By Samantha McKenzie
American prejudice and racism has taken its toll on us. Some argue that it’s been there all along and technology just made it more visible. Some say that the cases we are seeing on the daily newsfeed are a reflection of a small percentage of bad apples, but doesn’t represent the whole. There’s much work to be done.
Although I grew up in the city that considers itself a “melting pot,” our neighborhoods were divided by race, ethnicity and religion. Everyone played nice in the sandbox until 5 o’clock came and then we all scurried back to our very segregated neighborhoods. We bragged about the diverse group of friends we had at work, but that comradery never made its way inside our homes, our churches or at our community gatherings.
When I first moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., an anonymous call came into the newsroom one day. The person told me that there was a racist sign sitting in her neighborhood and then rattled off the address. When I arrived, with my camera in hand, there it was in plain sight. On the front porch of a single family ranch-style home sat a piece of plywood spray painted with the racial epithet, “No N*ggas Allowed.” This was my introduction to the South.
Just recently, I learned of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old boy from Irving, Texas, whose brilliance and ingenuity was mistaken for terrorism. His story went viral. He received an outpouring of support from thousands a people, including President Obama, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerman, and Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. His future will be bright, but he will never forget that frightful day.
I can’t help but wonder about that teacher. Did she question him because he was a Muslim with an Arab name? Was this the first time she became suspicious of him or was it when she read the roll on the first day of class? Was she blinded by her prejudice? What stereotypes am I still holding on to as well?
Prejudice gives birth to discrimination and racism, and with all the evidence available to us today, it still continues to infect our nation. It takes root in two ugly truths: Superiority and fear. To give it up, we would first have to relinquish the idea that we are better than others. Next, we would have to believe that there is enough of everything in this world to go around — enough homes, jobs, transportation, food, clothing and shelter…and certainly enough love. We can be equals and share in it. Yes we can.
As a woman who hopes for a brighter future, I encourage all of us to participate in eradicating this disease called prejudice. Challenge your own stereotypes and prejudices. Put away our assumptions. Put down our negative practices and eliminate those derogatory comments. Whatever we do, don’t pass it on.