Reflections on Racism

Kenyon Watson, Entertainment Editor

As inhabitants of the “Orinda Bubble,” most people rarely see the effects of racism outside of media coverage. Although we are incredibly fortunate to live in such a safe and protected environment, it can make it difficult to comprehend the tangible impact that racism still has on society. Despite hearing shocking news regarding racism throughout our country, including Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s tragic deaths, it never really hit home. Of course I was appalled that such blatant discrimination was still present in society, but to be honest, I didn’t feel the direct impact given that both instances occurred far beyond the borders of Lamorinda. Both Michael Brown and Eric Garner felt so far removed that their deaths were more like stories than reality. But, after a fellow senior at Head-Royce School experienced first hand discrimination in Montclair with two police officers, I realized that even within our sheltered community, we are not immune to the effects of racism.

At this point in time, the importance of racial equality is evident. The fact that racism is present in so many situations baffles me, especially in situations regarding police officers and young people. The incident in Montclair occurred when the Head-Royce senior was taking an early morning stroll and taking pictures for an Environmental Science project. He was approached by police, questioned, wrongfully accused, and discriminated against, showing that people continue to discriminate against people of color.

He was approached by police after a middle aged woman saw him walking around, capturing photos for his assignment, and thought he was the “criminal” guilty of recent break-ins in their neighborhood. This woman claimed that he was holding a hammer, which later turned out to be his camera. Because those two items have such a resemblance, right? Police questioned him while holding their batons up, just in case this innocent boy were to come at them with his “hammer.” They asked him where he went to school, what his record consisted of, and why he was in the area. He remained calm and told the officers his information.

At first they were shocked to hear that he attended a private school; they almost didn’t believe him, despite the fact that he was wearing his school’s gear. They tried to justify their reasons for approaching him by claiming there had been many home invasions in the neighborhood and he fit the description almost perfectly. I’m sure if there were to be another young African American male, they would say the exact same thing.

This student was insulted and frightened by this blatant act of discrimination. He wrote an article which was published in the Oakland Tribune describing his experience. He eloquently stated, “throughout my interaction with these two cops, I was constantly reminded of the power they possessed. They were in charge of defining who I was – it was not up to me. No matter what I told them, they didn’t believe me, even if I had sensuous proof.” This passage really stood out because it made me question what would I do in a situation where I was facing two officers who have the power to end my life because of one wrong move. Furthermore, if something unfortunate were to happen to him, it would be his word against two white officers. And who is everyone going to believe?

Despite the fact we often see the effects of racism throughout the media, it can be difficult to accept that it occurs no matter where you reside. Racism has been a problem for far too long with too many unsuccessful solutions. In our communities we don’t often realize that prejudice is so ingrained in our society that it manifests in daily experiences. I don’t have a solution for this, however I think we need to step back and start talking about the racism that exists in our peaceful community.