Overcoming Racial Paranoia

By Rose Chen

Through the years, Americans have come up with the “perfect” subterfuge to come off as egalitarians. The result? Well, we’ve basically declared ourselves colorblind, and in doing so, the issue of racism has become the greatest elephant in the room.

Whether we discuss the Civil Rights Movement in our history classes, or talk about police brutality and Donald Trump, it seems like we are always talking about racism. But at the same time, the thought police is constantly censoring and manipulating our conversations. We try not to sound racist by generalizing the situation from a third person point of view, and not explicitly saying any of our own thoughts and feelings. If anything we  say does bring up accusations, we instantly deny everything that we meant, and condemn white supremacy. Because it’s safest to agree that there is a problem, we state the obvious and avoid talking about the more sensitive side, such as our own stereotypical tendencies and why we have them.

Racism, as it exists today, cannot be combated with such avoidance and pretense. John L. Johnson, a professor of Communication and Anthropology at the Richard Perry University, says that our issues “are the conversations that we have even before we censor ourselves out in the public; the ones we have at home when we think no one is listening.” It is important not to “go into the homes and make sure we sanitize that conversation, but to find a productive way to make sure we are not siloing the different groups and that they are not having the same old discussion by themselves, but out in the public.”

Brooklyn Tech is leading the fight against racism in this way by embracing diverse cultures in order to eliminate stereotypes within the community. Recent hashtags on Facebook (#Blackinbrooklyntech) have revealed the bittersweet reality, and Tech has now been pushed to address racism more seriously. Teachers have begun to open up the floor for conversation during class, and Tech has held meetings after school to discuss a larger platform for fighting racism. Angus McDavid ’17, who attended one of the many meetings gave states that, “The best part about these meetings is that they help raise awareness. A lot of kids and teachers don’t pay enough attention, but having teachers and students come together really opened up some eyes.”

We need to avoid overlooking racism, but we also need to avoid overemphasizing it. When we blame every perceived injustice on racial discrimination, we fail to see the full parameters of a situation. Our feelings are not solely attributed to race; other types of discrimination such as those involved with gender are also closely intertwined with our insecurities. Therefore, we should strive to be mindful of our actions and words, but not to an extent that traps us in a state of constant vigilance. Constantly throwing around the race card only chains us to an endless cycle of racial paranoia in which we are either paranoid that everyone is racist and out to harm us, or paranoid that the slightest words make us seem racist. Of course, if something really bothers us, we should let that person know, but in a respectable manner that does not start with, “Is it because I’m….”

The most effective way to overcome racial paranoia is by setting ourselves up to have uncomfortable, but honest conversations about race without getting too defensive or dismissive. Being close with the people we talk to eases the tensions because when we bond with people from other cultures, we become less stereotypical and more appreciative and understanding of the differences between us. Mr. Webber, an AP biology teacher at Tech, puts it well when he says, “It is not enough to simply tolerate. We must embrace each other.”

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