Straight Talk Advice

Jan 22, 2013

Racism alive and (un)well, to dismay of teen

Dear Straight Talk: I’m 16. My cousins, adopted from Kenya, ages 14 and 15 are visiting. I never figured my friends were prejudiced, but my best friend says she isn’t “comfortable” staying the night “right now” (they are staying in my room). We often have sleepovers with several girls in this room so this makes no sense. Some other friends say it’s because my cousins are black. I am in shock! How do I deal with this? — Anaheim, Calif.

Justin 25, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

What? I thought we’d figured out that the melanin content of one’s skin doesn’t matter. Ask her what bothers her about darker skin. Don't be emotional or she will feel attacked and fight back. Instead, be kind, calm and logical. Use the opportunity to help her grow. If you cut her out, she will just continue this illogical behavior.

Jessie 20, Eugene, Ore. Ask me a question

I encountered a similar situation over Thanksgiving. One of my cousins, a high school student in North Carolina, went Christmas shopping with me, whereupon he “entertained” me with stories of what he and his friends do for fun. Some were incredibly racist, including throwing spoons at blacks and yelling the N–word at them. When I expressed shock, he tried to justify himself, claiming that the victims of their pastimes knew that it was a joke and weren’t offended or hurt because “nobody takes racism seriously, it's just part of the culture”.

I dropped him at his hotel and unfriended him on Facebook. Yes, he’s family, but I choose to distance myself from this mindset. Standing up for what you believe or for those you love is hard, but you end up surrounded by people you respect and enjoy.

Alex 16, Newton, Mass. Ask me a question

Prejudice is a difficulty adjusting to others' differences, whether race, odd habits or beliefs. From my experience, self-love plays a role: if I'm having a hard time loving myself, it is harder to love and accept others.

I don’t like racism either, but getting angry at her for being “racist” will just make her feel labeled and unsafe, which will put her on the defensive. Avoid the racist label and speak as you would to a friend with loving energy. First, mention how uncomfortable you felt when she didn’t want to stay the night. Then ask if it’s true that it was because your cousins are black. Don’t interrupt her answer. When she has finished, you could respond by saying your friendship is important and you want to resolve this so you can go back to enjoying your friendship.

If she says something offensive, it’s her journey. If she needs space from you, you probably need space, too. If this happens, maintain a respectful distance at school. It may be uncomfortable, but discomfort is always an opportunity for personal growth. To come to peace (not that I’ve mastered this), stay in self-love and project warmth toward her, regardless of her behavior.

Kira 20, Moraga, Calif. Ask me a question

I'm really sorry. Best friends are usually more respectful. Talk to her without judgment — knowing that if there’s no resolution, it's okay to take a break from the friendship. In this situation, I would choose my family over my friend any day.

Dear Anaheim: We indeed still live in a racist world. Any non-violent action against racism is fine in my book, and the panel gives some examples. That said, if you want your friend to quit being racist, the best way is by speaking warmly of all peoples while reaching out (warmly) to her. Alex and Justin offer examples that have the best chance of transforming racism into peaceful coexistence and ultimately, brotherhood. Good luck with your friend. Please let us know what happens.

Editor's Note: Speaking out against racism, while reaching out with love to the “racist”, isn’t easy to stomach for those against racism. It feels justifiable to detest people who harm others. But detesting others just feeds the engine of separation, generalization, and superiority from which racism springs.

People with a racist mindset are ignorant, fearful, or have learned this mindset. When we meet such people and react in horror and disgust, we make some progress in the fight against racism (note the world: things are better than 50 years ago; this kind of peer pressure does help), but, (note the world again), we also have a long way to go. This action often divides people who then cling to their beliefs even tighter.

