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Youth on Racial Inequalities: An Italian American and Black American Discussion

A few months before the murder of George Floyd, a Purchase College student had a final assignment to graduate: an interview about Black Lives Matter

by Siena Vaccara and Donyae McCray

Siena Vaccara e Donyae McCray a Brooklyn (Foto VNY)

"Here’s the thing about Black Lives Matter. I think people have a misconception of what the movement actually is. Let’s clear the air. When we made this movement we weren’t saying that other races don’t exist. We weren’t saying that we don’t care about white people, asians, latinos. We weren’t saying that we hate others. Like in Macklemore's song "White Privilege," if you called the fire department for a block that has six houses, but only one of them is on fire, the firemen will only hose down that one house. You wouldn’t put water on all of the houses if only one of them was on fire..." (Audio recording inside)

In Italiano

Racial Inequalities Final, Pt. 1 & 2 

January 15th, 2020

Racial Socialization Project- Part One and Two

Part 1: Interview Questions, Answered by Siena Vaccara 

Describe where and when you were born.

I was born in Laguna Hills, California in 1998. 

What race or ethnic group do you consider yourself a part of? When and how did you realize that you were a part of this racial/ethnic group?

I am a White Italian American. I realized I was part of my racial group when I moved to Brooklyn, NY at the age of 6.

Are you accepted by others in your identified racial or ethnic group? If not, why? If so, what makes you accepted?

I am accepted by others in my identified racial group because I am part of the middle class and have moved on to higher education. However, I sometimes am not accepted into White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) communities because I am a first generation American. 

How do people in your racial group treat individuals in other racial groups?

People in my racial group treat other racial groups poorly, because even if they are not directly racist, many of them refuse to acknowledge that they are privileged and the majority of whites have not processed the fact that there is institutional racism in America. 

What stereotypes are associated with your racial/ethnic group? Do you think any of the stereotypes are true? Which ones are disturbing?

There are a lot of stereotypes about Italian Americans. Especially Italian Americans from NYC. Specifically, that we are somehow associated with the Mafia. Popular media in the US has portrayed Italian Americans as tacky, money seeking individuals who have affiliations with the mob or are part of the mob. My father teaches a course on Mafia Studies and what amazes me is that his students at first are always skeptical that he might have ties with criminals. 

Do you have any experiences where you felt discriminated against because of your race or ethnicity?

I don’t believe that I can feel discrimination because I have so many advantages as a white woman. I have experienced the opposite. I am always granted interviews, I never fear the police, I have always felt that my teachers have treated me equally and I know that my actions don’t automatically impact how others see my racial group. Other than being called spoiled, I don’t experience hatred because of my race. 

Would you trade your skin color? How do you think your life would be different if you looked like someone of a different race?

I wouldn’t trade my skin color because I live in the United States of America. I believe my life would both change and not change. I grew up with non-white individuals so I don’t think that the groups I am surrounded by would change. However, I know that my opportunities and safety would change. It doesn’t matter where you live in America, people of color are always at risk. 

How would you feel if someone in your family married outside of their racial/ethnic group?

I would feel fine because most of the people I have been in relationships with have been outside both my racial and ethnic group. I would want my family members to be happy. 

Do you think America is a color-blind society? Why or why not?

No, I do not think America is a color-blind society. I think that most Americans try to take a color blind stance towards race relations but that is harmful because many of the policies in the US are not color-blind and directly pertain to race. Black men are more likely to be incarcerated than white men, our branches of government don’t reflect America’s diversity, new black mothers have mortality rates as high as women in third world countries and there is still violence towards people of color. 

Are you aware of the most recent shootings involving Black men? If so, what do you think about them? (i.e. Alston Sterling, Philando Castile). (If your interviewee doesn’t know about these shootings, please explain the details of the cases)

Yes, I think that it is a disgrace that the majority of the officers who have committed these crimes are still part of the police force. It makes me wonder if there is any truth behind their remarks that they shot these men because they were afraid of being hurt. I think they may actually be afraid of these men because that type of disregard for human lives may be out of both hate and fear. These shootings truly make me wonder how the mothers of black sons survive letting their children go out into the world. 

Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem kneel (Image from Youtube)

How do you feel about the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick and the NFL? How do you feel about football players taking a knee during the national anthem? Do you understand what they are protesting? Do you think we have a right to tell someone how they should protest?

