home Opinion Op Ed: Racism and the Pitfall of Pity

Op Ed: Racism and the Pitfall of Pity

By Alfons Rosales

Illustration by Alan Gjerstad

The sun was blazing down, enveloping my brother and me in its golden glow. The air was stifling, the ground hot; yet we continued to walk up the winding streets of our neighborhood, trudging through the hills we knew so closely. Every step took what seemed like hours, and we still had some miles left. My brother and I cursed simultaneously before sitting for a moment on a curb, taking the weight of our belongings and instruments off our backs. After we caught our breaths, we rose to our feet, stretched our legs, and slung our bags over our shoulders. Something seemed off as we began to cross the street, as a low rumbling shook the ground beneath us. Suddenly, my brother grabbed me from behind, and yanked me back. A sedan lumbered past, and the vague outline of a man leaned out of the window, before yelling,

“F**king illegals!”

Racism has been spreading through this nation, taking root in many states, counties and cities. From the wide metropolis of New York City, to the sun-baked deserts of Arizona, to the snow-capped mountains of the Rockies, racism worms its way in, even if hidden from sight. As I pull from my experiences and the many encounters that my brother, my father, myself, and many others have faced, I can see how difficult of a topic it is to tackle.

Most of us pay attention to the outspoken discriminations, whether it be from the words of influential people such as Donald Trump, or from uneducated citizens suffering from years of economic depression. At the same time, we hold ourselves in the highest regard. We keep telling ourselves, that we are better, but I believe that is false. Every single one of us is capable of discrimination, as every one of us is capable of feeling fear. Every single one of us has insecurities, no matter how much we try to hide them.

Even among sports, stereotypes run rampant, pushing forward negative attributes of minorities. A study on the portrayal of athletes in the media conducted by Cynthia Frisby, Associate Professor of strategic communication at the University of Missouri, found that “more than 66 percent of the crime stories involved black athletes while only 22 percent involved white athletes. More than 70 percent of domestic violence stories involved black athletes and only 17 percent involved white athletes. Finally, 53 percent of the stories involving black athletes had a negative tone, while only 27 percent of stories about white athletes were negative.”[1]

Over the years racism has changed, mutating, an ever-evolving plague. Even though we undergo massive new cultural revolutions and social conflicts, we still face the same issues from the past. While minorities are not experiencing the extreme physical backlash as we did in the past, we are being held down through other means. The ACLU states that, in California, black youth are serving Life without Possibility of Parole at a rate 18 times higher than white youth, while Latino youth are sentenced at a rate five times higher.[2] We are still harshly dealt with in the federal court system, making arrest and imprisonment a daily fear for many of us.

Stereotypes, expectations, and slurs are only a part of the issue, however bad they may seem. Pity is one of the most damaging emotions to people of color. When you experience pity for those who are suffering, you are only paying attention to the sufferings of the people and the consequences of the sufferings, instead of the possible contributions those people may offer. You ignore the culture of the people, and effectively strip them of their humanity. You give more humanity to the suffering, when the people are not just looking to end the suffering, but for equality among others.

All of these issues dig into our hearts, into our psyche. From personal experiences, I have been to extremely dangerous places in the world, and seen things many people my age are not supposed to see, however I have never felt more fear or more threatened than here in the United States. My father has always told me to be careful, to be wary of my actions. Never put your hands in your pocket when walking in a store, never walk suspiciously, to walk straight. I have been followed in stores, assaulted, insulted, jeered, accused of crimes too sinister to mention here. However, I still must walk tall, I still must hold strong for there are those who wish to see me, and many others like me crumble like so many before us. As Samuel Jackson once said, “People know about the Klan and the overt racism, but the killing of one’s soul little by little, day after day, is a lot worse than someone coming in your house and lynching you.”

There is much more I can say, much more I can express. There are so many stories out there in the world, some are in this very school. I implore those who have read this to the end, not to pity those who suffer, but to see them as equals.

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