“At Horace Mann, we don’t have as much engagement as we should with many minority communities, and I think because of that there is this gap in our understanding,” said Charles Simmons (12), co-President of The Union. “For a lot of the student body, what they know about a group of people really boils down to one or two people they know that are of that race.”
While this is not anyone’s fault, Simmons said, this gap does lead to many questions about his race, from people asking him if they can use the n-word in a song to “are both of your parents, like, at home?”
Taussia Boadi (12), co-President of The Union, is also frequently asked about her home life. The questions she receives range from “do you live in the Bronx?” to “what do your parents do for a living?” she said. Boadi attributes these questions to the fact that there is a certain stereotypical way people expect black people to behave, she said.
“I have been told by a lot of people that I don’t act in that way, therefore I stand out,” Boadi said. “This is because I act in a way that makes me seem more civilized to them, more white, which shouldn’t be a thing at all because everyone’s personality is different.”
The best way to treat these questions is to go into them with a very open mind, because a lot of the time, they only stem from ignorance, Simmons said. “When I’m talking to people about these difficult topics, I try not to be hostile, rather, I try to be as welcoming and friendly as possible,” he said. “Because honestly, I’m not trying to yell at them, but I’m trying to guide them to a point where they understand these concepts for themselves.”
Boadi also said that people are not at fault for asking certain questions all of the time. For instance, Boadi is asked the question “can I say the n-word?” a lot, and it is the fault of the school for not teaching students about why certain words can or can not be used, she said. “This education should be incorporated in our history or English classes, because when reading certain texts, the n-word does come up frequently.”
Even after explaining why people shouldn’t be asking certain questions about race, sometimes people still don’t completely understand why some questions don’t need answers, Evann Penn Brown (11) said. “I get a lot of questions about touching my hair, which is really fun to say no to every time.” Brown, however, does not think that people are coming from a malicious place by asking about her race. “People are just genuinely curious, and sometimes unaware that these questions are not necessarily questions that need answers because they’re pretty probing into another person’s life.”