Issue VI: Treatment of Ethnic, Racial and Minority Groups
In the past year, the U.S. was faced with a rising issue — race relations. With the travel ban, the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the police shootings against black males and the unknown future of DACA, conversations about the treatment of ethnic, racial and minority groups began. We surveyed 42 North Carolinians and spoke to eight respondents about their thoughts and experiences with race relations in our state and the country as a whole.
Austin shared his reasoning for attending the Women’s March last January:
Megan said she has experienced discrimination based on her appearance.
This survey respondent says racial tensions have stayed the same in North Carolina and the United States.
Doubtful of equality:
As a white male, Ryan feels he shouldn’t be treated any better than other people.
Race relations in North Carolina:
Titi Ellis said having difficult conversations with family and friends needs one component: being fearless.
“Fearless means when it’s a regular conversation between friends and someone does not understand Black Lives Matter, it’s [about] being fearless and actually speaking up and saying something.”
She said she has instilled the value of hard discussions into her kids, specifically “vintage conversations”: her term for face-to-face conversations.
“I can affect [change] by making sure that my children respect and know other cultures and they give back across class, across race,” Ellis said. “I want them to start having those vintage dialogs, but we all can do it by just educating ourselves and respecting other people’s thoughts.”
Ellis said she is trying to understand why people think the way they do through these conversations.
“We have to respect why people are thinking the way that they are thinking, and I’ve been very conscious about asking questions about why white supremacists feel threatened,” she said. “What’s at the core of it?”
She does get frustrated, however, hearing stories from non-minority groups about how hard it is to succeed.
“As a person who grew up in southeast D.C. in a poor neighborhood with middle class parents — my parents were better off than some — it was tough and I knew education was the way that I was going to get everything,” Ellis said.
“Go to school, get your education, bust your ass and hustle hard and you can have everything. I did it as a black woman. I had to go through far more barriers than you. You can do it too.”
One of the barriers that gets under Ellis’ skin is the mad black woman stereotype: if a black woman is firm, she is seen as crazy.
“Michelle Obama talked about this,” she said. “No matter how professional, how esteemed or accomplished, if a black woman gets mad or upset, the whole room goes cold.”
Throughout her life, Ellis has been conscious of how she is seen as a black woman but, when she moved to North Carolina from D.C., she became more aware of the racial divide.
“I was never really conscious of color until I came here,” Ellis said. “Everyone was just a big pool of people that you gravitated to.’”
A mural outside of a Raleigh Harris Teeter made Ellis think about how our society undervalues diversity.
“Harris Teeter has a mural on Glenwood of a farmers market,” she said. “I was walking past it and noticed how it was just white people in the farmers market and [thought], ‘Wow if I was in D.C. it would have been multicultural.’”
“It gets me thinking that it’s almost impossible for a kid to think differently if all the images they see are the same.”
She does think younger generations care more about shared interests than the color of one’s skin.
“The younger generations see it less and less,” Ellis said. “There’s a freer mind among younger folks. They just don’t care as much.”
Educating the next generation about accepting different races is one of Annette Freeman’s missions as a mom.
Freeman said her first conversation about racism with her kid came when her son in the third grade was threatened for being Jewish.
“He was told specifically, ‘It would have been better if all the Jews had been cooked in the ovens.’”
“I went to administration and reported it and I was told that he learned it at home and there was nothing they could do about it. Someone should have stepped in, that is not an okay thing to say. No one wants to stand up and say ‘No, that’s wrong.’”
She went back to her faith to teach him that differences are OK.
“I really tried to teach them that anybody who says anything about ‘us versus them,’ get away from them,” Freeman said. “If we are really going to believe that God created all people, then who are we to say someone is less than someone else. If we look at the world, there’s all different kinds of trees, every leaf looks different, there’s all different kinds of colors. This is physical evidence that God loves variety.”
She said educating her kids to about inclusion was especially important because her parents taught her to fear people who were seen as other.
“The biggest thing any of us can do, especially women who become moms, is raise our kids to see that [diversity] is a good thing,” Freeman said.
“It’s up to moms to step up. Moms changed everything. I was raised in an all white community by racist parents. I know I say the wrong things, I do the wrong things, but I try. The biggest try I did was to make sure my kids weren’t like that.”
Freeman said she sees racism as a problem in our society, especially after the last several years in the U.S. and in North Carolina.
“With the current president and even in North Carolina, we have a state government that does not represent the people of North Carolina,” Freeman said. “They’ve legitimized this atmosphere of ‘It’s ok to hate.’ This thing about political correctness — what a stupid term. It’s about being respectful and being polite. It’s not a bad thing to be respectful and be polite.”
She considers those who stay silent are also a part of the problem.
“If you don’t stand up and say, no this isn’t right, you’re part of the problem.”
She added children make her hopeful that we can eventually achieve racial equality.
“When we first got here [to the park], there was a group of kids sitting here,” Freeman said. “It was completely diverse. They were laughing. They were talking. That’s what gives me hope.”
Brian Nguyen is first-generation Vietnamese American. He’s the vice president of the Asian Student Association at N.C. State, an organization that aims to bridge together cultures from Asian countries.
“What were trying to do [at ASA] is find a gateway to actual cultures because if people thought America was just fast food and McDonald’s and barbecue they would leave out South America,” Nguyen said. “South Americans are Americans too. We’re a club that tries to help people experience who Asians are. Asians aren’t just Asians. Asians are people with backgrounds.”
The organization also helps promote Asian culture in the N.C. State community.
“My role is to show that although we are different, although our flesh may be different, at the same time we are all people and we are all humans living on earth, and we’re all supposed to love and care for each other.”
“The skin and flesh is when we start to judge each other. It matters on who you are on the inside because if you look at someone, we see them as distinctly different. I could make so many judgments just on how they look but when you actually get to know the person we realize, ‘Whoa they share some similarities and if I judge the person just because they look different, I wouldn’t have gotten to know people for who they really are.’”
He said he better understands not judging someone based on the way they look after joining and participating in a black church.
“Initially they were like ‘Oh he’s Asian, is he here because he just wants to go to black church or is he here because he actually cares for the people?’” Nguyen said. “Initially I guess people were like ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ but they weren’t really comfortable yet but the more I went, the more they realized that I’m not just an Asian, but I’m a human being just like them and we’re all family.”
He said attending the church has helped him learn more about race and relations.
“I’ve been learning a lot from them and it’s really opened up my perspective.”
Nguyen said learning about different people and not only hanging around people who are similar to him is important and combats ongoing racism.
“People are scared of what they don’t know,” Nguyen said. “They try to hang around people who are similar to each other and when a bunch of people who have similar ideologies get together, their beliefs can go somewhat extreme.”
Nguyen explained Asians aren’t as impacted by hatred as other races but are often ignored.
“As Asians, we’re invisible,” he said. “We don’t suffer from the consequence of racial discrimination, but we’re also not really seen.”
As a kid, Nguyen said he struggled with fitting in to American culture. He felt he couldn’t explain this isolation to his parents or older brother, who has Aspergers.
“Growing up it was kind of hard,” he said. “I didn’t have someone to talk to and bond with. Initially being raised by family — parents who I couldn’t really talk to about how to be American, how to be cool — because that’s all guys worry about when they are young, is being cool. Having a brother who I viewed as not cool, I didn’t understand the struggle or what I should do as a brother until now. It’s hard.”
“A lot of Asians feel that — that isolation, that loneliness because they just don’t have anyone to talk to about how to get used to it.”
Nguyen explained Asian languages don’t give an outlet to this isolation and loneliness.
“A lot of Asian languages in general, they don’t have words for specifically saying ‘I’m feeling depressed,’ ‘I’m feeling down,’” he said. “There’s words for ‘I’m feeling tired’ or words for ‘I’m not well.’ But it’s not well. Not I’m feeling sad.”
Growing up in the the Pacific Northwest, Lynn Sullivan had no exposure to people of color until she went to graduate school in Georgia.
“There weren’t any black people in the northwest,” Sullivan said. “I graduated in ’75 and from there I went to a woman’s college. I think we had two women from Nigeria. I had no black exposures and then I went off to Montana, living in Yellowstone for the National Park Service. There was no other black people and even if they were, they were so assimilated into white culture. I had no idea there was a black culture until I moved to Georgia for grad school.”
She added even then she didn’t quite understand her privilege until she was driving in rural Georgia.
“I became aware as I was finishing my masters — one of my most shameful moments was — I was driving back country roads in Georgia,” she said. “I had gone to my thesis site, and I was following this beat up little car and something like a candy wrapper floated by. And I was like ‘They littered.’ I’m honking at them ‘You littered. Don’t you litter.’ It was two older black men who looked scared shitless.”
“It really hit me then, who did I think I was. I really just had no clue in country Georgia people are more vulnerable and I’m going on about my righteous environmentalism, and they’re just trying to survive.”
She said after this event she has become more aware of race relations in the U.S. but more recently has begun to understand the issues within, like police brutality against black men.
“People are aware of it now,” Sullivan said. “I really had no idea about police brutality until the last few years. I knew that I, living in Seattle, did not like our police officers. I didn’t know the word is militaristic. I just knew that they were bad asses. They were bossy and aggressive. I was a white woman thinking ‘Holy smokes, I can’t even imagine what black people are experiencing,’ but now it’s out there.”
Sullivan has worked as a planner for public parks in Raleigh, and she knows the value of including a diverse group of populations to have a successful park.
“You need to have multiple populations, you can’t have one population overtaking it, running it completely,” she said.
“That’s the problem with Moore Square, is it’s primarily a place for the homeless. So people then who aren’t homeless don’t necessarily go there…I’m not saying homeless people shouldn’t be allowed in there, absolutely they should be. It needs to be a manageable mix of members so they don’t stand out as a single population that dominates the park.”
Sullivan has taken on the role of educating others about challenges that minority groups face.
“I was dialoging at my high school class, because we were at the reunion year, and some bozo and all of his friends were like ‘All lives matter’ and I’m like ‘You’re not getting it,” she said. “Of course, they all matter. What we’re trying to say is think bigger.”
Not being inclusive to different cultures and populations is a norm in the U.S., according to Sullivan.
“The president is targeting specific populations, which is not unusual in this country,” she said. “We’ve done it in the past with the Japanese and the Chinese.”
“It’s nothing new, but we’re so much further along than that. Aren’t we further along than that?”
She added the U.S. needs to ensure that hate groups, like white supremacists, aren’t given a voice.
It needs to be squashed,” Sullivan said. “There was a time when we recognized as a country that Nazis were a very bad thing and we need to fight against them and squash them at any and all costs. To think that they have a voice and we have given them a voice, we’ve gone too far left. There’s nothing but destruction and hatred there. There should not be a voice. I don’t care what color they are.”
Gloria De Los Santos
When Donald Trump was running for president, Action NC, a nonprofit that helps low-income communities mobilize and take action, saw the need to facilitate a conversation about race relations.
According to Gloria De Los Santos, the Durham director of Action NC, the organization wanted to dive deeper than the history of racism to understand how racism came to be.
“If you’re going to talk about race, let’s bring it all the way back to the history of where it started,” De Los Santos said.
“It goes farther back than bringing individuals over to America. I want to start with how it became structure, how it became institutional, how it became cultural, how it became individual and how it affects our children.”
She said since Donald Trump became president, she is not alarmed by his controversial comments.
“He’s 70-something years old,” she said. “That’s the mindset that a lot of individuals, and not just white men, but all men and some women have. They’re not open to new ideas because they believe in their policies, their views and those views still fall back into the 1960s, the 1940s. It hinders the progress instead of helps it. My grandma would always tell me, history always repeats itself. Sometimes it repeats itself in a good way, sometimes it repeats itself in a bad way.”
De Los Santos added people have racist tendencies and addressing how to deal with that as an individual is a challenge for Action NC.
“The whole idea is to understand that everybody has a little bit of racism in them and we have to admit that we have that.”
“The problem that comes with that is, how do we deal with it?” De Los Santos said. “How do we correct that? And with how we correct it, we need to understand how it all started, what institutions are still condoning it, what cultural barriers are out there, how do we deal with it individually and how do we talk to our children about it.”
De Los Santos said having conversations with community members by going door-to-door and conducting meetings is the best way to get public involvement. She explained at these meetings they decide the best tactic for action, whether it’s talking out an issue, speaking to a community leader, conducting a march or going to the press, which is the last resort. With victorities, Action NC takes time to reflect and figure out their next move to keep the community active in change.
