An African American Student’s Perspective

This article was originally published on August 4, 2020.

The creator of this art is Zoe Harveen Kaur, the owner of ZHK Designs.

Esther Kija is an upcoming 8th grader who lives in Frisco. Raised by a family of immigrants, she is an advocate for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and racial minorities’ rights. I was able to ask her about her experiences being an African-American student and what she feels should change in society.

Growing up, Esther moved multiple times. This meant seeing different people in different areas and having to adapt to her surroundings. When she finished elementary school, Esther moved to Frisco and had to attend Pearson Middle School and so far, it has been the hardest place for her to adapt to. She felt that this was mostly because Frisco is a predominantly Caucasian area. Coming from living in the DFW area, it was definitely a change. Esther quickly realized how different things were. For instance, Esther experienced things that had to do with her race. Keep in mind that her experiences aren’t extreme but many others can also relate to them.

She explained,

Some examples were constantly feeling excluded because I was the only black person or one of a few in my classes. Two years in a row I was the only black person in my orchestra, and even on trips to see professional orchestras, there wasn’t any black representation. I constantly felt out of place, like I wasn’t supposed to be there. This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it’s a weird feeling. Another thing that made me feel out of place was my hair. I remember in 6th grade I wore my hair in a puff, and I remember people would always want to touch my hair or ask me questions about it. The hair touching thing was very bothersome because I didn’t really know how to react in those situations. It was always very awkward for me and I didn’t know how to tell them to stop without ‘being rude’. I soon realized it wasn’t rude and if I didn’t like it when someone did something I should just tell them to stop. I noticed my natural hair brought unwanted attention to me so the next year I wore braids. And sure enough, I kind of blended in hair-wise.

Esther went on to say how kids are treated differently from other kids based on their skin color. She noticed that more people talk to you if you are Caucasian, as they feel more comfortable around you. To see if what she noticed is actually true, Esther asked some of her acquaintances and friends what their first impressions of her were. Everyone she asked said they thought she was mean or intimidating. She went on to say that it was no coincidence that people of color are usually overlooked or avoided by others. Esther then shared her opinion on systematic racism and sexism.

She stated,

These behaviors (referring to how people of color are treated differently than Caucasians) mustn’t carry into our adulthood and future careers, but sadly they already have. Systematic racism and sexism are so engraved into today’s society that we don’t even notice the microaggressions that take place in our everyday environments. An example would be the dress code. Everyone knows how sexist it is. It shows that our school is willing to take time out of a female’s day to tell her to change because it will distract a male student. This just shows that they prioritize a boy’s learning experience over a girl’s learning experience. Overall, being a student of color and also being a girl isn’t easy.

Amid everything that is going on, one thing that the BLM movement showed Esther was who was really there for her. She said that she can’t tell us how many times she has been asked for an “n-word pass”, even though it shouldn’t be a thing. The people who asked her for a pass during school are the same people who haven’t spoken out about the racial injustice in today’s society.

She feels that we shouldn’t give race, gender, and serial orientation as much importance as we do now. She claimed that people say that these are not given importance in society. However, if that were to be true, why do we have to mark our ethnicity in every form we fill out from college applications to job applications? Moreover, these forms also deny the reality of mixed races. Why is a woman with more experience less likely to get a job than a man with less experience? The sad truth is that these variables of gender, race, and sexual orientation can decide whether you live or die in this country. And that needs to change.

Esther hopes that we can have a better understanding of everyone’s experiences and cater to all students in the future. No matter where they come from, what they look like, or who they are. We have a long way to go, but we are getting there. I strongly encourage you to do what you can to emphasize that everyone should be treated equally no matter their race, gender, or sexuality. Some ways to cause a change in how the minorities of the US are treated are to spread the word through social media by reposting content, making your own content, signing petitions, and taking part in protests. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”, so let’s take Mr. King’s advice and do what is right