Race roundtable: Stereotyping not unique to Ferguson

An unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9. The event has caused numerous demonstrations and speculation as to whether race played a role in the officer’s motives, intensifying discussions of race in America. The Octagon sat down with juniors Jag Lally, Colby Conner and Serajh Esmail and senior Jaspreet Gill to discuss their experiences in Sacramento as minorities.

Q: Have you or your parents ever been in a situation where you felt like you were being watched extra care- fully because of your race?

Jag Lally: It doesn’t matter what day it is or what week it is, any day I go to an airport, I always get the full-body scan thing.

Jaspreet Gill: Yeah, the TSA does a “random” check literally every time I go through any airport!

Colby Conner: I wonder what they’d do if there were a whole bunch of guys in turbans.

Lally: Probably check them all.

Conner: One time, my mom and her friend were driving to our house. We live in a subdivision, and they were trying to park outside our house.

This guy from our neighborhood asked them if they were lost and they said no. He went inside and then came out again and asked again if they were lost.

(My mom) thought he was asking because he thought they didn’t belong there.

But to get into the subdivision, you have to get through the gate. So you have to live there or be with someone who lives there.

It seemed like it was all because there aren’t many other black families there.

Serajh Esmail: Colby, tell the gym story.

Conner: I was in the gym on the elliptical. The mailbox was right outside the door, and this guy was getting his mail. He questioned where I lived in the subdivision and where I go to school.

I think he wanted to make sure I wasn’t intruding in the subdivision.

Gill: (At a Duke summer program), me and a bunch of my friends were going to the food court to get something to eat. I waited outside because I already ate, and a bunch of middle schoolers started harassing me by shouting racial slurs and insults at me from across the plaza.

I got up to move to another seat, and (some) of the boys from the group thought it would be funny to chase after me and tackle me.

One of them tried to tackle me and bounced off my backpack. The other two boys froze while the third tried to pick himself off the ground.

Two of my friends walked out and stood next to me looking down at the kid like, “(What) is this?”

The rest of the kids just bolted.

Conner: Once I was at the doctor’s office after I twisted my ankle. He was a white doctor. He told me that in basketball, you need to be careful. I don’t even play basketball!

He was just making an assumption that I play basketball because I’m black!

Esmail: When I was in (lower school), I went to a party where a middle schooler came up to me and asked why I was at the party since, in his mind, I was “obviously” from Oak Park.

Oak Park is thought of as a ghetto or poor minority neighborhood. At the time I didn’t even understand what he was. Now I realize he was just trying to insult me.

Q: Do you think Country Day does a good job of encouraging a diverse environment? What do you think could be improved?

Gill: Nothing really can be improved. Just looking at it logically, we have a huge mix of ethnicities in a not-so-huge community.

We are practically forced to interact with each other, so we learn more about each other.

Lally: Yeah, just look around in any of the classrooms. You’ll see such a diverse community of people.

Esmail: Agreed.

Conner: I feel that diversity in the faculty could be improved upon.

Q: Have you ever had racist jokes told about you at school?

Conner: I don’t specifically remember any racist jokes that deeply affected me at this school, but I have noticed that a certain teacher at the school occasionally makes racist jokes that aren’t specific to one race as an attempt to be amusing even though it’s not morally proper.

Gill: (The names don’t bother me much) because mostly they were told by my friends. I know they mean no harm, and I joke back in a (similar way).

Whenever someone does say it in a spiteful manner, I usually just ignore them. If they want to be an ignorant idiot so much, why even bother correcting them?

Previously published in the print edition on Oct. 28, 2014.

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