The Choice Is Ours

Amy - West Linn, Oregon
Entered on July 8, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in harmony.

I believe that every human in the world can get along peacefully with his or her neighbors.

I have spent the first eighteen years of my life in an upper-middle class suburb just outside of Portland, Oregon. As a privileged, Caucasian child surrounded by a primarily Caucasian population, diversity was not a word that was embedded in my vocabulary. I grew up thinking that racism was historical, a trend of the past that had been abandoned in the 60’s. Around age 10, my extended family began to prove otherwise. During visits with grandparents, uncles, and aunts, there would always be occasional comments about the neighborhood becoming “mixed” or the unwanted “aliens” living among us.

However, I never considered labeling certain family members as “racists”. My family’s racism was subtle. It tended to stay within the confines of the family and only lurked under the surface of otherwise pleasant personalities. I managed to convince myself that the statements made by people in my family were reasonable because they did not directly hurt or demean anyone. I assumed that explanations of my family’s hate were deep rooted and far beyond my realm of understanding.

A month ago, I traveled to New Orleans to visit my family. It was the first time I had been since Hurricane Katrina had swept through the area, and the first time I had seen many of my family members since I was thirteen. On the last day in the city, we drove through an area that had been devastated by a broken levy.

“How could it be that after three years, hardly anything has been rebuilt?” I asked my aunt.

“We don’t want anything to be rebuilt. Then all the black people will come back”, was her reply.

It was then that I realized the true extent of my family’s attitudes and their impact on society. The fact that they kept their attitudes covered by a facade of acceptance in public did not matter anymore. Regardless of whether they truly meant any harm on people of color, they chose to use words of hatred and intolerance. Regardless of whether anyone heard them or not, their words mattered.

Discrimination is not the act of one group pitting itself against another. Rather, it is the choices and actions of individuals that make up collective opinions. I believe that every human is given the difficult responsibility of making good decisions in life – for one individual’s choices may sway or represent those of an entire society.

The world is made up of 6.7 billion individuals. My family has shown me that there will never be a time in which every person will praise every one of his or her counterparts. Yet I believe that humans are given the power to choose. We can make decisions to accept the diversity of humanity, find truth in another’s perspective, and smile at a foe in hopes of them smiling back. The way that we choose to act towards others eventually determines the way our group acts towards another, our race acts towards another, our country acts towards another. I believe that harmony is possible, but only through the decisions and actions of individuals. The choice is ours.