Editor’s Note: The Center for Interfaith Relations recently solicited essays from emerging young authors (ages 13-18) as part of its inaugural Young Authors Essay Contest. The nonprofit asked participants to reflect on changes to the world in the past year — and specifically how the changing world has changed them. The following column was the winner. CIR is committed to celebrating the diversity of faith traditions and strengthening the role of faith in society through common action. The nonprofit hosts the annual Festival of Faiths.
The year 2020 will always be tainted by sorrow and injustice. Many horrible things occurred that affected so many people. While these events had a negative effect on society, it allowed for individuals to reconsider their beliefs and educate themselves about the imperfections in our world. Eyes were opened to the significant problems causing division within our country, states and communities.
This division is something that must be confronted if we want to unite. In doing so, we must recognize that systemic racism exists within our country. Many people in positions of power have refused to recognize the injustices rooted within our society or denounced white supremacy. This has made it all the more important for people to educate themselves, to educate others and to take action through protests, petitions and other forms of communication.
Taking the lives of innocent people, giving people of color longer jail sentences and having heavier policing in predominantly Black neighborhoods are examples of how our community is actively stereotyping and discriminating against the Black community. Killing people based on their skin color is horribly unacceptable. No one chooses to live in a society where their skin color, sexuality, gender identity or religion is seen as inferior and are dehumanized. So, judging people for who they are is not acceptable and needs to stop. We are all humans. The color of your skin should not determine how people think of you and the opportunities you are given in life.
As a white person, I will never understand what the Black community has gone through and what they experience daily. I haven’t been discriminated against or treated as less of a human for the color of my skin. Along with being white comes white privilege. The fact that I have more opportunities solely based on the color of my skin is truly disgraceful and must be recognized. The responsibility of a white person during this time of racial injustice is to be an ally and support Black people fighting for basic human rights and to be treated as equals. White people have a choice: either speak out against racism and white supremacy, or stay silent. Choosing to stay silent is allowing this oppression to continue. Staying silent is letting all of the Black lives that have been taken to be lost in vain. This silence is just as deafening and deplorable as the discrimination itself.
As the injustices in our country have become more apparent, I chose to educate myself. I sought out unbiased, true facts about the horrors caused by racism and police brutality. I used credible resources and trusted media to learn about this problem. Upon seeing how our society treats Black people, choosing to stay silent was not an option. I signed petitions, posted and advocated for change on my social media platforms, and had in-depth conversations with others about these difficult issues. I didn’t want praise for speaking out. All I wanted was to do my part to help this marginalized group of people.
The year 2020 changed me greatly. Deciding to educate myself and speak out to help others has put into perspective what being a productive member of society means. It means helping everyone — regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation or religion — lead a life that is fulfilling. It means helping them live without being oppressed and discriminated against for being who they are. We need to make the world a better place for all individuals, not just white people. All lives don’t matter until Black lives matter. If we learn to accept all people, we can repair the fractures in our own country and unify to become a stronger, more compassionate nation.