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Students Examine Racism After Watching Documentary


Police shootings of African-Americans across the United States have directed many people’s attention on racial inequality in American society.

A new documentary film aimed mainly at young people attempts to open public debate on the issue.

The documentary is called “I’m Not Racist…Am I?” It follows 12 New York City high school students over nine months. The young people take part in exercises and sometimes difficult discussions concerning the issue of racism.

The film is not playing in theaters. It is being shown only to groups of young people and their parents.

Catherine Wigginton Greene is the film’s director. She says the parents often find the documentary difficult to watch. She says what it shows is very different from what many adults think is happening in their children’s lives.

Greene said the parents “are seeing that children are going to dances, or have friends of different races, and they think ‘Oh, well, they just have it all figured out.’”

But she noted, “What we realized in making the film is that the children don’t, and they are not talking about it with their families.”

“I’m Not Racist…Am I?” has been shown many times at Woodrow Wilson High school, a large, culturally-mixed public school in Washington, D.C.

The school’s principal, Kimberly Martins says her students needed it.

“From the first day that I was in this school, I could not believe that there are classrooms that are all African American, or all Latino, and then there are classrooms that are all white.”

Student James Sarokin agreed that a diverse school population does not necessarily mean students of different races mix.

He added, “I think that, honestly, white kids hang out with white kids and black kids hang out with black kids, generally.”

The film persuaded another student, Amilcar Hudson. He now thinks that talking about racial issues is the best way to deal with them. But he believes such discussion is not easy.

“I think that’s the scariest part about it,” he said. “I know there’s a racial problem in this country, but the fact that people really don’t feel comfortable talking about it, means that we are almost self-consciously satisfied with it, we’re OK with this going on.”

Student Isabel Suarez says the situation is more difficult for victims of prejudice.

“I understand it’s so hard to hear that you are inherently racist because of something you can’t control. But isn’t it worse to hear you are ((considered to be)) less than people, inherently, because of the color of your skin?”

Students at Wilson High have formed a group called Common Ground. It is designed to support interaction and communication among students of different cultural backgrounds.

Jeff Custer reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

figure outphrasal verb to understand or find (something, such as a reason) by thinking

diverseadj. made up of people or things that are different from each other

inherentlyadv. belonging to the basic nature of someone or something

backgroundn. the experiences, knowledge, education, etc., in a person's past

kid – n. a child; a boy or girl

hang out – phrasal verb to be somewhere

scariest – adj. causing the most fear; most frightening

comfortable – adj. not causing any unpleasant feelings

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