Fourteen-year-old Olivia and her 13-year-old brother Adrian are a little too familiar with the racism, microaggressions, and implicit biases that disguise themselves as jokes told by their peers. Having transferred from another school within Polk County, Olivia admits she was hopeful that her current school would be different from her last.
“I had been going to a really small school before and there were only three Black people, two Latino, and the rest were white,” said Olivia. “When I got to Talmadge, I was like ‘Wow’, because I had never seen so many people of color together…I was really excited, I thought I was going to be putting the whole racists in school thing behind me. But, I would say it’s way worse.” She explained that at her current school, other students make remarks, jokes, and even use the N-word in the hallways.
When the BLM movement started to reach Monmouth, Olivia explained that her peers would mock the movement on social media, and in person, would jokingly throw up fists in her direction. “It really hurt to see that such an amazing political protest was being turned into a joke,” said Olivia. “Basically, they were saying that I was a joke.” Adrian described having experienced similar events, noticing that his peers would intentionally say jokes and comments loud enough for him to hear it.
Although both Olivia and Adrian agree that they don’t want to stay in Monmouth forever, Olivia is confident that she can make changes while she’s here. Having spoken to the school board about her experiences, as well as giving her middle school a reading list of Young Adult authors that write books about racial problems, Olivia thinks the most important thing she can do is educate.
“When I tell people about situations I’m put through, they just say ‘oh, I’m so sorry’,” said Olivia. “But, I don’t want your apology. It’s really sweet of you but, apologizing isn’t going to change anything.” On the other end, Adrian admits that it’s possible for small changes to happen in the city but he doesn’t expect big changes to occur while living there.