African Americans address cultural labels

October 27, 2017 — by Kaitlyn Wang and Jeffrey Xu

As senior Solomon Bailey waited at the DMV for his license test results, he felt a policeman’s gaze boring into his back.

“He definitely watched me more closely than anyone else in the room,” Bailey said. “I’m different, and that’s something people notice.”

Bailey often notices that people cast odd glances at him because he is African American.

Freshman Tyler Chaffin said he experienced discrimination at Redwood Middle School. According to Chaffin, while he and his friends were hanging out, another student stole his friend’s phone as a joke, and Chaffin tried to get it back.

While scrambling over the phone, the other student threw a punch at Chaffin, and a fight erupted. The offending student’s parents later called the school administrators and blamed the fight on Chaffin.

“The kid started fighting me, and I guess I fought him back,” Chaffin said. “But instead of him getting in trouble for fighting me originally, I got blamed for it. Personally, I believe it was because of my race.”

Despite the occasional stare, Bailey, who moved from Ethiopia six years ago, said that being African American proved to not be a disadvantage during freshman year, when he was the only full African American student in the entire school. Bailey said that with his afro and metallic chains around his neck, he stood out in a good way.

“Kids wanted to be friends with me just because I was African American,” Bailey said. “That didn’t bother me.”

For junior Lidya Demissie, who also moved from Ethiopia, being a minority at the school hasn’t been a barrier. She said that “everyone here is really welcoming and nice.”

For Chaffin, who is part Jamaican and part Norwegian, he’s grown used to being a minority at school. He also sees benefits he feels his ethnic background has provided him.

“On the Norwegian and Jamaican side, I’ve had a lot of family [members] who have come from rougher areas, so that has taught be how to cope with difficult situations and be more resilient,” Chaffin said.

Of course, being African American in a city like Saratoga isn’t 100 percent positive, especially when it comes to cultural stereotypes.

“I partially blame other African Americans for these stereotypes,” Bailey said. “Sometimes, African Americans do things that make people think this way. If you see gang members wearing chains and then you see an African American man wearing chains, you may assume they are a gang member just because they dress the same way.”

According to Bailey, it is important to recognize that few African Americans fall into stereotypes.

“Somebody who doesn’t know me might think I’m a gangster,” Bailey said. “But once you know me, you know that I’m nowhere near being a gangster.”

While Chaffin sees problems affecting African American communities, he also said they should “help each other out instead of fighting each other.”

In the end, Bailey, Demissie and Chaffin all believe that in order to break free of society’s skewed outlook on any culture, it is important to not allow others’ opinions to affect one’s self-image.

“Not only African Americans are stereotyped,” Chaffin said. “Everyone can be stereotyped, so just ignore them and continue doing what you have to do.”

 

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