When Discrimination Finds You

by Omar Odom on December 28, 2019

When Discrimination Finds You

by Omar Odom on December 28, 2019

Most people have experienced some form of discrimination and have been hurt by it. It is incredibly harmful and unnecessary to exclude or attack people for something that cannot be helped. At Arcadia, I am learning about the various ways discrimination affects people, which has led me to think of methods of responding to or preventing it. 

As an African American with social anxiety, I have experienced racism, and my mental health has at times made me feel isolated from everyone. Talking to loved ones and medical professionals about my struggles is helpful and relieves the pain. But the mental health of someone who has been discriminated against is often overlooked.  I feel that connecting on issues of discrimination and making it more relatable are key to minimizing their negative impacts.  We need to be aware of the impact of discrimination and realize that everyone has the right to live peacefully. 

At Arcadia, I am learning about the various ways discrimination affects people, which has led me to think of methods of responding to or preventing it. 

- Omar Odom

Taking classes like “Rethinking Gender & Sexuality Education in an Alter Global World”  helped me to understand how important family support is, though it isn’t always guaranteed. Several classmates shared with me their experiences with discrimination, some of which I could relate to. They also made me aware of issues related to gender roles and the pressures that come with “failing” to express these roles. Discrimination often comes into play around identity and expression. The more people differ from what is generally considered “normal,” the more likely they are to suffer for it. However, normal is subjective and there is by no means a set standard. 

The concepts of identity as a process along with forgetting norms and expectations have become the basis of my upcoming project for this course. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.
While ageism isn’t as publicized as some other forms of discrimination, it happens more often than you think, even for young people. At best, it is insulting and degrading to sufferers, and at worst, they are denied opportunities that would improve their quality of life. My classmate, Hannah Rushkowski, shared one experience: 

I have had a recurring scenario where I feel discriminated [against]. Based on my appearance, I look a lot younger than I am. The amount of times I get ‘How old are you, 12?’ or ‘How are you even able to work here, don't you have to be 18?’ I take those statements to heart, considering I am 19 years old. I would like if people can just stop making rude remarks about others just because they are different than you would like them to be.” 

It is easy to forget that capable people can be discriminated against for just appearing young. Most people who see it as an advantage or a compliment generally ignore the potential restrictions. People tend to take them less seriously.  Experiencing it is bad enough, but it’s even worse to deal with it on a regular basis. My classmate Marjorie Mccardell had a similar experience: 

I’m still technically a teenager, and a lot of my older coworkers dismiss me because of my age. It’s very frustrating to be exploited for my knowledge and then in the same interaction [hear someone[ belittle teenagers for always being on their phones, or not knowing cursive, or vaping too much.”

Four female students and one male student reading outside the commons.

Marjorie points out a common and overlooked double standard with young adults: They are customarily exploited for their labor and knowledge while being regarded as dumb and lazy. I dread any rant dealing with millennials. They're not perfect, but are they really so different from any other rising generation? 

In this course, students are encouraged to use queer theory whenever possible. The classmates I interviewed are definitely queer in the sense that they are rejecting traditional ideas. Additionally, queering commonly known identities of discrimination opens the door to newer and lesser known forms. Rebecca Krewina’s ordeal provides a good example: 

I know when most people think of discrimination, they tend to think of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. However, the case of discrimination that I have recently experienced more often is with my dog, Pumpkin. She is a trained and certified Emotional Support Animal (ESA), complete with a vest and paperwork. Despite all of this, I can never escape the fact that she is a pitbull breed. Everywhere I go, people try and keep an unnatural distance from her and give her the side-eye. They are afraid of her because she is a highly discriminated-against breed. What hurts the most is when the same people who ask me to move actively gush over a smaller dog that walks their way.” 

Circumstances like Rebecca’s not only specify a disregard for certain breeds, but the emotional state of people is also made light of and ignored. 

Racism continues to persist. From the sound of names to pictures online, people of color are frequently and baselessly prejudged and stereotyped. Petra Numfor shared with me an instance she had with racism: 

All throughout high school, I had my hair in braids, a weave, cornrows, and a bunch of other hairstyles. I think the winter of my junior year in high school, my mom traveled back home and there was no one to do my hair for me (at least at the time). I ended up rocking my natural hair to school for the first time, and this ignorant white boy made a racist comment about my hair because apparently it looked strange to him? IDK. Anyway, I reported him to the principal and he got suspended for two days.” 

I have a sister and cousin who went through similar experiences. I've even been mocked for rocking a more natural look. There's no reason to put someone down for their race or not committing to certain beauty standards. 

Out of all the identities that exist, gender is probably the one I have to think about the least, whether it’s because I am a cis male or that I’m focused on other identities prevalent in my life. The experiences shared by female classmates enlightened me to common issues of gender. Samantha Davan’s ordeal was one example: 

People always assume that because I am a woman, I cannot lift or do any strenuous activity. They always ask me if I need help carrying that or comment ‘Wow, look at you.’ However, the men carrying the same thing get no comments. I am just as capable, if not more capable, than some men.” 

I’ve actually experience the opposite all the time in a negative way. People often presume that since I am a (big and tall) male that I should be constantly working. They act as if I don't need help, don't get tired, like what I do makes me weak and lazy, and as if it's some crime against nature for me to make time for myself. These stereotypes are ridiculous. Kai Lydon’s situation comments on the implicit urge to separate because of gender:

It was in fifth grade, the first year of middle school, when I had been cast aside by people who I thought were my friends just because I was biologically female and, back then, female presenting. I took it rather hard back then—it hurt to see people you thought you were growing close to suddenly turn their backs over the course of one summer.”

Group of male and female students sitting on haber green looking at a laptop.

When I played games with a group of girls as a kid, there were times when I was made fun of for it. I didn't think about gender and just wanted to have fun. That kind of gender division is toxic and really doesn't make any sense. An anonymous classmate spoke to me about their issues with gender and sexual orientation: 

As a woman, I have been treated differently than my male peers, especially with work. I had worked at Starbucks full time during this past summer, and a known thing about my boss was that he was definitely sexist. I was treated much differently than the males who worked there. He made me feel like I was inferior. Although I am bisexual, I have never experienced discrimination. Bisexuality can be hidden pretty well because it doesn’t need to be known outside of friend groups, so I’ve never had to worry about it. We go to a college that is very accepting, as far as I've experienced, in regards to race, gender, and sexuality.” 

It's not quite the same, but there were plenty of times where my supervisors unjustly singled me out as if I were the problem. I definitely understand not wanting to broadcast your orientation. It's really annoying when people expect you to be out, open, and not care what others think when you just want to minimize any unnecessary drama. Moreover, it's really no one else's business and a person’s orientation has no relevance on how they should be treated.

Going off of personal experience and the experiences shared with me, our lives are more positive and happier when identity standards are ignored and we are not limited to ubiquitous social structures. The essence of a person should take priority over physical features. 

If you’re interested in helping me with my project, share your experiences through this survey.