Today I performed a very simple task. It was through no organization and didn’t require extensive planning. Simply, our job was to spread Christmas cheer. We did this through distributing food (sandwiches, granola bars, pretzels, etc.) and Christmas cards to people on the streets of New Orleans. We gave the food to people who needed it. This usually was to homeless people. The distribution of Christmas cards was more diverse and included people who were working on the holiday as well as homeless people. This was not complex, but what I personally took away from this experience, without sounding too corny, changed my life.

 As we distributed these cards and food I came to many realizations that made me question the values and morals I had had before. Midway through the day, my counselor brought up some, well let’s say uncomfortable questions. She made us all stop and think about who we were distributing these materials to. We all realized that the primary populace that we gave the materials to was of black descent. This caused me to think, why is that? As we continued to move through the day, I saw that my group and I were generally approaching black people. I had made the connection of this race to poverty. I don’t consider myself racist, but I realized that maybe me, and maybe everyone, is racist at some level. We subconsciously associated this race to a lower social standard and thus took action accordingly. I was making racist actions, not in a malicious manner, but racist nonetheless. This caused me to think why do I think like this? I came up with the more obvious answers of location, religion, and parenting, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to know why I explicitly saw black people as people who needed more help. I still don’t have an answer, but I do know that the first step to solving this serious issue is awareness. Recognition of the differences in society and noting one’s tendencies and biases is the first step to creating positive change.

In the end, I was shocked to see my views changing. I felt that the social and racial standards that have been instilled in me are a serious factor in the perpetuation of racism and a divided society. I was scared at first, but now realize I have to, and am now obligated to by conscious, to recognize and understand what I think, and how it affects others. I need to recognize that some standards I accepted without thinking are racist, degrading, and need to be changed. What I took out of today is something more than I can type out. The personal changes I have experienced will definitely stick with me for the rest of my life. I cannot imagine looking at the racial and social situation in America the same anymore. More importantly, I know that if I recognize my biases, I can help others to do the same. It is not just about making change; it’s about sustaining change. By spreading knowledge and awareness, everyone can challenge the ignorance that has led to racism.

I know I have been changed. I am more aware of the biases that I originally blindly accepted. As referred in sociology, hegemony is detrimental to society. I must challenge the stereotypes, break the biases, and strive to bring awareness to others about the racism that one may not even recognize is inside of them.

~ Adam Cooper, 11th Grade, Poughkeepsie, NY

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