It’s a sweltering day in Martinez, Calif., but luckily for John Swett Elementary students, they are enjoying a newly installed air conditioning unit. But not everyone in Martinez is so fortunate. Only eight minutes away, students at Las Juntas Elementary School are suffocating from the heat.
On March 30, Martinez Unified School District held a school board meeting to decide which elementary school should receive air conditioning (there was only enough funding for one school). According to Buzzfeed, school board member Denise Elsken said that students at John Swett Elementary, who are predominantly white, should receive air conditioning instead of the students at Las Juntas, who are predominantly Latino.
“I really don’t care how this comes out, I would say 95 percent of the students at Las Juntas do not have air conditioning in their homes,” Elsken said in the Buzzfeed article. “So whether that means those students are more acclimated and can handle a little bit more heat than the John Swett students, which I would say 95 percent of their residents have air-conditioning in their homes.”
Although administrators and teachers at John Swett Elementary did place air conditioning as a priority and Las Juntas listed athletic fields and other programs as a priority, the fact that the school board member based her decision on racially driven reasons is unacceptable.
As a school board member, her job is to represent the schools and keep their best interests in mind. By making assumptions about the students at both John Swett and Las Juntas, she is stereotyping a large number of students.
Although we have come a long way in terms of overcoming racism, we still have a long road ahead of us. Racism is not always as conspicuous as it was in the past, but it is most definitely still present.
San Francisco State University Professor Alvin Alvarez defines everyday racism as “subtle, commonplace forms of discrimination, such as being ignored, ridiculed or treated differently.” This is one of them.
According to Pacific Standard Magazine, in another instance in 2008, a Latino student named Alejandra graduated from a high school in Santa Barbara, Calif. The student population there is about half affluent white and the other half poor Latino.
Alejandra was the only Latino student in the International Baccalaureate program, a college-level study curriculum. She completed high school with a 3.3 GPA, which was not easy considering the difficulty of the program and her background. Her dream was to attend a four-year university.
However, her college counselor advised her to go to a local community college based on her race, which she did.
“I thought, maybe I’m not as good as I think I am,” she told Miller-McCune.org, a center for research, media and public policy.
Many times in our daily lives, we may not realize racist undertones in everyday vernacular, but because we live in a world of stereotypes and ideal images, we can oftentimes offend others even if that was not our intention.
Stereotypes start with making assumptions about others, similar to how Elsken assumed that most of the children at Las Juntas didn’t have air conditioning in their own homes.
Making guesses about a person or group of people can be extremely detrimental. By doing so, you do not give the other a person the chance to express who they are before judging them.
Even if you may think that a remark is meaningless or nondiscriminatory regarding a person’s character, image or background, think twice before you say it.
– Sonya Xu