My freshman year of high school I was bullied a lot. I was nerdy (back before that was a good thing) and chubby and mildly socially awkward and such an easy target. Other kids would call me names, make jokes at me, and even harass me physically.
In Spanish I sat next to a guy who was a year or two above me. He was very distracting and made it hard to concentrate on my work. His favorite thing to do was to place his books or other supplies on my desk so that he could have more room. Whenever I tried to move his belongings, he would put them back, taking more space. Once he even used my desk to put his sunflower seed shells on as he cracked them in his mouth. The still wet shells bothered me to no end and when I picked them up with my bare hand and placed them carefully on his desk, he brushed them harshly back at me.
In English class one day, I had the sniffles. My constant sniffs were evidentially upsetting a fellow student, because he took it upon himself to pass me a tissue—an act that was nice. Having experienced in Spanish someone constantly placing things on my desk, however, I knocked the tissue away (I was wholly unaware that I’d been sniffling so loudly). The other kid took this as an insult. At least, that’s what I surmised when he hit me in the side of the head (and into a wall) with his textbook in the stairwell after class.
Gym was the worst, though. I had what one might consider a prototypical bully who picked on me daily in the locker room. I nearly failed the class because I would often feign sickness and therefore not have to change into my gym clothes*. Cooper was the name of my bully, and his bullying usually consisted of taunts and threats. There came a day when I decided to stick up for myself by feebly uttering a poorly executed comeback insult.
I guess it hit too close to home, because Cooper punched me across the jaw—hard. I fell to the ground and, determined to make a point, stood up and stared him squarely in the eye. When the locker room finally cleared out, I spent quite a bit of time looking for something in my locker—an excuse I gave myself as I pushed the tears back inside.
Bullying is terrible, of course, and I don’t share these stories as a way to bring pity to myself. On the contrary, I’m using them to illustrate something much worse about myself.
All the kids who bullied me in high school had something in common: They were all black. Because of this I developed a terror of all black people. I spent the next year avoiding eye contact with anyone of that race. If I was alone in a hallway with an African-American, I would hurriedly escape the area, shaking with fear.
For an entire year I was racist.
Eventually I got over it, realizing how silly it was as I started making friends with some very nice black people. The high school I went to was very diverse in all races and it would have been impossible to avoid any non-white person forever. I was put in a situation in which my options were either transfer schools or simply stop being stupid.
It’s shameful that I ever felt that way, but I was just a kid myself. I knew that I was getting assaulted and mocked by a few people and because of that, everyone else who happened to share that same physical quality were to be feared as well.
The thing is, though, that I was just a kid—and I got over it. I got over it, more or less, by myself and on my own observations of people as a whole, not just a single group.
So then why do we have such blatantly racist adults even today? If I could understand, as a child, that everyone from entire race of people are not the same, then why can’t grown men and women understand that as well? Why is there still such rampant racism among adults?
I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fear of the unknown coupled with self-segregation (and quietly forced segregation, even). We don’t afford ourselves the time to meet, interact with, and understand people who aren’t just like us. I also think that most people† are racist to some degree—after all, I was picked on by all boys, but I wasn’t afraid of men or just African-American men, but all black people. It’s inherited from centuries of self-given superiority and pride.
Just because something is imbedded in us, however, does not mean that we must allow that to be an excuse. Racism gives us a reason to hate a single person by hating a whole race of people. And this is simply not acceptable. I’m all for hating a single person, but it must be on merit alone. The second you start hating someone because they’re different than you is the second you cross over into a much darker realm.
With all the riots and protests going on because of obvious race hate in our country, I’ve been hearing that new phrase that’s so popular among the delusional, “Racism is dead.” No, racism is not dead. We need to stop saying that it is and, instead, address why it’s still alive and thriving in our modern world.
Then we need to all realize how stupid it is. I was never getting picked on by black kids—I was getting picked on by bullies. One day I figured that simple fact out and I’m a better person for it. I cannot say, though, that I wasn’t being racist for that year back in high school, because I was.
But as an individual, I changed—which is something we as an entire planet need to do.