Small towns cultivating racism?

Zaynab Kouatli, Staff Writer

Racism is a moral and political issue in the United States. Our society is constructed on the belief that establishing equality is mutual and the American dream can be achieved with hard work. Some populations can achieve the American Dream while other disenfranchised population groups suffer from oppression, exploitation and racial discrimination.
Racism exists in small towns in a variety of forms ranging from ignorance, to ridicule, to hostility. “I do experience racism from students through language and microaggressions,” Wayne State student, Des’tinee Wilkins, said.
Wilkins does not believe Wayne State effectively handles racism. “The college only addresses racism when they are directly called upon,” Wilkins said. “They do not handle any situation until they are called upon. To me, the administration definitely hears about these things, but do not get involved. They wait until they absolutely must.”
Wilkins is originally from the south where racism is more embedded. “The racism here is different because it is not embedded but caused from the lack of diversity,” Wilkins said. “Ignorance allows racism to exist in rural areas. Nebraskan government has a very prejudiced way about going about stances and laws.”
Wilkins deems there is huge lack of diversity on campus. “The diversity is not at the level it should be, especially with how much the school brags about it,” Wilkins said. “Yes, diversity is somewhat respected, but by administration, not students.”
Emerson student, T’Kayeh Sterling spoke about her experience with small town racism. “I have experienced back handed racism, like people asking me if my hair is real,” Sterling said. “They associate any Hispanic person with being illegal. They would ask if I was adopted because my mom is white. When I would braid my hair, I would be called Pocahontas. I was bullied because I was the first brown kid in that school.”
Sterling believes that as a community, people can do more. “At Emerson, I would ask teachers to help and they would not do anything,” Sterling said. “They can promote more things involving people of color in schools and give more knowledge to people who are racist towards me about people of color. But Emerson did not, and I wish they did.”
Sterling does not think Emerson effectively handles racism. “They know that it happens but a lot of the people at that school, even the staff themselves, are racist towards people of color,” Sterling said. “It makes me sad because they are in an industry where they are supposed to help children.”
David Ernesti is the only educator of color at Stanton Community Schools. “Residents of small towns need to get out of their comfort zones when talking about people of color,” Ernesti said. “To them, everyone in their town looks like them. It is all homogenous, so they do not see they have a problem with racism. They may say racist things, but they do not see themselves as racist. Because of the homogenous makeup of small towns, those groups tend to be fearful of people who do not look like them and those groups are people color. Younger people are going to move that needle.”
“To address structural racism, you need someone from a diverse background, but if your town consists of the same 50 white people it is kind of hard to do so,” Wilkins said. “Racism is only changed by people who really experience it or to those who are emotionally connected to it. Racists do not realize their racism until they see it affects someone they care about.”
Tackling racism in small towns is incredibly difficult. “Most schools, because they reflect their community, are hesitant to wade in the water of tackling racism,” Ernesti said. “It is almost as if racism has been co-opted as a part of politics. So, schools have been hammered by that. Educators are trying to do the best they can, and often administration does not want to poke that bear. The school is sensitive to what the community thinks.”
“Schools should be at the front of the line when confronting racism and promoting social justice,” Northeast student, Marissa Carr, said. “It seems like the students are more apt to do this than the adults.”
Wilkins suggests that schools need a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racism. “What most schools get away with is doing the bare minimum punishment when it is proven,” Wilkins said. “That allows people to joke about things that should not be joked about in the first place.”
Are all citizens of small towns racists? Of course not. But this defensive stance fills a distinct, homogeneous tribalism. People of color in small town want the same freedoms and rights that residents of small towns have.