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Ceci Cardelle: We must stand up for what is right

By Ceci Cardelle

When faced with the question regarding the status of my school and city’s racial relations, my first thought was a rather sarcastic, “Where do I begin?” But then I imagined if I had been asked the same question a month ago, my first thought then would’ve been a much more confused, “Where do I begin?”

I’ve lived in Salisbury my entire life and I was very fortunate to grow up knowing nothing but the kindness of its inhabitants. I’ve always known that I am a minority in my community and school, but up until about a month ago, I had no reason to feel that anyone would treat me differently because of such.

However, that all changed when my narrow perspective on the situation widened after I gained attention for protesting a Donald Trump rally.

Several weeks ago, my sister and I gained media attention after one of my tweets went viral. The tweet came after my sister and I protested a Donald Trump event here in Salisbury by wearing a t-shirt with the Spanish phrase, “Latina Contra Trump,” or Latina against Trump. Our protest specifically targeted Donald Trump’s rhetoric toward the Latin American community rather than conservative ideologies or principles.

After living in Salisbury my entire life, I thought I had a good grip on how people would react. I figured I had ruffled some feathers, as taking any political stand would, but I expected at most for people to respectfully disagree with my choice; however, that was not the case.

Some of the kind faces I once knew began to vanish, exposing the darker underbelly of our society. During this time, I dealt with a lot of racial harassment not only at school, but also in the community. I was met with threats of deportation from fellow classmates and even a teacher. I was referred to as a cleaning lady, a drug dealer and just another uneducated Mexican. While these are some of the more radical insults I was given, they came from people here in our community.

When this happened to me, I was fortunate enough to have not only friends for comfort, but also peers who had been through similar situations of racial harassment come forward and share their stories with me.

Now when I think back to a month ago, before any of this took place, I get angry at myself. Because one-month-ago me doesn’t have an answer for the state of racial relations in our community and schools, and if she were to guess she’d say they were OK. One-month-ago me was content, believing that since I hadn’t suffered from discrimination it must not happen so often in Salisbury.

I think a lot of us are guilty of being like one-month-ago me. We live our lives unaffected by racial stigmas and discrimination so we make the assumption that everyone else does too. By turning a blind eye towards racism in our community and schools, we only thicken the rapidly growing racial tensions. In order to end this ultimately catastrophic cycle, we as a whole must widen our perspectives and gain knowledge on minority views.

What I have found through my research is that the majority of minorities in high schools who have suffered racial discrimination feel they don’t have a platform on which they can properly voice their disapproval. I would change this by calling on school principals to assemble teen outreach programs. Once a month a diverse group of students could meet and discuss cracks they see forming in our school system. During this time, they’d be able to bring up any discriminatory matters they feel are widening the racial gap between students and or faculty at the school.

There’s also a lot of work to be done repairing racial relations in our community. The biggest action we can take to combat the racial gap is to step out of our comfort zone. Individually, we must involve ourselves in activities that place us in environments where we are exposed to people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. We need to attend museums, music events, ethnic festivals, restaurants and stores in order to expand our appreciation of different ethnicities and nationalities.

On top of this, we must always stand up for what is right. In today’s society we can no longer tolerate racist remarks of any kind. If we don’t speak up, we’re condoning their discriminatory beliefs and behavior. Inaction is a form of action.

And lastly, we must teach through example. In this room are some of the most influential people in all of Salisbury. Can you imagine the strides that could be made if we were positive role models for inclusion every single day.? Explain to those who look up to you what it means to live in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society; you’d be surprised how much weight your opinion may hold.

I want to leave you with a thought best summarized by Nobel peace prize winner, Kofi Annan

“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”

Ceci Cardelle, a senior at Salisbury High School, presented these remarks to the Salisbury Rotary Club as one of its Junior Rotarians.

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