“We came together to solve this issue,” De Los Santos. “What else can we do that empowers them to make changes in their community or address a particular issue outside of the community that’s really important to them?”
With her involvement, De Los Santos said she has realized problems don’t only impact one minority — it may just impact them differently.
“I don’t focus on individuals of color,” she said. “I really don’t focus on color because for one thing, problems have no discrimination. If all these problems are affecting an African American community or a Latino community, I’m pretty sure it’s affecting an all white community the same way. It might be done a little differently, but it’s still a problem.”
Kaliq Ray is aware of the stereotypes that come with being a black male. He said he goes into situations thinking of how to mitigate those stereotypes.
While visiting New York, Ray did just that — he greeted the security guard at the place he was staying and dressed well. He soon learned that he still would be judged because of the color of his skin. Ray realized he made one mistake — he did not remember the floor of his friend’s apartment.
While his girlfriend and friend were getting ready, Ray went down to use the lobby bathroom to give them privacy. He greeted the security guard, went to the bathroom and came out to see a different security guard.
“I tried my best, from a visual standpoint, to bridge that buffer between what we know about someone who is homeless or crazy or on drugs — I try not to meet those stereotypes visually,” Ray said.
“Sometimes I can’t do that because I have melanin in my skin. He gave me this immediate look of disdain and disgust.”
Ray said he ignored these looks and returned to apartment, not paying attention to the floor he was on. Not trying to wander throughout the building, Ray went to the lobby to ask the security guard for help.
“Going to the floor, I decided knowing what I know from my family’s history and what I know, let me not wander,” he said. “If you don’t look like you know where you’re going, people will stop you and ask you where you’re supposed to be, especially if you don’t look like the people who regularly go to this building. So I thought, let me minimize all this and just go back downstairs.”
According to Ray, the security guard met him with accusation: why don’t you call your friends; are you a crazy ex-boyfriend? After unanswered calls and a visit to the apartment, Ray was reunited with his friends. He knew he did his best to minimize the conflict, even though he was in the right.
“In that situation, I could always lose,” Ray said.
“I could lose my job, maybe. I could be on probation or something like that. I could lose my life, because he could call the police and who are they going to believe? The security guard who was paid to be here or this new black guy who just came in? I could fit a description. There were so many things that ran through my mind like that.”
Throughout this experience, Ray was conscious of the stereotype he brings — black men are aggressive.
“I was trying to be as polite as possible because that’s another thing,” he said. “The way I respond may be different, especially as a person of color. I can be upset with the food or a certain establishment, but the way I say it to a certain person they may perceive me as more aggressive.”
He said he thinks about how the color of his skin will factor into any situation, like attending a protest.
“I want to protest, but sometimes it’s like, you’re going to be the one that gets killed,” he said.
He added he wants people to be mindful that racism may be more institutionalized than it seems. With his younger cousin, he has begun to question if his behavioral problems are actually caused by mistreatment.
“I try my best to go about these things because I’m fearful of, if I ever have a child, I want to make sure I’m aware so I can, as best I can, give them a fighting chance,” Ray said. “With my 10-year-old cousin, he’s always had behavioral problems in school. My family’s from New Jersey but they moved down to Virginia for the first five years of his life, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘He’s in Virginia, how many black people are in Virginia?’”
Liz Haigler considers herself an ally for the Black Lives Matter movement. She grew up in an integrated school and became aware of the issues that challenge black people at an early age.
Looking back to her childhood, she wonders if her friendships with black classmates caused her to be bullied as a child.
“I was picked on and bullied a lot as a child,” Haigler said. “Now looking back, I wonder if it’s because I befriended the black children in my class.”
Haigler said with these friendships, she wanted to be an ally for the black community. Before the officer-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Haigler joined a Black Lives Matter ally group for white people.
“Black Lives Matter burst onto the scene with Trayvon Martin and as we see more and more videos of police brutality, I became more and more interested,” Haigler said.
“I’ve always had friends who were black. It’s sort of like the Weinstein effect, they became more open to talking about it as well. I think that’s huge too.”
