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Symphony in Color Opus Purple

Beatles Rule! (?)

When I visited Menlo as an eighth grader, I quickly noticed the relative lack of minority students as compared with the previous school I had attended, a public middle school in Redwood City (I am happy to say that since my freshman year the diversity at Menlo has immensely increased). Yet it wasn't so much the absence of minority groups that bothered me as it was the extent of prejudice present at a school as "top-notch" as Menlo. I naively assumed that most students attending a school cool enough to hold classes in an old Victorian style mansion and unconventional enough for there to be no bells ringing throughout the campus would be open-minded enough to not be prejudiced.

Needless to say I was shocked at the amount of racism (and general prejudice) I experienced, personally or otherwise, here at Menlo. Yet what disturbs my mind most is the way racism is expressed at Menlo. At my previous middle school, there was a high level of open racism, even though the ethnic makeup of the student body was extremely diverse: the African-Americans hated the Hispanics who hated the Native Americans who hated the whites who hated the African-Americans. Fights incited by racism erupted monthly at the school playground; one girl made me promise never to tell anyone that she had told me about the intense hate between blacks and Hispanics at our school (she might have been hurt physically if I had told anyone).

Menlo students, however, express their prejudices in various indirect ways. I have experienced many instances where students would refer to a teacher who taught Spanish last year at Menlo as "the black teacher." Although such a phrase seems harmless to those who consider the fact that this teacher was Menlo's only black teacher at the time (in order to veil their racism, certain people would argue that "the black teacher" would be a useful way of identifying the person in a school where there is only one black faculty member), the tone with which I heard these words being said smelled and reeked of racism. I attended a science class outing in which a classmate of mine was identified by other students as "the Jewish girl": "Wait. Who [are you talking about]?" "The Jewish girl." "Oh, her."

While the previous phrase (and the tone in which it was spoken) were not inherently racist, the mere fact that a student would choose to identify his classmate by race (rather than by hair color or height, for example) was disturbing ("that short golf-playing brunette [a hypothetical person] who sits next to John Doe during French" is a better way to identify the person than "that Jewish girl").

I am absolutely not an advocate of political correctness: PC limits freedom of speech. However, identifying people by their race in the manner described above instead of by their academic accomplishments, physical attributes, or athletic recognition is offensive to many. In both the case of the black Spanish teacher and the Jewish girl, the aforementioned quotes were in bad taste, even if the degree to which the apparence of racist undertone extended differed in both incidents.

The reason that such indirect racism at Menlo is more offensive than the open racism of my old public school is that indirect racism indicates that the racist realizes the offensive quality of his beliefs. (S)he may not wish to cause sticky situations by blurting out racist remarks. The racist may also see the potential harm to his/her reputation, in adition to other people's feelings, if (s)he vocalizes his/her thoughts. In my middle school, the students who were openly racist acted the way they did mainly because they were either connected with gangs (which were racially segregated) and/or had too little tact to keep their mouths shut whenever necessary. True, most people who openly show their racist views do so from a desire to show their hate and contempt for the groups they're biased against; however, in my middle school, the aforementioned gang violence and tactlessness was the main cause of open racism.

But even Menlo's sophisticated, indirect prejudice degrades itself into openly expressed prejudice. At a Menlo club outing, during a dinner, two peers at my table agreed that Hispanics were "racially disadvantaged." This remark was more offensive due to the imitation of a politically correct phrase (i.e. "racially disadvantaged" as opposed to something like "vertically disadvantaged"). A member of the class of 1997, while passing by the meeting room of Menlo's MAC club, said, "oh look, the Mexicans are having a MAC meeting." This same person called a friend of mine "nothing but a fucking gypsy" because of the way she dressed; this person also thought that I had done drugs, just because I hung out with a hippie (who, by the way, did not do drugs either). The same person mentioned above also was later seen smoking in an Atherton parking lot (hypocrite!). Another person claimed to abhor rap solely because it was "black music."

There's a note out of tune in the symphony of color.

By Iacobus

This page created for The Subterranean Crusader by John W. Earl. Last modified January 28, 1996.