Isabelle Hoff: The African American Experience

I was asked to talk about what the African-American experience was during the twentieth century in America. Starting this essay, I found myself looking at what may have been experienced had been much different than what had been taught to me in my previous years in high school. I read three essays from Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Maya Angelou which I found astonishing. After reading these essays, I was extremely surprised to find the amount of maturity and understanding these authors had. They had gone through more than I ever will in my entire life, and they still held their heads high and were able to let go of some of their anger. I am not a person of color and I have never experienced outright discrimination towards me. I know I would not be able to let my anger go as these authors did. This shows a much higher level of maturity and bravery that I do not know myself to have. Even after going through all of the disgusting things that they were forced to go through, they were able to reflect and show they are bigger, more insightful people than any of the white people bringing them down. Letting go of all of the hatred in their hearts is incredibly inspiring and anyone should hope to hold the power they have in their souls. What they have been able to do truly astounds me and I am in awe of how strong they were.

Throughout the process of writing the first essay of the semester, I found myself very appreciative of coming across a new style of writing. My time in high school has taught me to write in a very specific way, without my own opinion. In high school, I felt I was just spitting out facts as I wrote without putting how what I’m talking about applies to me or how I’m feeling. For example, during my English class freshman year, I was tasked to write about whether or not schools should have a mandatory uniform. I did research, found facts, stats, and interviews, but I wasn’t able to share my own experience, my own thoughts, and feelings. Really, it was just a list of facts with words in between them. And this is what my teacher wanted; I got perfect scores on almost every essay. Now, after having been introduced to the “I say” approach, I am able to respond, reflect, and share how I’m feeling after reading such powerful essays. In the past, all I was thinking and feeling was forced to be kept inside. At first the “I say” approach was difficult for me. But as I continued to use it, I got into a rhythm and saw that my writing is much more powerful and convincing than it has ever been. I truly enjoy writing with “I say” even though it was slightly difficult for me at the beginning of this experience.

After reading these author’s essays and reflecting upon my own life, I am going to do a better job at standing up for people who are unable or less likely to stand up for themselves. I will continue to educate myself by trying to put myself in others’ shoes and strive to help educate others as well. It is greatly important for me to ensure that everyone feels safe and loved no matter who they are or what they look like.

I personally have never experienced racial discrimination nor has it been extremely clear that it has happened around me in my life. But, after a decent amount of thought, I find myself reliving some experiences from high school. If I was walking around the school I would never get stopped and asked to see a hall pass. As a white girl, I think I took this privilege for granted. I was oblivious to the unknown advantage I held in my skin. Walking past people of color in the halls who had been stopped and asked for a hall pass made me realize we are still in a society that experiences discrimination and segregation. From what I’ve experienced, going through life as an African-American person is like running a race with sandbags tied to your ankles. Even though we all may start in a similar place, the obstacles African-Americans may face don’t even exist for most white people. As much as I would like to believe my high school was free of this, it’s impossible to look past the reality of racism being so rooted in society.

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