair salon. But hey, on the plus side, maybe you will get your weave for free there.” All of them burst into laughter. Jane fought the tears as long as she could, but eventually, she gave in. I hated that she let them see her cry. Crying meant that they won, that they successfully robbed her of her innocence, of her pride to be black.
Society tries to tell girls like Jane and me that we’re not good enough, that we’re not smart enough, that we’re never going to be anything but washed up nobodies. Advertisements try to tell us that we need to be light skinned and have straight and smooth hair with blue eyes to be considered beautiful. The world tries to tell girls like Jane and me that because we’re black, we don’t deserve to be treated with respect. But despite contrary beliefs, we black girls must fight and be confident that we are beautiful. Everyone has their own definition of beauty. Society’s standards are worthless. What truly matters is how one feels on the inside. We do not need to be pale as Snow White to feel beautiful. We must appreciate our nappy hair and dark skin tone, no matter how dark. Even if it is as dark as coal itself.
I am ecstatic to see successful actresses such as Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis in Hollywood. Seventy-five percent of the celebrities are white, and some of the blacks ones are dyeing their hair blond or bleaching their skin to meet society’s standards. So it is a relief to see that there are some black celebrities embracing their rich heritage, making them relatable to typical black girls.
My parents always tried to teach me about racism and how to respond to it at a young age, but I never took it seriously. My parents also told me things like “eat your vegetables,” and “don’t drink soda.” Parents are always telling their kids what to do and how to think; it’s hard for kids to prioritize all the advice they get. I was ten years old the first time my parents brought up racism with me, but at the time racism was less interesting to me than my favorite TV show, Spongebob Squarepants. It felt like racism wasn’t relevant in my own life; so I thought my parents were just talking about stuff from another time. Looking back, I realize how important it was to bring up the topic of racism and violence to young people of color—there are news stories these days of African American men as young as 12 being shot by police officers. One recent shooting involved a black high-school graduate named Tony Robinson Jr., in Madison, Wisconsin. He was shot dead by officer Matt Keny, because he was a suspect of battery assault. The unarmed boy confronted the police officer and the officer drew his weapon and shot Robinson. (Ellis, Sutton, & Botelho 2015).
Some police officers are biased and are so busy looking the other way that they do not realize that some white kids are just as dangerous as some black kids. Just because a black individual killed someone, doesn’t mean that ALL black individuals are murderers. The status quo is that white kids are more likely to get by just fine, even with unlawful acts, while innocent minorities are punished severely by the law.
Every time my three brothers leave the house, my mom and I worry because we know that there is a possibility that they may not come back. Human life these days has little value to certain people. The thought that my brothers could get shot just for responding the wrong way in an encounter with the police terrorizes us. Every individual who dies is someone’s family.
It would be an immense relief if the president were to make sure that the police force isn’t full of racist pigs, but of people who are committed to protecting the people, providing justice and fighting for their country until the end.
Although black girls aren’t affected by this unjust violence, my mother wanted to talk to me about racism because she never wanted me to feel inferior. She never wanted me to feel ashamed of being brown skinned. She told me to always walk with my head high because I am beautiful, my skin is beautiful, and I shouldn’t let anyone convince me otherwise.
Racism is alive and well. I can just feel it when I am walking home from school. The way that people look and act toward me compared to my light-skinned friends. Caucasians hold their purse tighter and their children closer as if I were a threat. It is funny how discrimination still exists 150 years after slavery. One would think that after all this time, we blacks would be given opportunities and would be treated with equality. But society is so stuck on classifying and labeling people that it creates a separation between different groups of individuals, and somehow the blacks are at the lower hand. I am happy to be black despite all the struggles that come with it. I feel honored to be part of such a united, caring and loving community. When one dies unjustly, we protest as if he were part of our family and we mourn together as a community.
They may patronize us, but we mustn’t give them the satisfaction. At the end of the day, the only thing that differentiates me from the racists is my skin color and opportunities. I am proud to be black, and I always will be, no matter what.
– Hutshie is spontaneous, honest and different. She loves to sing and to dance to all types of music. She adores music in general—it’s fourth on her “most favorite things in the world” list. She was born in Atlanta. She hopes to become a cardiothoracic surgeon or a successful actress like Jennifer Lawrence. Furthermore, she hopes to attend an Ivy League college or university. Her goal is to make the world a better place however she can.