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Posts Tagged ‘Youth Op-Eds

Call for a Celebration of All Culture

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As you may have noticed, I’ve  been posting things in order to celebrate Black History Month. While I am proud of my heritage and culture, I also appreciate other people’s culture too. Yet, it seems like most young people in my generation and the generations coming up can’t see outside their own ethnicity. Even though there is nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage, too much of it can cause you to become close minded.

For the most part, today’s youth culture is unhealthy because of its emphasis on conformity rather than individuality. Other harmful things such as prejudice and discrimination can cause young people as well as everyone else to develop an “Us versus the world” perspective.

Recently, I read an article that says ninety percent of students arrested for crimes in New York City are black and latino.

Ever notice the race of some of the people arrested for crimes anywhere?

Ever consider the effect of that on people?

One of the most awful effects of stories like the one above is prejudice and discrimination in a never-ending cycle. Some people see these stories and assume all people of a certain ethnicity commit crimes.  They may discriminate against a race so much that they embed that hatred into some people. After a while, the hatred from one turns into self-hate and anger that may eventually explode out in self-destructive or violent ways. The latter can lead to crimes being committed because that person feels they have no choice but to be the criminal people expect them to be.

A similar effect occurs with stereotypes. The stereotypes of blacks and Latinos are similar; the only difference is the culture. For a student of these ethnicities, these stereotypes could cause them not only to become violent, but also to dumb themselves down in school. For instance, for a black student to make good grades is considered “being white” to some other blacks.

In addition, cliques can be formed from different ethnicities as well. I remember being in high school and seeing a whole table of Asians, a whole table of blacks, and a whole table of Hispanics. There were less white students than other minority students, so I can’t say for sure about them. However, I do remember being one of few students who sat with peers of different ethnicities. I had Asian friends, black friends, Mexican friends, and white friends. They were few and in between, but they were friends.

Being friends with different people of different ethnicities really broadened my perspective and helped me develop an appreciation for different cultures. Today, that appreciation is stronger than ever. We should all come together and focus on our similarities rather than our differences, because we are all connected as human beings.

Written by Serena Zola

February 23, 2012 at 9:35 PM

Bullying: The Education Connection

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It seems like every month I hear the news of another young person who has committed suicide due to bullying. I’ve seen many people play the blame game with other people, but what most people don’t seem to realize is that we need to start taking a look at the reasons behind bullying.

From my personal experience of being bullied as well as my own research, I’ve concluded one single reason for bullying: being different.

This can have many definitions, but it can be narrowed down when defined by things such as:

  • race or ethnicity
  • gender
  • religion
  • economic status

When these things trickle down to grade school students and cause being different or not to be defined by just two things: being popular or unpopular.  For example, I was bullied because of something considered unpopular among minority students: making good grades.

Until recently, these things were considered harmless categorizes that would disappear after high school ended. Today, some kids aren’t living that long because they believe that just because some people say that they are unpopular in school, they will be unpopular to everyone later on.

So, what’s exactly sending this message?

There are three things that a grade school student is influenced by:

  • the parents and other adults
  • the peers
  • the mass media

Depending on what environment the student is exposed to, they can be influenced by one, two, or all three of these things.

When a child is just a child, the person who has the most influence on them is the parent. Once a child enters puberty, the peers and the mass media enter as the child starts to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

In my case, my parents raised me to think that an education is the most important thing. As a child, I was perfectly fine with that because my peers still saw each other as nothing more than classmates. As a preteen and adolescent, I began to have a need to find myself and find a place among my peers because it seemed like everybody was categorizing themselves in order to identify themselves. You were either “popular”, or “unpopular” depending on how you represented a certain thing like gender or race.

While I was going through this, I realized that the mass media was partly responsible for the popular or unpopular way of thinking. My black minority peers did what they saw on television or heard on the radio, dancing the latest hip-hop dances and dressing provocatively or “gangster”. Since the mass media made these things seem “cool”, my peers thought that by doing these things that they would be cool then and in the future. As they did this, they dumbed down on their studies because “cool people” didn’t care about an education.

