Youth event takes on racism
BY KYM RINSTADLER
What isn’t “phonetically” spelled how it sounds?
Why are the drive-up ATM machines equipped with Braille?
Why is “panties” plural, but “brassiere” singular?
Why do they call it “rush hour” when traffic is moving especially slow?
And why do people get treated differently because of the color of their skin?
It’s one of life’s many ironies that is just too goofy to explain, said Sally Woods, a West Ottawa Macatawa Bay School social worker, who was the mistress of ceremonies Tuesday at the sixth annual Calling All Colors racial unity conference at Grand Valley State University.
There were 174 students from 11 area middle schools attending the conferences, which brought closure to their yearlong effort to promote racial harmony.
“It’s amazing how far some people will go to put others down,” said Allen Campbell, 12, a student at Holland West Middle School. “You can’t judge people by their outsides. You have to get to know what’s inside.”
The Calling All Colors group at his school tried to promote racial acceptance by organizing a school wide Diversity Week in March. They encouraged students to record their ethnic backgrounds on a leaf and hang it on a tree-shapes sculpture and to tell about holidays celebrated by other cultures during morning announcements.
“It’s important that students have opportunities to spread the message of racial tolerance and equal rights throughout their schools,” said Karen Legg, a West Middle School counselor who advises the group.
Many students were alarmed by a showing of the 1991 ABC-TV “Prime Time” documentary “True Colors” which depicted people of color being charged a higher price than a white buyer for the same car. In it, white customers tended to get trail service faster than blacks. It also showed unfair housing practices that minorities too often encounter when they rent an apartment or buy a house.
The racism in the students’ world may not impact the money they have to spend, but it does leave an emotional wound, they said.
One girl of Again ancestry was hurt because classmates took to greeting her with the phrase “got rice?” Another girl with Hispanic heritage said it’s a real downer when other assume her whole family is on drugs and in gangs.
Students also explored the issue through cooperative games and cultural presentations.
Shacara Burrell, 13, of Steele Middle School in Muskegon, said the activities helped her discover that white people experience prejudice, too.
The conference was sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.