Abu Khalaf was one of the speakers at “Portraits of Racism,” a Campus Y speaking event and workshop about systemic racial issues. The Campus Y Outreach Team organized the forum to discuss the presence of racism in society.
“Racism isn’t just something that goes away when you’re not being oppressed,” Matt Lopez, one of the organizers, said. “It’s not something that you get away from.”
“Portraits of Racism” opened with a spoken word poem about Silent Sam by student Mistyre Bonds. She wrote about how the police stood by while she was pushed around in the crowd while students celebrated the national championship in 2016, but brought a barricade and tear gas during a Silent Sam protest.
“There’s a difference between a riot and a reckoning,” Bonds said. “And the University doesn’t know it.”
Esther Mateo-Orr, an activist and teacher in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, spoke about a different issue of institutionalized racism in the school system. She said Black and minority students face a gap in opportunity, even though Chapel Hill schools tend to be affluent.
Mateo-Orr told the story of a teacher at Rashkis Elementary School in Chapel Hill who refused to accept the achievement gap between students of different races. She insisted each teacher on her staff take part in racial equity training and set the goal of having all students in the third, fourth and fifth grades pass their End-of-Grade tests.
“She really set the bar high,” Mateo-Orr said.
By the end of the year, for the first time in a decade at the school, Mateo-Orr’s entire class passed the EOG. She said her fellow teacher's dedication to fighting inequality inspires her to address the racial gap in public schools.
“Until we recognize and until we routinely address it, day after day, it won’t go away,” she said. “We can hope, but we need to put the work in for that to change.”
Gaby Alemán, another student speaker, had a different experience with race as a Latina woman with an Argentinian father and Cuban mother. Alemán was born in Miami, Fla. and raised in the U.S.
“Racially, I am white, Alemán said. “Latinx is not a race, but it is an ethnicity.”
Alemán grew up being called the Spanish term for “Little Black One” by her family because of her tan skin, adding to her confusion about her racial and ethnic background.
“It has been interesting to deal with how I identify myself and how other people identify me,” she said.
Alemán said she became aware of different cultures and the racism that people face, even within Latin-American countries, when she came to UNC.
“It’s not anybody’s job to teach you about their culture,” Alemán said. “You have to make an effort to expand your knowledge and become aware of these things”