Voices Against Indifference Initiative

The Wole Soyinka Project: Truth, Memory & Reconciliation

September 2002 - February 2003


Essay Contest

1st Place Entry

 

The Back of the College Viewbook

by Ianthe Mugglestone

Grade 12, Providence High School

I am currently a senior in high school and like all the other students who wish to go on to college, I am working on several college applications. There is one question that always bothers me. I know it is specially shaded or boxed and marked as optional and not to be used in a discriminatory manner but it still bothers me. It asks for my ethnic background as if that has any relevance on my abilities or whether I will be able to succeed at a given college. My answer to that question will make me another statistic, separated from my fellow students by basis of heritage. I will become just another percentage in the  back of the college viewbook.

I am white, and in the predominantly white society of America, it is very rare for someone like me to experience discrimination. That does not stop me from feeling the injustice against my colored friends, people I consider my equals, even more acutely. I have lived in North Carolina for two years now. My school is in an affluent area, but it has to be mixed by law. It is mixed in name only. I feel badly for my fellow African-American students. The old white supremacy still has not died in the hearts and minds of many of the other white students ay my school. I see it whenever there is a social gathering. It is very rare to see a mixed group of students. There are three black students on my bus. They often reach the bus after the rest of us have chose our seats for the afternoon ride home. I feel the injustice every time one of their polite requests for a seat is met with sullen and reluctant compliance. I feel the weight of intolerance in the hallways of my school like a pall of heavy smoke. I didn't realize it was there until I experienced living in a place where there is none.

I spent last summer studying at Harvard through the high school program. I had never been surrounded by so many intelligent peers of my age before. Ethnicity didn't seem to matter there. Intelligent discussion makes no distinctions. I lived in a dorm with five other girls and I quickly discovered I enjoyed being with my colored roommates more than with the other white girls. Jocelyn Steele is African-American and Kinjelika Sathi is Indian. I was privileged to get to know them very well. By common consent we asked no embarrassing questions about each other's backgrounds unless we ourselves volunteered the information. I am the oldest of two siblings and my family, while not affluent, has never been in want of resources. Kinji is one of five children and Jocelyn's entire school helped raise the funds to send her to Harvard because her family could not afford it. At Harvard we were just three more bright and eager faces in the stream of constantly changing faces that is the campus. We did everything together and shared each new adventure with easy laughter. Such a mixed trio is a common sight in the area surrounding Harvard, but the day we took the subway across town to the big mall was different. The mall was huge and spanned the entire spectrum of price ranges within its vaulted halls. We wandered into some swanky store none of us could afford to shop at, but we pretended we could, picking up pieces and holding them up to each other. The salespeople and the other customers didn't know what to make of us. We received some shocked and a dew disapproving stares. To my complete surprise and disgust, I was the one receiving the disapproving stares. It was as if they believed I was degrading myself to be seen in such company. Who are they to make the judgment that my friends are not worthy of my time or companionship? I just gave these rude and arrogant individuals a contemptuous stare in return, and walked out conspicuously arm in arm with my friends. Now I know what it must feel like every day to the African-American students at my school. They get disapproval just be being in the same place as whites.

In the early morning, my school hallways are deserted, except for the black students whose buses come from further afield and arrive earlier. If one of the black girls meets my eye and compliments some part of my outfit of the day, I smile and thank her with true gratitude. I know how much courage it took to be able to lift that head proudly and speak to a white girl as an equal, in defiance of unspoken rules. I want them to know I respect them for the warriors they are. I stay quietly in the background and see what others often miss. Some slights could be avoided, for example, some white students give the black students a wider berth in the halls than necessary or do not return a wave. These white students tend to have voices pitched louder than the rest, full of ignorance and hatred. The terrorist bombings in New York City took place near the little town I spent much of my life in, Kings Park. A friend living there wrote me in horror saying that an Indian student at her school had bricks thrown though her windows. I immediately wrote to Kinji in Colorado to make sure she wasn't a victim of such a cruel and misguided vengeance perpetrated on innocent people born with a different heritage and a darker skin color. That is wrong, just as bombing the innocent civilians of Afghanistan to take revenge on one man is wrong. They are human, and they are the same as we are. For once, I want my voice to be heard, not the ones preaching hatred and intolerance.

 

 


Poetry Contest

1st Place Entry

That's not my name

Atrayus Omar Goode

11th Grade, Butler High School

 

N-I-G-G-A

A.K.A. nigger

Meaning ignorant and or incompetent

But a dictionary defines it as:

Any member of a darker-skinned race

And get this:

Usually taken as offensive

Usually?

 

Man, the word was used by hostile slaveowners

Do your work, nigga

Or you're gonna get whipped

Man, the word was used by prejudice police officers

As blacks queued in front of unsanitary drinking fountains

Marked with the sign:

COLORED ONLY

While a fountain next to it

Is clean and has no line

But is marked with the sign:

WHITES ONLY

A black approaches the fountain

But a cop says:

Get in line, nigga

That water's not for you

Nigga?

 

Yet and still

The word is used

And abused

In music

A misnomered abnormality

Warped by rap haphazardly

With verbal casualties

But we as a people automatically

Allow this word passively

Into society

This is not acceptable

 

Yet and still

The word is used today

Some by my friends in the hallway

When they come to me

And say:

What's up, my nigga?

What's up who?

Proud, black and beautiful

That I may be

But that's rude

Please be excused

I am not your N-I-G

 

GA

The state where I grew up

Even in the sandbox

I heard this word:

Get off the swing, nigga

It's my turn

I run to the teacher

Teary eyed

What did I do?

I tap her on the leg:

Teacher, teacher
Shaun just called me nigga

But I'm answered with the words:

Hey

What can I do?

It's his mouth

What

Please, don't even talk to me

I feel if the word is stalking me

You say the word's not collaring me

But I'll be damned

The word keeps following me

 

 

But

Yet and still

The word is part of history

But will it remain to be?

For it was last year

This year

And today;

Despite all that

I refuse to be calleed

Your N-I-G-G-A