My name is Brendan Marks, and I am a junior at Leesville Road High School. I live with my parents and my dog, Bitsy; I work as a camp counselor over the summer and I also, in case it wasn’t clear, write for my school newspaper. I’m Jewish, I wear my hair in a comb-over and occasionally, I wear croc-flops because, regardless of what anyone else says or thinks, they are oh-so-comfortable.
And one more thing—I’m white.
These are the things that define me; my family, my style and my personality make me me, not the color of my skin. After questioning several of my peers, they agreed with me that skin color should be a secondary focus. Should be.
After walking the halls of Leesville for three years, after sitting through classes for three years, after observing my fellow students for three years, I can say that skin color most certainly is not a secondary issue. In fact, even though it may not be through conscious effort, the color of our skins is one of, if not the, most divisive factors at LRHS.
While I hate to generalize, based on my observations and interviews with other students, I think it is fair to say that while Leesville Road is physically one location, there are two completely separate schools, two classes of people sharing the space within these walls.
Mr. Brewington, administrator, said, “Unfortunately, there is a racial divide at Leesville. Our school is just a microcosm of society, and since there is a racial divide within our country, it would be silly to ignore it and say it doesn’t exist.”
Before anyone can even debate whether or not a racial divide is present at Leesville, it is first necessary to define race. “From what I understand, ethnicity is a group of people from the same area, and race is more of a group who share a cultural background,” said Mr. Mack, teacher.
According to dictionary.com, “race” is defined as, “any people united by a common history, language, or cultural traits.” What this means is that the common perception that race is a matter of color is incorrect. Instead, what we generally associate with race are actually stereotypes.
“Stereotypes are simply cultural norms that have been over-exaggerated through history and through the media,” said Mack. “Normal actions and observed behaviors have become sweeping generalizations and while some stereotypes may be derived from the truth, many of them were created and have persisted over the years because people just don’t know anything different.”
Jesse McGuire, junior, agrees. “In modern society, people like to be comfortable, and a part of that comfort is the belief that you know about everything, and more importantly everyone, you interact with. Stereotypes are just an easier route than taking the time to accurately learn for ourselves about different individuals and what makes them tick.”
Not only do stereotypes distort our perceptions of other races, but the false sense of comfort they instill within us allows us to avoid openly associating with other races. It is that pursuit of comfort that has helped to create the racial divide that exists today.
However, Julian Taylor, junior, feels the issue concerns more than just our generation. “We may be more comfortable around people of the same race, but we definitely aren’t the first generation to feel that way. Think about it; our parents, our grandparents, and even our great-grandparents all lived with a racial divide, so it’s natural to pass that way of life down through the generations,” said Taylor.
Brewington went on to echo that same idea. “For the most part, history, up to this point, has dictated that blacks and whites have separate cultures and lives,” said Brewington. “The modern concept of eliminating the racial divide that has existed for hundreds of years is optimistic and ambitious, but to change an entire belief system, especially one that has stood for so long, is going to take a long time.”
While both are obvious contributing factors to the racial divide present at LRHS, to me, neither comfort nor history seemed the number one reason behind the split. Instead, I saw the main issue as something much more complicated: socioeconomics.
The relationship between social and economic trends, socioeconomics explains how a student from a poorer family, one with more of a focus on survival than academic success, ends up in a lower-level course at school with other children in the same situation. After meeting in classes, these students are more likely to become friends and spend time together; as it so happens, until now, the trend has been primarily for African-American families and as a result, the racial divide has grown larger.
Said Mack, “There is a direct correlation between economic standings and social behaviors. Families with less financially place less emphasis on academic success, so children from those families do the same.”
Considering the numerous causes for the present racial divide, it seems highly unlikely that, barring a miracle, any substantial change will come in the immediate future. Even if that may be the case, it is crucial to the future of our society that we begin to rock the boat and break the system in any way we can.
“It isn’t going to be quick, and it isn’t going to be easy, but if our generation, as a whole, can dedicate itself to making a difference, then maybe we can have an effect. It won’t be any new groundbreaking concept, but we just have to learn to be more accepting of our differences,” said McGuire.
Will it take time? Yes, generations. It took that long to be built, so it will take at least that long to break it down. Will it be difficult? You betcha. People will always listen to the past and people won’t always be eager to accept a more uncomfortable world, no matter how temporary. But in the end, will all of the change and all of the time be worth it?