In eighth grade I wrote in an essay that racial issues had been “fixed” in our society. That’s what the school system had taught me: in the 1950’s blacks were discriminated against, but now everyone was equal. Even in Boston, one of the most “progressive” cities, that is still far from the truth.
Both the North and the South are still racist, but what bothers me more about the North is that it has always denied its racism. I see through Boston’s facade in the little things that people do every day. One of the more obvious examples is that the majority of doctors, lawyers and businessmen are white or Asian, and the majority of service people are still black or hispanic, and most of the homeless people in the city are black. Privileged Bostonians try to hide the problem with affirmative action programs, but what most refuse to acknowledge is that, despite all their years of education, they are still scared of black people.
On the subway, for example, there is often a bubble of seats around any black man. People would rather stand than sit near him. At the hospital where I work there is a wall where workers hang out during the lunch break. Yesterday I saw a policeman hassling a black man for loitering there. White men sit there all the time, and I have never seen them asked to leave.
Some of the people who admit they don’t like blacks say it’s because they are dumb, uneducated and prone to criminal activity. The odd part about this argument is that most of the blacks I’ve seen in public are reading esoteric novels or fighting for a political cause. Still, I often have to remind myself to fight my own subconscious inclination to fear blacks. Even though I grew up in a city and went to schools where anti-racism was emphasized, I still at times move to the other side of the street when a black man approaches. The problem with me is that the schools didn’t show me that racial profiling was bad, they told me. My schools were probably the most politically correct in the nation, spending hours on “diversity” exercises and 1960’s civil rights movement lessons, yet the student body is almost all white (with the exception of a few “white” blacks and bussed-in students). Although I’ve seen pictures of whites and blacks and tans and browns holding hands, the few blacks imported into my school are often isolated. The black culture, therefore, is still foreign to me, so I feared it.
After talking to many black people in Boston during political events, I got to know some personally. I realized that I have as much in common with them as I do most white people. And that’s what I think our education system should do: expose whites to black culture, rather than just teach us about it. Racism is clearly a problem in the North, and rather than denying it still exists with affirmative action initiatives and “tolerance” days at school, white society should be honest.
Maybe there’s a reason we discriminate against each other, or maybe, by being honest with yourself, you can admit that you’re afraid of blacks. When you see an empty seat on the subway next to a black man, you can realize that you’re scared, but then you can make a conscious effort to sit next to him anyway.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.