The Oak Leaf

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Tara Kaveh

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As a first-generation Iranian-American born in the United States, I had seen the injustice of racism but I never actually come face-to-face with it.
During a busy night shift at work, a certain table was clearly treating me differently than they treated the others around me. They laughed and joked to themselves, asking me odd questions when I approached the table; their eyes not looking at me but at the shade of my skin. Their actions were a passive aggressive way to make their judgments about me clear. By the end of their meal, one of the men looked at me, his eyes burning with prejudice and breath thick with liquor he slurred, “You know I just have to ask, are you a citizen?” What I wanted to do was shout at this man, “How can you be so ignorant?” Though looking him square in the eyes, I could feel he was lost.
The right thing to do was to be bigger than the hatred thrown at me by replying reasonably, holding my head high, and walking away.
I physically walked away, but in my mind, this encounter stopped me in my tracks.
The impact from the blow of the words shocked me. The outrage and hurt I felt from a few subtle actions. Their words were veiling the underlying hatred of racism.
What struck me was the people around me were completely ignorant to what had happened. Which made it feel outrageously wrong.
I realized this was a great wake up call; just because there are laws protecting me from the things people say, there is nothing protecting me from the look in their eyes.
Racism is a difficult concept to combat because it cannot be eliminated by any rules or laws. It is a concept created by the human mind, and only in the human mind does it exist. Every single baby in this world–whether they are white, black, brown, pink or blue–comes out kicking and screaming equal to one another. Prejudice is not natural, it is a learned behavior. By learning to overcome our mindsets of judgement and stereotyping, we can find ourselves living in a world without prejudice. In a country and time that claims to be so “advanced,” we still hold cultural and social values that desensitize us to the prejudice around us, allowing it to continue.
The changes that need to be made in order to remove prejudice from our vocabularies are changes that come must from within. Until we are able to overcome these manmade mental obstacles that keep our country from being a land where all men are truly equal, we cannot claim to set a precedent as an advanced society for the world.

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Imagine a world…