Stories upon stories about broken race relations continue to pop up in the news. In response, millions of activists and young people are asking for justice–racial justice. Although we might have heard this term before, some misunderstand the meaning of this term, either because of ignorance or bias from the media. In light of this, it’s helpful to review some basic concepts of racial justice and its significance to high school students. However, it’s especially important to note that racial justice isn’t just a concept taken from a textbook or a law–it’s a real movement, made up of millions of individual voices. Because of this, rather than listing off big statistics and complicated laws (although I’d be happy to reference some), I’ll share some of my personal experiences in learning about racial justice throughout this piece.
To start off, here’s the definition of racial justice, courtesy of Race Forward: “the systemic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.” Pretty simple, right? Fairness across races. Now let’s delve a little deeper.
A little bit about myself: I was born in a small town called Worthington in southwest Minnesota to two Mexican immigrants. My parents came in the 90s through religious visas, found jobs, and created a family of four–myself and my older sister. Although Worthington is a small town, it’s incredibly diverse: thousands of immigrants from Latin America, East Africa, and Southeast Asia make up nearly half of the town’s total population of 13,000. Because of this, I was aware of the concept of race from an early age. An event that propelled this awareness was an immigration raid in 2006, when nearly one-eighth of the workforce at a local meatpacking plant was deported–the largest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history. While the raid didn’t affect me personally, they clearly had an impact on my community.
My story points to a bigger picture on race: injustices are different for everyone. While my community faced the injustice of separated families, other communities face their own injustices. By now, we’ve all heard of the police brutality towards people of color, especially black men, through the stories of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. There are plenty of other inequities that don’t get as much media attention: achievement gaps across race in education, higher rates of poverty among people of color, racist housing policies, and so many more. It’s important to note that racial injustices are more than just anecdotes of racial bias–they are systemic policies and structures that often go unnoticed. And of course, history shows us countless other examples: slavery, hostility towards Chinese and other Asian immigrants, and assaults on basic rights like voting and equal education.
Racial justice is an effort to address and solve these inequities. I’m left to conclude that racial justice really shouldn’t be a divisive term. At times in high school, I was hesitant to bring up race to my white friends because I didn’t want to stir up controversy. But now I’ve realized that without talking about race, nothing can be done about racism. Those who are advocates for racial justice aren’t blaming whites for every problem. We’re simply bringing to light a system that adversely affects people of color. White people can be important allies in the fight for racial justice.
Now it might seem strange to read about this on a blog meant for high school students, however, I’d argue that this a perfect place to discuss racial justice. Why? High schoolers are impacted just as greatly by racial disparities as any other age group. And we’re the ones who will soon have the power to change things. We can vote for new candidates, craft fairer policies, and facilitate peaceful race relations. And remember learning about the Civil Rights Era? Who was critical to many of the marches and rallies? High school students! Why? Because young people are always at the forefront of social change.
So, those are some of my basic truths about racial justice: injustices come in several different forms; racial justice shouldn’t be divisive; high schoolers have a stake in this. My journey in understanding racial justice has been difficult and confusing, but also enlightening and inspiring. Despite the disparities, inequities, and lives lost, I cling to the hope that we can create a more just world. Racial justice is a vast and complicated topic, but it’s important for all of us to know just a little bit about it. Furthermore, it would be great if we all talked about it, and more importantly, strived for it.