Commentary: Racism, casual and not, is present at O.C. high schools, but we can do something about it

Yorba Linda protest
Gisela and Arin Kelman, brought their daughters to the Yorba Linda demonstration in support of George Floyd on Tuesday.

When I attended Corona del Mar High School from 2014-18, a common phrase used to playfully insult a friend was “kook,” a term for a beginner surfer.

Another common trend was to use racial slurs.

This sort of casual racism was something that I didn’t realize was especially prevalent in our area until I began college, where many people, when hearing that I came from Newport Beach or Orange County, asked:

“Oh, isn’t that place super-racist?”

This forced me to think about how racism is normalized in Orange County communities. The death of George Floyd and the protests erupting across America should make us all reflect on racism in Orange County and create lasting change to prevent the next generation of students from having the same experience that I had.

There is an abundance of evidence of racism in Orange County, especially in high schools. In 2018, for example, a picture of Newport Harbor High School students surrounding a table with Solo cups in the shape of a swastika made national news. At some point, examples like this stop becoming isolated incidents and start becoming indicative of a larger trend.

I also know that less-public acts of racism were frequent during my time at CdM. Several non-black students would often use the “n-word” and racial epithets. As a Japanese American, “Hiroshima” and “Nagasaki” were used so frequently to playfully insult me that I stopped even seeing it as an insult.

I would bet that many other high school students from this area had similar experiences. While there are many non-racist students at our schools, that does not mean that the O.C. community shouldn’t take more action to prevent racist acts.

So how do we create this change? Our school system can take immediate action to prevent future generations of students from falling victim to racism.

Schools are often reactive when it comes to racism; they merely punish acts of racism when they hear about them, leaving countless other actions untouched.

Instead, our school districts should take proactive preventative action. I know that during my time at CdM, the vast majority of authors I read were white. Integrating indigenous writers and authors of color would be a start in having students hear non-white narratives.

This February, Estancia and Costa Mesa high schools approved a “Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Healing” program in conjunction with UC Irvine.This sort of action needs to be taken by the rest of the Newport-Mesa schools and beyond.

The protests across the United States demonstrate that we have not taken enough action to prevent racism. Our school system needs to think about how it can stop future generations from having the same issue.

Furthermore, anti-racist dialogues need to be had with students at a younger age. Elementary schools can bring in school speakers to talk about racism to children, and teachers need to integrate anti-racist conversations into their curricula.

Parents should be encouraged to have dialogues about racism with their children. While this may seem early to some, making children anti-racist early on can make a big difference, and frankly, should not be a difficult conversation to have.

What children learn in schools affects how they act as citizens for the rest of their lives. O.C. schools need to create a culture that actively discusses racism and prevents it from affecting students.

I think that many students who commit acts of racism or bigotry don’t do so out of malice. They haven’t been adequately taught about the issue of racism, and they simply do not understand the severity and wrongfulness of their actions.

Schools play an integral part in rectifying this issue. Additionally, some may argue that these are just examples of “kids being kids,” and that eventually they will learn from their actions. But if children learn early on about the issue of racism, it can prevent normalization of this behavior.

It took 18 years for me to completely realize how prevalent prejudice against minorities is in our community. Recent events in Orange County schools should confirm that racism is something that requires more action from our community. While a countless number of steps need to be taken to adequately address this issue, enacting immediate action in schools can help.

Newport Beach resident Jayson Yasukochi attends Claremont McKenna College.

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