Schreiber: Losing the race against racism

Sandra Riano, Staff Writer

As an outsider, you may look into Schreiber High School and see diversity.   You may walk into the lobby and see streamers decorating tables and music playing to celebrate Hispanic culture. You may see people selling baked goods to celebrate Chinese culture. But is genuine diversity, and widespread respect for it, really there?
One may say that a weeklong celebration of Hispanic tradition is a way for Schreiber students to experience culture and diversity.  However, to those students who choose to participate in the event and wear ponchos and sombreros to “celebrate Spanish culture”: these activities do not reflect the diversity of Latin America.
These experiences are a facade. The students feel that by participating, they are celebrating Hispanic culture. In reality, they celebrate a stereotypical culture based on a foundation of racism. Everyone is familiar with the Mexican stereotype, and that kind of exposure hinders people from seeing past the “poncho and sombrero” outfit through to a unique and diverse culture.  This says a lot about the open-mindedness of our school.
Last year’s fall pep rally included various representations of cultures. At the event, some of Schreiber’s East Asian students danced to the very popular “Gangnam Style.”  During this event, the crowd roared, danced, and clapped along to the beat as they watched their peers dance to the Korean song. However, had a traditional dance in tribute to Korean culture been performed, would it have gotten the same reaction from the crowd? Honestly, it would not.
When the 2014 Student Council elections took place, the crowd’s reaction to one student’s speech re-defined the idea of cultural acceptance within our school. During the election, then junior Melody Sagastume read her speech first in English, and then a second time in Spanish. No student in Schreiber history has ever done so.
 “When Melody delivered her speech in Spanish, there was a complete disconnect from the crowd; there was blatant disrespect,” said senior Akari Shimura.  “It’s ignorant for students to discriminate another student for speaking their native language.  In my opinion, someone who is able to do so is exercising another form of intelligence and shouldn’t be mocked for that.” 
When Sagustume stood up to deliver her speech and the microphone malfunctioned, everyone respectfully remained silent. However, when she delivered her speech in Spanish, the crowd did not provide attention and respect. There was a nervous laughter in the room: murmurs of why the speech had to be delivered in both languages. A general lack of understanding of someone speaking in their native language led to the disrespect of one of our fellow students. 
“Since I can speak English, I can exchange ideas and integrate into society, but for those people who can’t speak English, it is very hard for them,” said senior Henry Lin. “It makes it hard to approach strangers. Unintentionally the language barrier separates us from one another.”
There are many questions left unresolved in association with Sagustume’s speech. A major one being that the event administrators, knowing that there were a full 20 minutes left in the period, did not encourage Sagustume to recite her speech again once the microphones resumed their function. The students who explicitly laughed at their fellow student were allowed to leave the room without punishment.
“Without understanding and a willingness to begin to understand, real culture can’t really be appreciated,” said senior Jenny Garofolo.
Sagastume further added,“I’m surprised as to how racism still exists in Schreiber and how there is nobody to address the problem. Students and teachers seem to brush off this horrible issue while it should be addressed. Students should be informed by the staff that making racist jokes and comments is not something to joke about. The worst is that, while this school is culturally diverse, there still is prejudice against the minorities and no acceptance of different cultures.”
To go about and find sources of “racism” in our school, students felt the need to redefine the word. Racism is not displayed as violently and as in-your-face as many may think.
“One of the biggest problems I see around school is the casual use of racial slurs in reference to friends,” said senior Gabrielle Robinson. “They seem to be unaware of the impact they have by using such terms.”  
Hidden by the “fluff” of a funny comment, culturally offensive remarks perpetuate racism. Modern-day racism certainly seems to have found a different way of prevailing in our society. Although, admittedly, racism has lessened over the past few decades, it is still alive and thriving: even within the walls in our Schreiber community. So the next time you make an offhand joke about culture, just think about your action, and please do not tell me that it is not racism.