Is Post-Racial America Here?

Photo by Swetha Nakshatri

All men are created equal, but not all receive equal treatment. The second half of this statement is usually tacked on through experience in the real world, but is still overlooked by many. African-American senior Hallie Watson said she affirms this statement, as she realizes racial prejudice is still an often ignored issue in today’s world.

“Everyone faces their prejudices. I know I do as an African-American because I get stereotyped. Like, the other day, someone expected that I smoke weed just because I’m black,” Watson said. “There’s just ridiculous things like that. … Same thing with Muslim (and) Arab people; that prejudice is that they’re all terrorists.”

According to a study published by Pew Research Center in August 2015, a test found that “about three-quarters of respondents in each of the five racial groups, including those who are biracial, demonstrated some degree of implicit racial bias.”

Watson said, “History does play a role in the perception of race. The whole major civil rights movement is in the past, but it’s still happening. I will argue with you that I don’t have the same civil rights as a white person. Racial prejudice still exists even at this school. That’s why I have to do a lot better than a lot of the other students here at this majority white school. Because I have to do better than them grade-wise, I have to act better, I have to talk better because they expect me to act a certain way. If I want to get into a certain school, I have to be ten times better than everyone else to be respected, and I’m sure any other person of color can say the same thing.”

“Racial prejudice still exists even at this school. That’s why I have to do a lot better than a lot of the other students here at this majority white school. Because I have to do better than them grade-wise, I have to act better, I have to talk better because they expect me to act a certain way.”

Senior Hallie Watson

Caucasian senior Chad Mann said while he agrees that racial prejudice is still an issue overall, he does not see it as a problem at CHS. He said race as a concept is defined differently across the nation, as some individuals use it to stereotype while others see it as nothing more than an objective classification of skin color. According to the 2010 census conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, Carmel’s racial composition is 85.4 percent White, 8.9 percent Asian, 3.0 percent African-American, 2.5 percent Hispanic or Latino, 1.8 percent two or more races, 0.2 percent Native American, and 0.7 percent other races.

“I believe that everyone should be equal. Obviously, that is not always the case. In a lot of places, people are judged by the color of their skin, which is terrible,” Mann said. “At Carmel High School, I do not believe there is any racial prejudice that I am aware of. Obviously, there are stereotypes and things of that nature, but I do not ever see one race/group of people being treated better than others.”

Kenneth Browner, African-American social studies teacher, shares the same perspective as Mann to an extent, but said the influence of racial prejudice has been constant throughout history.

“Racial prejudice is still an issue today, as you can see with the police violence and other issues that are going on, such as the … incarceration rates of African-Americans and Hispanics. Especially in American history, it’s been extremely relevant if we go back to slavery, going through the amendments with the voting rights acts playing a part in getting African-Americans to be legal citizens,” Browner said. “I do not see it that much at CHS. I think Carmel in general is more about classism as compared to racism. … It’s just putting yourself in a social class and setting yourself apart that way.”

President Barack Obama visited a federal prison on July 16, the first sitting president to do so, where he urged reform in the prison system. Flaws in the system are reflected in the incarceration rate as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reports “five times as many Whites are using drugs as African-Americans, yet African-Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites” and, generally, “African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Whites.” Despite these statistics, Browner said the media tends to ignore racial prejudice in today’s society, forcing people to act out in rage.

“The media … they’ve kind of (swept) the issue under the rug. … They just see it as ‘Oh, here they are using racism as an issue.’ They don’t see the bigger part of it,” Browner said. “As you can see throughout history, rioting, it’s all kind of the same deal. It’s just unequal treatment and people becoming dissatisfied with the system and deciding they’re going to take a stance, even though riots aren’t the way to go, but it’s just the way history has played itself out. It’s the last resort like, ‘You’re not listening to us, so we’re going to force you to listen.’”

Puerto Rican sophomore Christian Rivera Negron also acknowledged the effects of media on racial prejudice but said he does not experience the personalization of the issue through victimization.

 Graphic by Stephanie Zhang

“In the media … the Latino person, for example, is often shown as the drug dealer or gardener, so now a lot of people may perceive the Latino race as drug dealers or gardeners. So the media has made bigger stereotypes or kind of expanded on it,” Rivera Negron said. “My skin color doesn’t make things harder. Even if (people) do look at me differently because of my skin color, I really don’t care. I’ve never been treated differently because of it, though.”

Undergoing contrasting encounters, Watson said her skin color elicits treatment from others that puts her at a disadvantage. She said the media is not the only cause of such “judgment,” for people of all races are delineated a certain way to the masses. Evidence from Pew Research Center supports Watson’s experiences as it relays that individuals were found to manifest a preference toward their own race, as this bias was evident in Caucasian and African-American groups. However, single-race Asians demonstrated a “more evenly divided … subconscious preference.”

“I’m going to, of course, try (to)reach my goals regardless of my color, but I’m going to have to work harder at it than I would have to if I was white. Mainly, it’s the media that construes race … construes African-Americans to be the loud, funny person in your group and the Asians to be the smart, nerdy, quiet kids and so forth. Just like how even white people (have) construed them to be … the normal kids, the social norm is the white kid and fair skin sort of thing … the social norm of our community has made it so that people of color are unattractive, and that’s not always the case, but it does play a factor,” Watson said. “I do think some people who fulfill the stereotype are hurting progress, but if it’s unconscious then they can’t help that, like if it’s who you are it’s who you are, but if you’re trying to be like that because you think people expect you to be like that … that’s not who they actually are.”

Senior Hallie Watson
Photo by Swetha Nakshatri

Mann, however, disagrees with Watson’s view.

He said, “I do not necessarily think that ‘white privilege’ is prevalent in all areas. On the other hand, there are some places that I would have to agree that Caucasian people have more advantages, which is a very sad thing. I do not feel like that is the case in today’s world. You can see that there are plenty of people of color who have equal opportunities with everyone else. As a Caucasian individual, I have not felt the pain of stereotyping or being discriminated against. I feel that there are more stereotypes towards white people rather than being discriminated against, such as not being smart, eating a lot of fast food, being fat, being self-absorbed or having money.”

Watson said she attributes the opinion of some Caucasian individuals, such as Mann, who do not think racial prejudice is an issue specifically in Carmel, to their experiences in the city and school.

“I’ve spent my childhood growing up here in Carmel, but what I’ve seen so far (here) is (people are) not socially aware of what’s going on in the world or they’re in denial that racial prejudice is still an issue, or it still exists because it’s hard for people, mainly white people to relate to a topic they’ve never experienced so they deny it,” Watson said. “For example, some races have a specific culture. There’s an issue here with cultural appropriation. When anybody culturally appropriates and treats another culture as a costume, and they’re able to take it off because they don’t have to face the stereotypes that come with it once they take it off or even when they have it on … or white people here love saying the n-word when nobody should be saying it. It’s a really derogatory (word).”

Looking forward to a solution, Browner said even though “historically, people are ashamed of what happened … that’s the whole issue of it, the shame of it … and they don’t want to address it and bring it to the forefront,” and instead suggests “once you begin discussing and have open forums and doing things … then people start making resolutions about what can be done better.”

Watson said, “I just hope that people as time goes on become more socially aware, that they know what to say and what not to say and what to wear and what not to wear, and if you don’t, it’s okay to ask, and if someone calls you out, you don’t need to set the world on fire. Just try and understand even if you don’t agree with it, just acknowledge the other person, just have empathy.”

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Natalia Chaudhry