Gabriel Cook, Writer
Featured Image Courtesy of The Harvard Business Review
Since I’ve come to high school, I’ve felt a little bit weird. At first, the feeling fell to the back of my attention, but it hasn’t really gone away even as I have gotten more accustomed or grown into my environment. There is a feeling of ostracization that has always stuck to me. Feeling like being the elephant in the room or being the odd one out in a group. Or the feeling of being unique. The feeling of being a person of color in this school, a very strange sensation to say the least. We are in desperate need of more teachers of color in this school for their relatable presence and solidarity they can provide in a school where people of color are at a disadvantage.
Though New Paltz High School has a kind environment and the majority of the teachers and staff are good natured and welcoming, throughout all of the caring people at this school, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are conducive to diversity.
A completely different culture, a new way of working or doing things, new ways of thinking and operating, all of this comes with being introduced to a new community like New Paltz. According to the U.S world report and news, New Paltz highschool’s population consists of 75.4 percent of the highschool identifies as a white person, 12.9 percent of the school identifying as hispanic, third being african americans with 4.5 percent making up the school, 2.9 being of asian or pacific island descent, and 0.1 being of native american descent. Those are staggering numbers. Every social, administrative or academic setting- whether it’s the halls, classrooms, parties, etc,..- is dominated by white presence.
“Imagine being the only black kid in the class, can you imagine being the only brown kid in the class, they (students) couldn’t place it. Skin color and culture gives you a difference” said Mr Rod Castro, a teacher of color here at New Paltz highschool.
This sensation is not exclusive to just me or just a select few, this topic has been discussed extensively in previous articles written in June 2016 by Joshua Berry and Isaac Thomas, previous editors for the Maroon and people of color. The same sentiment has been reported again by both.
“Currently there’s nowhere on earth where I can fit in 100 percent,” said Joshua Berry, senior. Aniyah Elone, a sophomore and a person of color at New Paltz, reflects a feeling of inability to fit in completely, “Especially with being mixed, it’s hard because sometimes you don’t fit in with either groups”. The desire to fit in has acted almost as a plague for students of color in white dominated schools in an extremely unique manner.
Living in New Paltz, I have always been in contact with white people. Never has there been an exclusively black environment, and now in the highschool it has caused an unconscious assimilation. It had an odd effect on me personally, as I subconsciously altered my personality, priorities and cadences for different environments that I was in.
When I talked with white friends in New Paltz I changed a little, and when I worked with my caribbean/African American family, or played with black church friends, my contrast of character was so easy to see looking in hindsight. It resulted in a conflict of my own identity. As I am growing up, a conflict of my history, mindset and background made me question who I really am. Not quite completely black and not identifying with white people, a sort of fracture has occurred in my mind and character. It felt almost like an imposter syndrome of representing black culture and it encouraged me to act uncharacteristically. Isaac Thomas reflected this same feeling, saying “(I) had lost my own identity in my attempt to assimilate”.
The Oxford dictionary defines the term ‘code switching’ as, “The practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation”. The term can also be attributed to a change in physical behavior. Harvard business review’s research shows black people or people of color use this strategy to “optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service and employment opportunities” it continues on to say “code switching often occurs in places where negative stereotypes of black people run counter to what are considered ‘appropriate’ behaviors”. Contorting and switching to receive the same treatment, people of color are almost like actors looking for the same opportunity. The fact that code switching is seen as an essential skill for gaining a respectable place in society solidifies the domination of white culture and a demonization to an extent of black culture “I still feel like I have watch how I act all the time” said Elone reflecting on their assimilation and the lingering effect of racism in the form of code switching.
I hadn’t really realized that I was doing this practice subconsciously until I took Black History in my freshmen year and learned about what I have been doing for a couple years at that point.That’s why teachers who offer classes like black history or latino studies are incredibly important to just a person with a skin color like mine, with the ability to be life changing. We need more teachers that provide representation for minorities and can serve as someone for young people of color to look up to. Their advice, wisdom, and simply their presence can be inspirational and can help ease the sensation that can keep us in bubbles, seclusion, or silent toleration.
“It gives me an advantage of talking to or relating to hispanic or latino kids that want to have that type of contact,” said Mr Castro in reflection on his position as a teacher of color in this school, “It gives me a sort of superpower because I can relate to two different worlds”. It’s an advantage that only teachers of color can attain, the majority population in this school is not able to relate or completely comprehend what is really going on.
Joshua Berry says in his piece, “it’s probably the best gift that’s been given to me…it’s a gift wish everyone could have”. This sense of pride has come as a method of growth into our own skin and finally having the ability to be ourselves even in an environment not conducive to diversity. It’s a reality that I hope all people of color can achieve and attain.
“I think it gives me a sort of superpower,” said Mr Castro. This can come as a result of general maturity and growth, but to be conducive to the pride of brown and black kids in this school. By appreciating the black staff and students of the school, New Paltz can be more open, diverse, and appreciative to all people. Embracing all cultures is the way to real diversity, and creating a diverse feeling to this school.