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Stop brain pollution: Racism, stereotypes and prejudice

By Bridgette Olumhense
Special to the Michigan Citizen

When I take a stroll through my memories, I always seem to come to the first basketball game I ever attended. I and the rest of my Girl Scout troop were 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 the details, I remember jogging down the city block when a woman in front of me dropped her money. It was $15, a fortune in a seven year old’s mind, but Mom always said to return what isn’t yours. I was tall for my age with long legs, 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, and as soon as she turned, I planned to hand it to her.

Pause. This was the part that always confused me. Maybe it was the look in her eyes, or the weather, or the tension injected into the atmosphere, but I have always felt that moment was symbolic. The lady, a tall pretty blonde woman, and her friend both 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 enjoy a long awaited meal. But I could never shake the feelings 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 as to why a toothy 7-year-old stranger was talking to her.

Maybe she was late for a meeting.

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 making more of the situation than it was, 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 turbans and terrorists are synonymous, or there are too many “brown people.”

What is race, or what separates races? There is but one race: the human race. But white scientists have categorized humans into “races” by the melanin or lack thereof in their skin. Racism is a social construct, an invisible barrier that hinders communication and interaction between humans. It’s strange how having a certain pigment in your skin can cause so much judgement.

From racism we get stereotypes and prejudice. 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 not only pertains to Trayvon Martin, but also to 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, N.Y..  The sophomore is the 2013-14 Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Ambassador for WPHS and participates in the school’s District Youth Council.


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