The National Anthem wasn’t written for the black people of America. It also celebrates the history of oppression in America and how all men were not treated equally because America has dehumanized black people throughout its history. I believe they have the right to take a knee out of acknowledgement for the inequality that is still continuing in this country. We do not have a right to tell someone how they should protest, especially as Americans because we have a constitutional right to freedom of expression and speech. These men are exercising their right. 

Why do you think certain races/ethnicities don’t get along?

Certain races and ethnicities don’t get along only because children learn from observation. If a young child who identifies with their primary caretakers sees them treating other groups differently, then they will follow suit. Hatred is taught. Someone’s actions or disagreements should never be attributed to race because we are all people. Unfortunately, that is not what everyone is taught. 

What can be done to eliminate racism and prejudice, in your opinion?

The American education system can change. American education needs to stop exclusively teaching children about white authors and European teachings. Our educational system also needs to stop spreading lies about American History and respect the people who suffered and lost their lives in the past. Schools need to be more integrated and placements should not be based on a child’s neighborhood. 

What do you think about the “Black Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter”, and “Blue Lives Matter” movements?

I think that the Black Lives Matter movement is extremely necessary in this country. I hate that people don’t take the literal meaning of their title seriously. Many people need to understand that this movement was created because of loss of life. The “All Lives Matter” movement is disrespectful and makes me sick. Not all races in this country are attacked by the institution that is supposed to protect them so All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter needs to be quiet. The Black Lives Matter movement is saying “we matter too” not “you don’t matter.” 

trump-protest new york

January 29th, 2017: A protest in Downtown Manhattan, against Trump’s anti-immigrant policy  (Photo VNY)

What do you think about president Trump’s comments about immigrants?

This country was built by immigrants. How dare he insult that. It is also immigrants that support our economy. How dare he say the opposite. He is trying to place blame on immigrants instead of major companies for the economic hardships Americans face. I am the daughter of immigrants but I know that my parents will be okay because they are white. That is how bias and racist this man is. 

Do you think that your race impacts the type of education you can receive? If so, why? If not, why?

Yes. I am currently applying to graduate schools and through this process I have noticed that the exams are geared towards white middle class Americans and the prices of the applications are based on privilege. Even in elementary and middle school standardized tests were for white children. 

Do you think your race impacts the type of medical treatment you can receive? If so, why? If not, why?

Yes. I don’t believe doctors make assumptions about my health behaviors because I am white. I also know that my symptoms are taken seriously because I am white. I know that I have less of a chance of dying during childbirth because I am white. 

Do you think someone should be able to identify themselves racially? If so, why? If not, why?

No, I don’t think that someone can identify themselves with a separate racial group because white people can’t undo the privilege they have received throughout their lives and people of color cannot undo the prejudice they have experienced. 

Do you think children should be taught about racial inequalities in our society? If so, why? If not, why?

Yes. Children need to understand that we still need to make more progress. Children need to know how to be allies, how to be safe and how to develop into citizens that will make efforts to change our institutions. 

Are there any other things you would like to point out that I have not asked that you feel would be a benefit in understanding these issues?

I would like to point out that many Americans love black culture but not black people and that needs to change. White people don’t hesitate to admire the talents of black people in the fashion and music industries, however, they don’t reflect that same love within our society.

 

Part 2:

Interview With an Individual Who Belongs to a Different Racial Group

My interviewee is Donyae McCray, a 20 year old, Black American student, who is part Mexican. He does not identify as Black-Latino but as an African American with Mexican heritage. He is from the South Side of Yonkers, NY. Below is a partial transcript of the interview held on January 5th, 2020 which lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. Below is the recording in two parts:

&

 

Donyae McCray

Describe where and when you were born.

I was born in Yonkers, New York. I was born on the south side of Yonkers so that’s the side that borders with the Bronx, so it wasn’t the nicest side to grow up in. Not a nice neighborhood but I gained a lot of knowledge. I was born in January of 1999. 

Was there a really strict divide between the south side of Yonkers and the rest of Yonkers? 

Yeah, we have a lot of well known places that are high in crime and once you’re out of the south side it’s not as worse. There is a different kind of diversion when you get closer up in Westchester. There is a definite division. There’s some hot headed teen crime between northside teens and southside teens. At that young of an age there is violence between people for something as simple as where you’re living. 

What race or ethnic group do you consider yourself a part of? When and how did you realize that you were a part of this racial/ethnic group?

