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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Fighting racism 50 years later

    Alex Gutierrez columnist
    Alex Gutierrez
    columnist

    This month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most momentous events in civil rights history. This event is, of course, what happened in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957 when nine brave young men and women faced racist and bigoted crowds to achieve what is a basic right in this country: to get a high
    school education.

    Flanked by National Guard troops on orders from President Eisenhower, these children marched their way to Little Rock Central High School, merely to attend class. And what did these kids do that was so wrong? They had a darker skin color than the rest of the kids at the school. Fast forward 50 years to this Sept. 25, when the “”Little Rock Nine,”” as they came to be known, arrived at Central High not surrounded by soldiers, but in limousines, as honored guests. In the words of Carlotta Walls, one of the Nine, “”you can overcome adversity if you know you are doing the right thing.””

    Now go to August 2006, this time in Jena, La. At Jena High School, there was a tree informally reserved for white students. When black students chose to sit under that same tree, the following day there were three nooses hanging from the branches. Once the students who hung the rope were caught, the principal recommended expulsion, but the school board merely gave the students three days of suspension, calling the incident an “”adolescent play prank.”” The uneven disciplinary action taken by the school board sparked racial tensions, which led to more trouble. In just one incident that followed, a white student pulled a shotgun on three black students at a local convenience store. The black students took the shotgun from the white student and were charged with second-degree robbery and theft of a firearm. The student with the shotgun was not charged. These events cumulated in a fight in the school cafeteria in which three black students attacked a white student, beating him unconscious. The students arrested for the beating were all originally charged with second-degree attempted murder, although these charges were subsequently lowered to second-degree battery.

    While I in no way condone how the students in Jena responded to the discrimination they felt, it is indicative of a larger problem. While it has absolutely no place in this country, and no matter how hard we try to deny it, racism still rears its ugly head in the United States.

    The most glaring difference between what happened in Arkansas in 1957 and Louisiana in 2006 is that in Little Rock, the racism was an institutionalized, widely accepted practice. With Jena, the racism exhibited was informal and implicit, just under the surface and waiting for the right conditions to come out. And that’s exactly what the problem is. It’s been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his “”I have a dream”” speech, and while in that time we’ve made tremendous strides combating racial prejudice in this country, there is still a long way to go. The Jena incident is merely one of many cases of informal racism that occur in this country every year.

    At the root of all racism is an intrinsic ignorance. This ignorance is what leads to “”cultural norms”” that accept racism in all of its ugly forms. Understanding this concept is a great start, but it is not enough. It is our responsibility as future leaders to help fight this injustice. One of the best ways to fight is through education. If we can get cultures to learn just a little bit about one another; if we can do our part to foster cooperation and understanding; if we can just reach that one person, that’s one more step in the right direction. As civil rights advocate Jane Elliott said, “”Racism is a learned affliction, and anything that is learned can be unlearned.””

    Alex Gutierrez is a political science senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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