For a while, I listened to hip-hop and R & B because I felt I had to. After all, that’s what most of my black peers were doing and to do otherwise would make me an outcast. As a result, I felt fake and miserable for about a year.

At some point, I realized that if making good grades already made me weird then why be so concerned about doing other things that made me weirder if I enjoyed it? Why care too much about what others think?

After that, I became friends with a Mexican girl who introduced me to rock music, which I discovered I enjoyed. Like me, she also made good grades, but she didn’t care about what others thought and taught me to be the same.

Besides my peers, my teachers and parents also had good and bad effects on me. Some of my teachers and one of my parents encouraged my writing ability and praised me for my good grades. On the other hand, the other parent and other teachers made me feel like my best wasn’t good enough.  This was especially done when I had to please others instead of myself.  Consider a quote from a seventh grader from an online article from TIME magazine about “No Child Left Behind”:

“If I hadn’t passed the [state tests] I would have cried and thought, ‘Why are people smarter than me? Why am I not smarter?’ Sometimes I cry because there is so much pressure. I do try to do my best, but sometimes I get an answer wrong.”

Everyone around a student needs to support them well by teaching them that their best is good enough, that who they are is good enough, and find things outside the typical knowledge that supports this, things like this article. If we shared more things like this with people who can relate, then we can make a positive difference.

Written by Serena Zola

January 21, 2012 at 2:00 PM

Bullying: A Rant and Some Tips

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It seems like all year that I’ve been hearing things about bullying on the news and elsewhere. The headline usually involves a youth suicide, a youth beating, or an attempt to raise awareness about bullying. The latter is the most vexing to me, because it seems to focus on either GBLTQ youth (i.e. gay, bi-sexual, lesbian, transgender, queer/questioning) or asinine suggestions on how to prevent bullying. Most people think this is just a discrimination or education issue.

Until late 2010, it didn’t seem like we needed to put much effort into bullying prevention, because youth suicides and bullying casualties didn’t seem to happen much. One bullied kid kills themselves, and we just pass an anti-bullying policy in schools. Then, in September, five young people kill themselves because they were either gay or perceived to be gay. This event causes many musicians, authors, celebrities, politicians, activists, and other people to either raise awareness about bullying or come up with solutions.

Phoebe Prince. Jaheem Herrera. Jessie Haffer.

These are just a few of many young people who have committed suicide before the September’s Children’s Tragedy, not necessarily because they were gay, but because they were different.

It is for this reason, as well as intolerance, that caused the September’s Children to take their own lives. It is for this reason that more youth will continue to do this unless something is done.

Some adults say, “Kids will be kids.” Some teens do nothing or participate in the bullying for fear of being bullied themselves or to fit in.

The whole point of being a teenager is figuring out who you want to be, not what somebody else tells you to be.

How are teachers supposed to care about their students when all they’ve been told to do is prepare them for college and get good test scores to make the school look good?

How are parents supposed to raise their kids well if they either refuse to listen to their child’s views or assume they already know what is best for them?

How are students supposed to find who they are when they have to worry about being normal?

Parents, teachers, and students must be involved with one another for non-educational reasons as well as educational ones. Just because a student is making good grades, doesn’t mean that they are doing well. Adults around a student’s life need to be willing to ask, “How are you?” or “What’s wrong?” if they are troubled. Parents and teachers need to listen to students without judging them and try to see things from their point of view.

Students need to keep an open mind when dealing with their peers as well as adults. When it comes to peers, they shouldn’t make assumptions based on how a person looks or what clique they are from. They need to get to know a peer’s head and heart before they judge. In addition, they need to be willing to talk to a parent or another adult if they are having issues. Even though adults may not understand what it is like to be a teen today, if they are good people, then they should be willing to at least listen.

Ultimately, the key to ending bullying, or at least reducing it, is acceptance and tolerance of people’s differences and the willingness to find out what we have in common with each other.

According to the book, The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth, teens who are ostracized in high school because they are different will be admired for who they are in college and beyond. However, some teens can’t afford to wait that long.

Now is the time to unite and end bullying the right way; MAKE IT STOP!!

Written by Serena Zola

November 2, 2011 at 4:13 PM

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