Last week, Starbucks announced it will be closing 8,000 US stores for anti-bias training after an incident where two black men were arrested while waiting for a business meeting in the popular cafe. It’s hard to unpack racial bias in one day, but it’s important to understand how racism was established and why it continues to impact communities around the world.
These are the kinds of conversations students have been having with PenPals around the world. We’re proud to celebrate Daytona, Kam, Brody, Jordan, Abby, Juan, Tristin, Olyvia, Royce, Carter, and Skyler from Michigan, USA who recently participated in Race in America and learned how to promote tolerance by examining the history of racism in America and activists who have fought against it.
In this project, PenPals explore the ways that identity helped establish a system of slavery in America and how racism continued to create inequality through the era of Jim Crow laws. PenPals then learn about activists that have promoted racial equality during the civil rights movement and into modern day as they work with their PenPals on their own action project to promote tolerance.
As PenPals explored the history of slavery, Daytona analyzed the way identity played a role in developing a system of slavery.
“Identity played a role in creating a system of slavery in the US, because of the discrimination and the need for more labor, due to more cotton fields, due to the article. According to the article, it was easier to have black slaves, because they would stand out in the white community. From what the videos said, many blacks that didn't know of slavery, thought they were cannibals. They committed suicide because of them being afraid of being 'eaten'. Where I live, there is no slavery, but I do hear of human trafficking in other places. Do you still have slavery where you live, or not? What kind of slavery have you heard of if you have?”
Abby, Tristin, and Skyler learned about change agents and researched other individuals who have been agents of change, from celebrities to political activists to their own teachers.
“A change agent is a person from inside or outside an organization who helps change something for the good. A few qualities include responsibility to carry on a task, listening skills and diversified knowledge. I feel like a very good example of a change agent is Ellen DeGeneres. She has an afternoon talk show, Ellen, which has the phrase "be kind to one another." All the time, she has guests on her show who have done something huge and have impacted their community, sometimes the whole country! She uses their examples to spark an interest and awareness in her viewers. For her birthday, even, one of the gifts given to her was a foundation built in her name, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. All around the country, and possibly the world now, she is known for her kindness and passion to many organizations and causes.”
To better understand how the media influences racial bias, some PenPals asked community members where they get their news, and then analyzed the ways those news outlets represent race.
“The majority of people I have interviewed get their news online or from television. To me, it seems as most major news corporations represent black people more fairly from the Internet than on television. It seems that Fox News and other right-wing organizations distort the truth to push their discriminatory agendas. CNN and other leftist organizations typically represent minorities more fairly, but their guest don't. I also hear about "black-on-black violence," in the words of my president "they're killing each other." Real quote. Anyway, I never hear of white-on-white violence, despite it being roughly the same as the black-on-black violence rate and whites are 12% more likely to assault a black stranger than a black stranger assaulting a white stranger. Also, unlike blacks and latinos, white violent crimes attack white people 57% more often than proportional to the population. All information was obtained from the Los Angeles Times.”
Other PenPals came up with an action plan to promote tolerance in their own communities.
“I worked together with my family to make people aware that equality and discrimination are still a problem. In the text, it states, "Research shows that service-learning can help people increase their awareness of diversity. Service-learning projects can also help people build empathy towards others." By working together and showing other people that we need to make a difference as simple as a kind gesture to others can change the way others treat others. You do not have to do a big project or a community thing although that helps you don't have to do a lot by being aware of what you are saying and what you are doing. You can do something as little as making a friend.”
PenPals described some of the most impactful parts of the project, like sharing ideas with others, making new friends, and discussing different ideas in a respectful way.
“An avid debater and one who demonstrates a particular zeal in learning about other cultures and their nuances, my favorite elements of the PenPal exchange were learning of cultural progression, in both America and beyond. The PenPal exchange opened a dialogue for civil conversation with my North Carolinian pen-pal whose ideology deviated greatly from my own, and it felt marvelous to speak to someone with an opposing viewpoint at a time of such terrible, debilitating, seemingly ever-increasing polarization. I was also able to speak with a pen-pal from Sweden, who resided in the outskirts of Stockholm. It was quite refreshing to find that politics aren’t as ludicrisly right-winged everywhere. As shame-filled as it makes me, I had entered the encounter anticipating judgment, expecting to face the gun-wielding, under-educated, ignorant American stereotype. Instead, I found that most people are intelligent enough to look past the stereotypes, the over-simplified generalizations of other cultures, countries and regions. In my cynicism, I was blinded, but learnt that I needed to give people a chance before leaping to the defense, not to assume all people are bad. I feared so much the generalizations and oversimplifications of entire cultures that, in my attempt to resolve this mentality, I generalized the world, Democrats versus Republicans, me versus you, without regard for shades of meaning, a black and white world lacking gray-areas, subtleties and nuance, unwilling to listen. I closed myself off, always feeling like I needed to defend myself, without realizing that I didn’t always need defending. I’m grateful to have had this eye-opening experience that exposed me to other cultures, which reinforced what I already should’ve known, retaught me not to shut out other people’s opinions as soon as they proved different from my own and to stop being so cynical, especially without cause.”
Not only did these PenPals get to have a civil discussion with their peers about a controversial topic that can be difficult to discuss, they also learned that little acts of kindness can go a long way to promote tolerance. By staying informed and aware of racial bias, we can all play a part in making the world a better place for people of all races.
Want to inspire your students to become change agents? Sign up for Race in America, starting again Monday, May 7.