I am as presented, a full African American but I am actually Mexican too. It took me a long time to realize my ethnic group. I didn’t entirely realize it until I was in 11th grade. The reason being was because I went through a late adolescence and became 6 ft tall. When I became taller I experienced people clutching purses. This one time I was in White Plains and I noticed some rich Westchester ladies looking at me with fear. She looked like she was afraid of me. I wasn’t seen as a boy but as a threat. 

So would you consider yourself to be African American Latino? 

I would say just African American because that is my experience on the outside. 

Are you accepted by others in your identified racial or ethnic group? If not, why? If so, what makes you accepted?

I am accepted because when people get to know me they see where I was raised at. I act differently at school and I can act professional in any environment, but I am accepted when people get to know me outside of those foreign settings. I am able to recognize things within the black community. 

How do people in your racial group treat individuals in other racial groups?

So here’s the thing. A lot of people think that we don’t treat everybody the same, but we do. When it comes to white people, African Americans respect white people and we love them of course. However, this is only for people who acknowledge their privilege. I have had bad experiences in the past with people who do not acknowledge it at all. The white denial was real. We treat every race the same unless they don’t acknowledge their privilege. 

What stereotypes are associated with your racial/ethnic group? Do you think any of the stereotypes are true? Which ones are disturbing?

Um, we get a lot, we get a lot. I would say that food wise, not every black person likes fried chicken, watermelon and Kool- aid. It’s a long running joke, but it’s scary because people believe a lot of this shit. Granted, I am a black person who likes all three but people of all groups like this stuff. There are black vegans! People don’t think black people can be vegan! In terms of actions, there are stereotypes about criminality, hyper-masculinity and other scary stereotypes. People forget that African Americans are not entirely separate people. People think we’re out of this world and not human beings. We are not massively different in our attitudes. People on campuses try to bridge things by providing events for allies to combat stereotypes. The problem is white people don’t show up because they don’t feel like they would be welcome. This is an event for white people! This is another stereotype! That if a black person is running an event white people aren’t welcome and that’s not true. 

Do you have any experiences where you felt discriminated against because of your race or ethnicity?

This one time I was in a store and this guy was not low key about following me around. Homeboy followed me the entire time. As an African American you get that a lot. 

Would you trade your skin color? How do you think your life would be different if you looked like someone of a different race?

No I would not. If I had a do-over I would not trade my skin 100 times over. I am not a perfect person and a good amount of people have their insecurities but I have never had the thought to change my skin color. Black people have talent. Black people are beautiful. Our history makes us beautiful, wavy; we dominate the music industry and sports wouldn’t be the same. I’m real proud. 

How would you feel if someone in your family married outside of their racial/ethnic group?

That’s a scary question but a good question. My family believes that if you love them it does not matter. If you care for them you can bring them home. Here’s the thing about some African American homes, if you’re going to bring a white person home, they have to acknowledge their privilege. I could not be with a colorblind person, I need to be with someone who listens. You open the conversation up 100 x more when you date someone outside your race. 

Do you think America is a color-blind society? Why or why not?

I’m currently in the early stages of writing a script and in this script I wrote, “If you don’t see my race. You don’t see me.” It’s in the middle of an argument. If you don’t see race you don’t see my culture and my whole experience as well as what I go through. You have to know where we all come from in this society.

June 2020: Black Lives Matter protest in New York (Photo by Federica Carlet)

Are you aware of the most recent shootings involving Black men? If so, what do you think about them? (i.e. Alston Sterling, Philando Castile). (If your interviewee doesn’t know about these shootings, please explain the details of the cases)

Cops put themselves on the line but every group has its extremists. There are power hungry people and that, combined with people thinking that all black people are aggressive, makes the police force a very dangerous group. Cops have the power to decide who lives and who dies. If you approach someone and you think they have a gun and shoot, it’s on you, you had a choice. I think those officers actually thought those boys were armed because of stereotypes about aggression.

How do you feel about the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick and the NFL? How do you feel about football players taking a knee during the national anthem? Do you understand what they are protesting? Do you think we have a right to tell someone how they should protest?

I think that taking a knee is respectful. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, he stood for a lot. The National Anthem is lies and the majority of the people in the US don’t believe in it. I stopped doing the National Anthem when my brother stopped at his graduation in higher education. He’s taking a knee for all of America. We have to stop teaching kids what we teach them about the National Anthem. 

