Note: A Word From the Youth is a monthly feature in the News of Orange that will provide a forum for Orange County high school students to express opinions and thoughts, and interact with the community.
The stereotypes, lack of education, and micro and macro-aggressions, surrounding race and racial issues are frustrating and demeaning enough for people of color but, on top of all of that, comfort is a barrier to action. Whether in school, corporate America, social media, or everyday life, many people refrain from addressing issues such as police brutality, systematic racism, children in cages, the flawed Immigration System, and so many more because these discussions make them uncomfortable. What these individuals fail to realize is that being able to ignore an injustice that does not directly affect them, to remain in their comfort zones is a privilege. People of color cannot simply turn a blind eye to the issues our communities face or save discussions on race for another day. As much as we love our melanin, culture, and history, we still have to learn early on that being a person of color in America places a target on our backs. We have never had the luxury of comfort, as we feel uncomfortable in our own country — our own skin — daily.
Particularly within the education system, people of color often find themselves being pushed far out of their comfort zones. Higher-level high school classes such as advanced placement or honors typically lack diversity. Due to the absence of African American, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American History classes within most school systems, a deep-rooted lack of knowledge and respect for other cultures is prevalent in some students. Thus, the students of color that do enroll in advanced courses usually have to advocate and defend their race as well as other races. Being only one or among a few other students of color in a class of predominantly White students is intimidating and uncomfortable, but we persevere and enroll anyway. It is also true that for this same reason, many students of color steer away from taking these classes entirely, perpetuating people of color’s desire to find some sense of comfort.
As a Black, young woman who didn’t always dare to speak out against social injustices, I know what it’s like to seek comfort instead of what is right. By my freshman year of high school, I was getting used to rarely seeing someone of my complexion in my classes, hearing on the news of another unjust killing at the hands of the police, and avoiding talking about race altogether in certain crowds. It was exhausting to feel as if your voice and the voice of your people were not being heard. It was exhausting to think that things may never get better and that history would only continue to repeat itself. It was exhausting trying to explain why people’s lives matter and why this shouldn’t be considered a political issue. Yet, in my exhaustion, I found the strength to act. The stories of my fellow peers motivated me to begin putting the change I desired to see for the African American community and all communities of color before my comfort level. I was scared to speak to the Orange County School Board, the Orange County Schools Equity Task Force, and even in front of my school’s faculty, but my purpose outweighed my feelings.
Racism should make everyone feel uncomfortable, and if it doesn’t, you’re not paying close enough attention to the world around you. But, discomfort is no excuse for inaction and not talking about it. Turning a deaf ear to the problems plaguing underrepresented groups is just as dangerous as racism itself. If conversations of much-needed reform never even begin, nothing will change. As said by the renowned and revolutionary Civil Rights Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”