Talking to Teens
For years, the celebration of Black History Week and now Black History Month has been the only national recognition of the African-American’s achievements. Now that the United States has elected an African-American president, some say that racism is over and there is no need for African-American History Month. Today’s teens, as usual, have their own unique insight on the need for African-American History Month and racism in America.

Dan, a 17-year-old senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, believes getting rid of Black History Month is a ridiculous thought.

“We have so many other holidays we should get rid of, like Columbus Day, which is nothing more than a day out of school or off from work,” he said. “We still need Black History Month to recognize other blacks who contributed to the world. Barack Obama did not do it by himself. His accomplishments are the result of the sacrifices and actions of many who came before him.”

“Racism is not dead, not at all,” he continued. “You can look around, and watch TV. You’ll see comedies with the same old stereo types. The fatherless families with drunken or drug addicted children, the big fat nagging mother, the unemployed neighbor. In school, I always hear kids making racist comments. They make fun of Asians and call them ‘chinks’ and call Hispanic kids ‘wet-backs.’ I can’t tell you how many ‘nigger’ jokes I’ve caught the tail end of,” he added.

Like Dan, Bridget, 17, of Austin, also believes racism is not dead. Although Bridget lives in Austin, which is a predominately African-American community, she has experienced racism from her peers because of her speech and light complexion.

“They call me ‘white girl’ or ‘pinky’ and make fun of me when they think I can’t hear them,” she said. “They make fun of the way I talk because I like to use proper English and put endings on my words,” she added.

Seventeen-year-old Cup Cake, who lives in Romeoville, says she has never really experienced racism. “Everyone around here is really friendly,” she said. “There was one person who would cause problems, but they moved,” she added. Cup Cake also believes that Black History Month is still very much needed.

“Of course it’s needed,” she said. “Black History Month shows the stuff Black people went through and the accomplishments we’ve made. We can now live Dr. King’s dream, in the White House.”

When asked about President Obama as a role model and the type of influence, if any, he can have on young African-Americans, many of the teens I spoke to had similar thoughts. Dan said he has seen changes in the way some of his friends dress.

“One of my friends came to school in a full suit the other day. I mean tie, shirt, cuff links and all,” he said. “I asked him why he was all dressed up. Half joking, I asked if he was dressed up because of Obama and he said, ‘yes, I’m dressing for success.’ I said that’s great, I think I’m going to join you as soon as I get some fancy clothes.”

For years parents have pleaded with their sons to pull up their pants, lace up their shoes and loose the doo rags and oversized jewelry. Now community and religious leaders are organizing campaigns to get young people, young men in particular, to embrace a more conservative look. They are calling upon them to show pride and respect for one another in how they dress, speak and act towards one another.

Some teens think the style of Obama can help to inspire young people to change the way they dress, their attitude and behavior; however, they all agree that the change is really up to the individual.

“We can use Barack as an example to encourage them,” Cup Cake said. “If Obama pushes for it, more people will go for it. A lot of teens were involved with his campaign and election, so he’ll be able to influence them,” she added.

Cup Cake also said that she has already noticed a change. “Some guys are starting to wear skinny legged jeans and nice sweaters and button ups,” she added. “They have to decide to change and to do something different. We can use Barack as an example and encourage them to try and reach for more.”

Kiki, 14, of Austin Poly Tech, said, “We can only hope some black men will change their way of life now that we have a black president. Even though Barack has been elected, there are still people who believe it’s all about white power and that a black man should not be in that position,” she added. “We still need Black History Month because there are still people who disapprove of black folks. We need Black History Month so we can tell the story of our past.”

Tina, a 17-year-old senior at a private high school, summed it all up when she said, “Things might not change right away, but they will change eventually. We can’t expect that they will change right away because Obama is president. Barack can’t do it by himself, and it takes all of us to promote African-Americans and our history. It takes all of us to be kind and respectful to one another. It takes all of us to change the way we dress, look and speak.

“Continuing to celebrate Black History Month is good so that the next generation won’t forget how black people have influenced many things we have today,” Tina added. “Blacks have influenced the world by the things we eat, things we operate, street lights, peanut butter. Basically, we need Black History Month so we don’t forget the past.