Protesting is passion. It’s a job not a hobby. We have no right to tell people what they should do out of passion. You can’t teach someone how to protest and you can’t tell them what to protest about. I’m not talking poster boards and strategy, I’m talking about meaning. 

Why do you think certain races/ethnicities don’t get along?

Not all states are diverse. People stick out like a sore thumb if they’re colored in other parts of the country. People are afraid of what they are not used to. 

What can be done to eliminate racism and prejudice, in your opinion?

Education. We need to start in schools we need to stop idealizing murderers in history class. 

What do you think about the “Black Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter”, and “Blue Lives Matter” movements?

Here’s the thing about Black Lives Matter. I think people have a misconception of what the movement actually is. Let’s clear the air. When we made this movement we weren’t saying that other races don’t exist. We weren’t saying that we don’t care about white people, Asians, Latinos. We weren’t saying that we hate others. Like in Macklemore’s song “White Privilege,” if you called the fire department for a block that has six houses, but only one of them is on fire, the firemen will only hose down that one house. You wouldn’t put water on all of the houses if only one of them was on fire. This isn’t to say that there are not extremists because BLM is supposed to be non-violent, but there are still people who cause problems. 

What do you think about president Trump’s comments about immigrants?

Funny story, you can put this in your essay, when I first heard his comments on Twitter I thought it was a spam account, I thought it wasn’t real, I thought it was a robot. It was wild when I found out his words were saying those things. It was unbelievable. I didn’t think a person could be behind such cruel words. These Caucasians come from predominantly white spaces and they don’t know how to be diverse. People need to understand that they are speaking to the entire world as the president. He is modeling dangerous stuff. I don’t care that he helped ASAP out in Sweden, I don’t care. I couldn’t have ever imagined that someone so powerful would go on Twitter like that. 

You said you were part Mexican before. How does that impact you in this regard? 

It impacted me. I have always been on the end of Mexican jokes. I felt hurt as a child and as an adult I saw Trump become president. The bullying hasn’t stopped. My father and his father were raised in intense, difficult environments, so I can’t stand it when people insult them because they worked hard in this country. I feel hurt because I have both ends of these races. I am an African American with Mexican heritage. Trump didn’t only impact the people he thought he’d impact from the outside.

Do you think that your race impacts the type of education you can receive? If so, why? If not, why?

For sure. Especially in college. In elementary school, early education, teachers make assumptions about black children. If they have a small bruise they automatically think that they’re being abused by their mothers. If I make one mistake it’s because I’m African American to teachers. They think black children are disruptive. Black parents teach their kids to move, they learn from action, at least that’s how I was raised. In environments of higher education, we have microaggressions.  You have to tiptoe around professors too.

I feel like as a white person I feel that I can’t always catch microaggressions and that scares me because I want to know when an authority figure is being inappropriate. What do you think people should do to help if they can’t identify them. 

Believe them. Believe people who say they are experiencing them.

June 2020: an image from a “Black Lives Matter” protest in New York (Photo by Federica Carlet)

Do you think your race impacts the type of medical treatment you can receive? If so, why? If not, why?

Yes, in terms of insurance also with some physician interactions. This one doctor automatically thought I had diabetes. She made an assumption. She was black though but I think I know why she did it. A lot of our neighborhoods don’t have good food. There is the McDonalds next to the Subway next to the Popeye’s. There aren’t many options in my community and this may be dark but it’s because our society is trying to kill black people. 

Do you think someone should be able to identify themselves racially? If so, why? If not, why?

You don’t just wake up and say I’m white today. That’s not possible. Sexuality and gender are very different though. There are transgender people; they do surgical things, they live their truth. You can change that stuff. People need to be able to change themselves into what they want to be, but when it comes to race you can’t just wake up and say you’re black because you don’t know what it feels like to be black. You can experience a different gender or sexuality but you can’t really experience a different race. 

Do you think children should be taught about racial inequalities in our society? If so, why? If not, why?

Yes. Children are not taught about diversity and that’s especially dangerous for children of other races. 

Are there any other things you would like to point out that I have not asked that you feel would be a benefit in understanding these issues?

Gentrification. It’s unbelievable. Like I said about the unhealthy food chains. They put those in places so people can die and you know as soon as the Whole Foods pops up your neighborhood is gentrified and gone. That only happens when white people move in. You can’t do anything about it, you can’t control it. 

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