Let’s each help move the world into a just and thriving place by recognizing that we all are imperfect and damaged goods with judgments and stereotypes about the world and each other. Reaching out in love and empathy to each other, with an invitation to move past these things, will change the world the fastest. —Lauren

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  1. By Maggie, age , from Carmichael, CA on 01/22/2013

    I have a very similar problem.  My best friend is half African American (I’m Caucasion).  I have to share my room with my stepsister on bi-weekly visitations.  She has demanded that I not have my friend over for sleepovers when she’s here because she is not comfortable sleeping in the same room with and undressing in front of my friend.  She claims she is not prejudiced, but is not comfortable sharing a room with my friend because she is “different.”  She isn’t the least bit shy about nudity in front of me or my other friends, so the only reason she considers my friend “different” and is not comfortable with her is her race.  My mom and stepdad say I have to go along with this because my stepsister is a guest and should feel comfortable when she is here.  I don’t think this is right!  I think that if she is uncomfortable for this reason, it’s just too bad!  She and my friend are still both girls, so the undressing thing should not be a problem, but since it is she could always change in the bathroom and my friend wouldn’t see her naked, even though I think it’s being stupid.


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  2. By C.H., age , from Rosevile, CA on 01/27/2013

    You can’t always help how you feel, and that could be the issue with Anaheim’s friend and Maggie’s stepsister.  I believe in equality for everyone and don’t consider myself prejudiced.  However, I feel uncomfortable changing and showering with black girls in the girls’ locker room because their bodies seem different,, and I’m unable to control these feelings.  I’m not shy about my body with white girls, so race can only be the reason I feel this way.  I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do, and I would also feel uncomfortable sharing a room with a black girl.  There aren’t many black girls at my school and I haven’t really gotten to know any of them, so maybe if I got to know them it would be different, but I don’t know how to break the ice.


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  3. By Brenda, age , from Newport Beach, CA on 01/27/2013

    My sister and I are among the very few African Americans at our school.  Most of the white girls won’t even speak to us, so we African Americans stick together.  Because of this, we’re called a “gang” if you can believe that.  We also experience the issue of the white girls being uncomfortable with us in the locker room.  My sister and I were on the girls’ basketball team last year.  We were the best players on the team, but that just caused more resentment from the white girls who wouldn’t even talk to us and went out of their way to avoid being near us in the communal showers.  It was so depressing that we didn’t even go out for the team this year.  We don’t feel uncomfortable in the locker room and showers with the white girls, so we don’t understand why they’re uncomfortable with us, but they are.  We never get invited to the sleepovers and parties the white kids have, so my sister and I spend most weekends in our room.  We tried going to a dance one time, but everybody just avoided us or gave us dirty looks.  I agree that prejudice is alive and well.


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  4. By J.S., age , from Vacaville, CA on 01/27/2013

    My sister, who is adopted, is African American and the rest of our family is Caucasion.  Because of this, we face alot of prejudice.  Other kids are always saying that we’re not “real” sisters and it really makes us mad.  As far as we’re concerned we are real sisters!  We are just as close and love each other just as much as any sisters, and more so than some sisters we know who are always fighting and arguing.  Some (but not all) of my friends won’t come to our house for sleepovers because my sister and I share a room, but I would take my sister over any of them any day.  I’ve been sharing a room with my sister and undressing in front of her my whole life and took baths with her when we were younger, so I can say from experience that there’s nothing to worry about.  Whether black or white, all girls have the same body parts, so I don’t see what there is to be uncomfortable about.


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  5. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 01/27/2013

    C.H.—I really want to thank you for such an honest comment. This is exactly the type of conversation that needs to occur regularly in order for racism to be completely healed. For someone like you who needs the ice broken, and is simply separated by lack of familiarity, love, warmth and lack of labeling really makes a difference in you moving forward toward recognizing that skin color is, well, just “skin” deep. As I said, speaking out against racism, while reaching out warmly to those who may be unfamiliar with diversity, is the quickest route to helping others get past the superficial differences between members of our human family.

    As for you, I urge you to work on yourself to overcome these feelings. Maturity is learning to control feelings that are not useful or that make no sense. And you have done this many times over already as you overcame the many irrational fears of childhood. Keep going! We need people like you who are willing to talk about things and grow! From the looks of the comments from Brenda, Maggie, and J.S., the black girls on your campus are in need of being reached out to. Why not reach out to one of them and become friends?

    If you do this, make sure to tell us about it!—Love, Lauren

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