This I Believe

Carolyn - West Hills, California
Entered on July 22, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: prejudice, race

This I Believe

I believe that finding humor in racism is wrong. It is just as cruel as any blatant racist act that ignites universal outrage, for it is an act of discrimination itself.

My AP European History teacher, Mr. Reich, had instilled an important message in our class: to not discriminate. Through current events such as the Don Imus controversy, he would depict the wrongness of racism and advise us to act justly and fairly to others. During our daily discussions, he warned us when we were inadvertently being prejudiced. He, an adamant supporter or tolerance and equality, even took us on a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, furthering the resounding message he taught more strongly than any chapter in our history book. If ever I learned the true significance of tolerance and why I should adopt it as one of my morals, it was in that class.

One day, Mr. Reich left us a video to watch with a substitute. The film, King, was a collection of rare footage from the Civil Rights Movement. We were about thirty minutes into the movie when the video started to shift from the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. to more devastating recordings of blacks being spurted with surges of water from fire hydrants. I was staring at the screen, aghast, when I heard a quiet snicker to my left. I turned to see my classmate laughing at a woman being knocked down by the tremendous force of water.

“I can’t believe you’re actually laughing at this. Are you serious?” The words were out of my mouth before I knew it. Before he had a chance to respond, his friend retorted with an “Oh, shut up.” I looked around to see if anyone else was appalled at the temerity of these two, but no one else said a word. The class’s big talkers who were always inclined to speak their mind against discrimination during current events were silent, while I, the shy girl who never participated in class, was the one to lash out against what I perceived to be a callous act. Apparently, I was the only one who thought so.

Even in elementary school, the playground was rampant with racist jokes. Throughout middle school and high school I heard various slurs directed toward me, and most of them from my so-called friends. People would assume I was Chinese, say “ching chang chong” and laugh hilariously at their version of the language. Other times I would endure supposedly funny questions like “Is seeing through your eyes like television on a wide-screen TV?” because my eyes were slanted, like most Asians’. Everyone else always laughed, and maybe I’d smile occasionally, but I never saw how anyone could find racist remarks comical.

To all the people who would sneer when I called them out on their insolence, to everyone who would respond, “it’s just a joke, Carolyn; don’t be so serious,” I want to say that they are all still prejudiced. Masking racist comments with a “just kidding” or laughing at bigoted actions are still ways of declaring one’s acceptance of racism, no matter how negligible they may seem.

I found out that day, when our class watched King, that there should have been more to Mr. Reich’s philosophies than just being tolerant of everyone and everything, no matter how different it is from the norm. I would like to clarify, to that first period class and to all other people who are amused by racist comments, that tolerance is certainly our goal as humanity. However, tolerance of racism isn’t.