After the shooting, she became more involved in the movement by lobbying to change legislation in Charlotte with New South Progressives and educating the community about the New Jim Crow. Haigler said she began to get some push back for her involvement in event planning for race discussions.
“A group of folks said you shouldn’t be putting on this event because you’re white, and it’s not your issue,” Haigler said. “I wasn’t organizing it from a Black Lives Matter perspective, I was organizing it as someone who’s spent years in restaurant and catering and I can put together things. I’m a connector of people.”
Haigler said after Scott was killed and the protest of his death, she wasn’t the only person to be more involved in the community.
“Then [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department] murdered Keith Lamont Scott here in Charlotte, and then we had Charlotte uprising and that was unlike anything we had seen here in Charlotte. Everybody has been hyper involved ever since.”
She said although she thinks racial tensions have increased, she knows it’s because people are more aware of the issue.
“People are actually seeing what’s happened,” Haigler said. “In some ways, I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s important for the issues to be out there and talked about and put force so we can come up with solutions.”
Facilitating hard conversations about race is important to Taylor Cashdan. He was exposed to multiple cultures from a young age. Living in New York, his family interacted with people of “all shapes and sizes” traveling through the boroughs, and they didn’t speak about other races with hatred.
“They weren’t derogatory,” Cashdan said. “Being raised Jewish is helpful, because it’s always the ‘cheap’ stereotype. We’re always battling that, so if you could look at that and go well if we don’t want to be called cheap, you can’t call other people shit.”
Cashdan explained it was easy to be around people who looked different than him because, as a kid, you just want someone to play with.
“We weren’t as exposed to all this rhetoric that we are today — good or bad — part of that is we grew up in a time when Internet was just coming to be so we didn’t really have a ability to be connected so you learned from your parents.”
“You learn from school,” he said. “And that’s kind of it. And we weren’t really in a bad community in that respect either. No one really cared because everyone was in the street playing or doing whatever so we never divided up like that.”
When he left the melting pot and moved to North Carolina in fifth grade, he recalls being made fun of for being Jewish and learned that he didn’t want to rule out groups of people because they are different than him.
“You can tell there were some other people who really gave a shit,” Cashdan said. “‘We can’t associate if you don’t believe in the same entity as I do’. That’s a weird way to cut people out, but alright. I think seeing that sort of negativity shaped my opinion of, I don’t give a shit and I don’t want to care because caring about this makes it difficult to make friends and creates more of this angry dynamic.”
He did find a community similar to the one in New York in his new neighborhood and at school.
“We used to call our street the United Nations, because it was us and then across the street were these Germans and then across them were these Syrians and then across from them were these white people so it was literally this five house thing of the most weirdly diverse group of people who all happened to buy a house in the same time,” he said. “Then when we came to school, we were already friends because the neighborhood and then we branched out and brought other people in so we created our own little melting pot group.”
Cashdan added making friends was easy for him because he didn’t look like one specific race and was extroverted.
“I was always a hybrid person anyway if you want to categorize it,” he said.
“I never had a problem floating between groups so I think that social butterfly perpetuated the ease of transition, plus my neighborhood was kind of diverse.”
Cashdan still hangs out with a diverse group of friends but now that they’re more mature, he can have conversations about race and is also more aware of how the Raleigh community judges them.
“We have an Indian guy, three white people and a Mexican,” he said. “We are a walking pool of diversity and we’ve faced challenges just going to bars when people have not been let in for seemingly no reason.’ Oh we’re full’ and then you watch three white dudes and a girl walk in.”
“Combating that is always a challenge because if you make a scene, they’ll just kick you out anyway and then you’re contributing to the bullshit so it’s hard in that respect to do some of that.”
He added he ensures that he and his friends aren’t using race as an excuse and are willing to talk about the causes of mistreatment.
“Certain people put it on themselves,” Cashdan said. “For example, I’ve had buddies who have gotten a little too drunk at a bar, and the bartender cuts them off and they’re like ‘Is it because I’m xyz.’ It’s like ‘No, you’re being a belligerent shit and you need to stop drinking.’ My social circle deals with that crap often but when we’re sober we’re very eager and open to talk about it. We’re not ignoring the fact that we’re different, but we’re also dealing with a lot of things together.”