By Bridgette Olumhense
Special to Frost Illustrated
Distributed by Global Information Network
When I take a stroll through my memories, I always seem to come to the first basketball game I ever went to. It was me and the rest of my girl scout troop jumping around new York City high off excitement and candy. We were going to see the New York Liberty Women’s basketball team.
Though the fog of time obscures details, I remember jogging down the city block when a woman in front of me dropped her money. It was fifteen dollars, a fortune in a seven year old’s mind, but Mom always said to return what wasn’t yours. I was always tall for my age with longer legs, albeit chubby, so I managed to reach her in decent time.
“Lady,” I called shyly and softly as I ran up to her. “You dropped your money.” It was clenched tightly in my fist so it wouldn’t fall, but as soon as she turned I would give it to her.
Pause. This was the part I was always confused with. Maybe it was the look in her eyes, or the weather, or the tension injected into the atmosphere, but I always felt that moment was symbolic. The lady, a tall pretty blonde woman, and her friend glanced at me briefly, and without another moment’s hesitation, turned and hurriedly walked away.
Fast forward. The next couple of minutes went by quickly. My cousin and I briefly debated over who got the money (I received the 10 for being older, and she was left with the five) and we walked into McDonald’s with the rest of the group to go and have a long awaited meal. But I could never shake the feeling deep inside me of confusion and shock at the lady’s reaction. When I think back on it, I recall how her eyes swirled with an unknown emotion similar to wariness.
Maybe she was confused on why a toothy seven year old stranger was talking to her.
Maybe she was late for a meeting that she needed to attend.
Or maybe, just maybe, she saw a black girl chasing after her with a clenched fist and did not want to get robbed.
It’s highly possible I’m taking this out of proportion, and I probably am, but that moment in time has always reminded me of the racial bias that pollutes our society and culture. The biggest fence we have to climb is the one that resides in our minds, but we can never make it that far. It sickens me to see viral videos of girls proclaiming that turbans and terrorists are synonymous or that there are too many ‘brown people.’
What is race, or what separates races? By science, it’s simply having or lacking melanin in your skin. Socially, it’s an invisible barrier that hinders communication and interaction as humans on Earth. It’s strange how having a certain pigment in your skin can cause so much judgment.
From racism we get stereotypes and prejudice. I go to an Asian for help because they’re smart. I can find all the black people dining at the local KFC, and the Mexicans at Taco Bell. White people are unable to dance.
What is the point or the jurisdiction? How is one person supposed to judge a whole race based off a small number or what popular culture tells us this said race consists of? Why are we plaguing our minds with meaningless guidelines about races when they don’t apply to everyone? I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked if I celebrate Kwanzaa or if I like Kool-Aid. My friends think I know how to twerk very well and that I “turn up” at parties.
News flash: I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, and I abhor Kool-aid. Personally, learning to shake and pop my butt for an audience is a waste of time, and “turn up”—really?
My responses often cause surprised looks. I’m black. I’m supposed to meet all the rules and regulations. I’m not black without it.
These misconstrued ideas often show up in races themselves. I “talk white” and have to face the awkwardness of not dancing ‘the black way’ at prominently African American parties, so I face the problem of being someone I’m not for the approval of my racial group. Why does it even matter?
Everything has an exception. There are black vegetarians who don’t eat any meat, let alone fried chicken. Many Caucasian people have been on dancing shows and will be able to dance better then me any day. Mexicans don’t have to love tacos and Taco Bell. Not all Asians have extraordinary intelligence.
I’m not trying to offend anyone, I’m just telling the truth.
The result of these stereotypes leads to the prejudice diminishes the joy of many aspects in our lives. We have laws like Stop and Frisk. Children die. Young men die. This does not only pertain to Trayvon Martin, but Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a seven-year-old girl shot in the head while sleeping, or Jordan Davis, or Jonathon Ferrell, an unarmed man shot ten times trying to get help from a car crash. The greatest fence we have to climb over is in our minds, but society hasn’t reached the fence yet. Instead, men like Claudius Smith are running and hopping the fence to shoot defenseless 21-year-old men in the name of self defense. So many accidents, so many mistakes, and so many innocent lives lost.
The idea may be out there but the lesson is not yet learned. Too many young people are dying for a cause that is not heeded. We’re taking one step forward, and ten steps back.
Bridgette Olumhense is a 15-year-old honors student at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt Manor, New York. The sophomore is the 2013-14 Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Ambassador for Walter Panas, and she participates in the school’s District Youth Council.