Race at UNE is predominantly white. Most students that are people of color play sports here and for the ones that do play I ask them why they truly chose UNE and they say something along the lines of “Well, I had offers from other schools that were not as good of a school as UNE so I came here.” I then I asked would you have even looked at UNE if you weren’t playing a sport here and almost every answer was a no. A lot of people of color wouldn’t even have looked here if it wasn’t for sports. I talk with my roommate who is black, and he always is talking about how he misses all of his boys back home because he can’t relate to a lot of the people here. Now why is it like that? Why is UNE not an attractive place for people of color? An easy answer to this question is that UNE is in one the whitest states in America and Biddeford having a black population less than 3% make it hard for a person of color to fit in. For the most part UNE is a very accepting place but for some individuals mostly black students don’t feel welcomed because they look around and they don’t see people that look like them. It isn’t anything that anyone has said or done to them they don’t see people like them. For some black students they don’t get a haircut in Maine because they can’t find a place that “knows black hair”. And if they do find a place they play 25-30 bucks for one when they could go home and get one for 15. Being on the football team and having a black roommate has given a perspective into black culture that I have never seen before being from Vermont. I had close black friends in Vermont, but it was different. My friend’s home that are black families have lived there for a few generations and they do stuff differently. Much more like a stereotypical white family.
Students of color at UNE have to talk “white” not “black”. I ask them if they felt pressure to fit in with the rest of the student by the way they talk and most of them said yes. I asked them why they felt the pressure and it was because it was the way everyone else talked. When I’m hanging black kids accents, slang, Ebonics start to come out because they are comfortable with everyone there but once a few white people come over they talk differently with them then with the black kids. I only started noticing this when in class we started reading Kenji Yoshino. Yoshino is a gay Asian American lawyer who introduced this concept of “covering”. Covering is explained best with concepts of True Self and False Self introduced by D.W. Winnicott. True Self is, “the self that gives the individual the feeling of being real” (Yoshino 482). This is basically the person who you really are and is “associated with human spontaneity and authenticity (Yoshino 482). The false self is the self that “gives the individual a sense of being unreal, a sense of futility. It mediates the relationship between the true self” (Yoshino 482). This means that the false self protects the true self when the true self is threatened. And covering is the process that the false self showing rather than the true self when the true self is in danger.
Almost a deeper question about why at UNE feel like they need to cover their true self is why do they feel like it is in danger? I asked around why people of color felt the urge to cover up who they are, and they said it’s not they need to now it just happens when they are around white people. When I heard this I thought of Charles Duhigg’s concept we learn in class “social habits.” (Duhigg 87)
We were introduced this concept by Charles Duhigg who is a Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist and non-fiction author. He wrote about how civil rights movements became into megachurches in the sense that the movements brought together communities of thousands to unite around something. What Duhigg means by social habits is that they are “the behaviors that occur unthinkingly, across dozen or hundreds or thousands of people which are often hard to see as they emerge, but which contain a power that can change the world.” (Duhigg 87). An example of a social habit is picking up dogs poop or recycling. How can we how can we create new social habits at UNE to make people of color feel welcome? Well we already have clubs like the Black Student Union, Cultural Council, and Muslim Students Association but we can do more. We can bring people like Angela Davis or other significant people in the civil rights movements. We can also have sports teams like the Men’s Basketball team and Football team that hold a bulk of diversity at UNE to come forward to open up a discussion about how they perceive race and how race affects their lives here at UNE and at home. I believe once the conversation is opened up between sports teams because we are a large influence on the student body we can change some of the social habits that people have. Another concept introduced by Duhigg is “strong ties”(Duhigg 89) and “weak ties”(Duhigg 91). According to Duhigg, strong ties are the people you talk to everyday or people that you are close to like family and weak ties are the people that know you, more of acquaintances.
Duhigg uses the example of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and how Rosa Parks used her strong ties to start the boycott and then used her weak ties to keep it going. If social change were to happen to end racism or racist tendencies in my opinion sadly we would need to have another Michael Brown situation or an Eric Garner situation but instead of it being between the police and people of color it would have to be between white and black. We saw a little of this in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Unite the Right rally where a man drove into a crowd of protesters that were protesting the rally killing a white woman. If we think about it now if the woman was black and had a lot of strong ties and a lot of weak ties the it would make it very easy for people to condemn that act of racism and hate. Even though we can condemn this action already it would pretty easy for people to rally behind that. In kind of a weird sense it was less of an effect on society because a white person not a black. I say this because a white person could get shot by police and most people just think “Oh well” and if a black person gets shot by police it fires up a lot people to protest police brutality. If we as a society were to protest something like racism, it’s pretty hard because it isn’t a policy that can be changed by government it is just a way of thinking. We can only protest racist actions. Now an issue comes up if we can’t protest racism is how do we end racism. One hypothetically some people think of when they think of the end of racism is that it will end when everyone will have the same skin tone. Now hypothetically would this be the end of racism? Journalist Steve Olson disagrees that that scenario will be the end of racism.
Steve Olson wrote an article about how Hawaii is one of the most racially, ethnically, culturally diverse places in the world. He gives examples of conflicts among people that are physically indistinguishable from each other. Some examples were the Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Hindus, and the Albanians and Serbs and they are all physically indistinguishable for an outsider. Olson introduces a concept called “ethnic thinking” (Olson 252). Ethnic thinking has to parts the first is it is the “‘racialization’ of culture—the tendency to think of another people as not just culturally different but genetically distinct” (Olson 252). This means it that people think that culture is genetically past down from your ancestor. This means that what I wear, my food I eat, the things that I do are all predetermined by my genetics. The second is the “elevation of one’s own ancestry” (Olson 253). This means it is preached by the people that think this way that their ancestry is pure or 100% this race or ethnicity. Olson uses the Nazis as an example because the Jews that they killed were white but even if they themselves didn’t practice Judaism, but their grandparents were Jewish they were automatically Jewish and had Jewish ideology and they needed to be eliminated. Ethnic thinking has brought a lot of people together but also has pushed a lot of people apart. Olson talks about how Hawaii holds a lot of prejudice against a lot of different ethnicity’s there. Yes, having parents from two different races or ethnicity’s is a sign of tolerance but we still see stereotypes there. In Hawaii we can see progress being made but obviously prejudice still exists.
How do we end racism? In my opinion is that we need to change how we perceive race. Changing our perception means instead of using race as a way to define who someone is personally just let it just be a physical characteristic. This means eliminating stereotypes and misconceptions about peoples race and ethnicity. This means we will need to change the social habit of using stereotypes to define someone based of their skin color or where they are from.
Sadly, the end to racism won’t come soon. Changing social habits takes a lot of time, a lot of people, and for something significant to happen to push for that societal change. It may not be in my life time we will see the end to racism and it might not be in my kid’s life time either. For all I know it could be many generations before we see the end of racism, but we can still take steps toward the end to make it a better place for future generations to never see hate and acts of racism.
Yoshino, Kenji. “The New Civil Rights.” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. Third Edition. Barclay Barrios. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 478-488. Print.
Duhigg, Charles. “Civil Rights to Megachurches.” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. Third Edition. Barclay Barrios. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 478-488. Print.
Olson, Steve. “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples.” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. Third Edition. Barclay Barrios. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 478-488. Print.