'Being racist is a decision, not a choice,' student says

·4 min read

Malyah Jackson wants everyone to know how hurtful racism is and her presentation to the F.J. McElligott Secondary School student body this week offered personal experience.

It came after schools in the Near North District School Board spent a big part of the month participating in an anti-bullying campaign featuring videos and guest speakers promoting inclusiveness. One of films impacted Jackson and prompted her to speak out.

“I've been going to this school for three years now,” the Grade 11 student said. “I come from a black family, but with a white mother that loves us for who we are. She doesn't see our colour. She sees us as people.”

Jackson, whose skin isn’t as dark as her father’s skin, said she tried to pass for being white because of what people said about black people.

“I used to never tell people that I was black because I was really ashamed of my colour. I would deny that I was black,” she said, describing what it was like to be living in the confusing space between two races. “I was so torn about it, I didn't feel like I should be myself. I felt like I wasn't good enough.”

Jackson, who turns 16 years old on Sunday, said her outlook changed as she learned more about what was going on with racism around the world.

“One day, I eventually realized that light-skinned or beautiful black people are beautiful. My colour is just as beautiful as every other black person,” she said.

For a long time, she wouldn’t fight the racism.

“I let people say racial slurs against black people towards me. I let them call me the N-word. I let them say every racial slur in the book,” she said, explaining they would even seek her permission. “They would ask me if I cared if they say this … I would always respond with no, because at the moment I did not care.”

An incident in class, where a movie about racism was being shown, led to the presentation. Jackson described how she was triggered by a scene where a black actor was shot by a police officer while reaching to grab his comb.

Jackson blamed the teacher for not understanding how that scene would affect a black student but realized she was just trying to educate the other students about racism. After speaking to her guidance counsellor and the North Bay Multiculturalism Centre, she arranged to speak at her school.

“It was more than just a movie to me,” she said about how all the real police killings and the Black Lives Matter protests this year brought everything into the light for her.

“Being racist, saying racial slurs and jokes are not funny,” she said, adding she was encouraged to speak about it as one of the only black girls in the school.

“Racism, it's not a joke. It will never be funny and it has never been funny to me,” she told the students, teaches and staff in the gymnasium on Wednesday.

“So, I stand here asking each and every one of you how many black people need to die before you guys realize that our colour is not a weapon you should fear.

“And how much of my self-esteem needs to die before you realize it's not funny?” she asked.

“In the honour of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I stand here and say that Black Lives Matter.”

Jackson left the audience members with a few more things to think about.

“Now, I do have some questions for you guys, but I don't want your answer. I just want you to reflect on it yourself and ask yourselves these questions personally:

“Have you ever been profiled? Have you ever met someone who made assumptions about who you are because of your appearance? How does it feel?” she asked.

“We go through that every day because of our colour,” Jackson said, posing another question: “When you're a racist to someone and you get in trouble for it, do you say you're sorry because you have to or you say you're sorry because you know what you did hurt them?”

Jackson then told them to imagine if they are a police officer and how they’d feel if they saw a white person reach for a potential weapon compared to how they would feel if it was a black person. She said people of colour don’t know if the police officer is one of the good ones or not.

“Ever since the George Floyd incident, we ask ourselves every day, are we next?”

Jackson boiled it all down to one thing and shared her thoughts on the issue.

“Being racist is a decision, not a choice.”

Dave Dale, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca