Class of 2024 Honor Council Summer Essay Contest (Racial Justice)
This year Honor Council released two prompts for the Honor Council Summer Essay Contest for the Class of 2024. One of the prompts related to racial justice as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. Participants replied to the following prompt: How have current events and movements (such as the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the prevalence of Black Lives Matter) shaped your understanding of integrity as it relates to race? Congratulations to the winner, Anthony Salgado, as well as the runner-ups, Kennon Walton and Sachin Shah.
Anthony Salgado, 1st Place
Racism is Alive
[Trigger warning: this essay includes racial slurs and the mention of police violence/aggression]
The effect of race and its impact on society is undeniable. Systemic and unjust practices make the bulk of American history. From Asian immigration quotas, to harmful rhetoric against the latinx community, and the disproportionate murders of Black Americans by law enforcement- it is important to acknowledge the fact that racism is alive and well in America today. The issues that minorities face in America were not snapped away in the 1960s, the centuries of oppression are still ingrained in society. Integrity is not just acknowledging these issues, posting an instagram caption about them, and living as if racism has disappeared. Integrity means being actively against racism in all its instances.
When I was younger, I attended a march for my father to be legalized. Despite the rhetoric of many lawmakers, though he was undocumented, he was not a rapist or a gang member. I think about the many stereotypes and harmful pressures that minorities often put on ourselves because it’s all we see in the news or from powerful politicians. For much of my childhood, I had abandoned the fact that I belonged to my community. My father taught me to be proud of who I was and my Mexican heritage was the core of that. I couldn’t understand why, but I knew for a fact that my father was a man of integrity. Despite the hardships of coming to a new country, he persevered and created a life for us here. He would go above and beyond to help others, even if he himself had very little. He gave and did what he could, and that makes him a man of integrity.
As I got older, I realized the harsh realities of racism. I noticed them quickly too. From being called “sp*c”, “to go back to my country”, or even having a gun pulled on me and my mother by a law enforcement official at 12 years old, America told me I did not belong. My mother feared for my life, not hers, and her pain of that instance lasts to this day. She held onto her values, and comforted me by saying I had done nothing wrong at that routine traffic stop. I reflect on the 2014 case of Tamir Rice. He was just 12 when he was shot and killed for having a toy gun. He would’ve graduated along many other first-years. Because of the unjust and despicable system we have, he will never get that chance. A man who points a gun at an unarmed child does not have integrity. The current system rewards this man, and even hires him again. We have to uphold our own morals and integrity, because the current system rewards those who have none.
Now it is 2020, and the world is once again fixated on issues concerning race. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are being called the start of protests. I disagree. The protests happening today are the result of abuse and mistreatment of Black Americans throughout history. The healthcare industry, unjust policing, racist laws enacted by politicians, the inability to buy housing, unequal education, disenfranchisement, and historical segregation all play a role in what is happening in cities across the world. Integrity is fixing these issues, acknowledging the past, and granting justice for these abhorrent murders. Integrity is not brands slapping a logo on something or changing their name; Integrity starts at the root of these issues.
Altogether, integrity varies by person. Personally, I would want to be like my parents. A man who does what he can to combat racism, even if he alone can’t do much. A man who would fight to uphold his values even in the face of racism. As the news stops covering these protests, individuals have to remember to have integrity. Black lives mattering is the minimum. Everyone should have the right to a happy, healthy life. Racism is everywhere, even in worried BIPOC staff who can’t control student compact compliance. When we acknowledge our own privileges and stand unified, we can dismantle the racist systems that plague many Americans. Until then, it is not enough to be complacent.
Kennon Walton, 2nd Place
Before I was born, a distant uncle exited a Sunoco in Cincinnati, Ohio. For unclarified reasons, nearby police officers decided to stop and search him. Annoyed, frustrated, and humiliated, Roger Owensby Jr. attempted to flee. Within seconds, multiple officers forced him to the pavement and, when he became unresponsive, shoved him into a police car. He died before reaching the hospital.
A jury acquitted the officers involved, riots ensued, and the city and nation eventually regressed to normalcy, waiting for an identical incident to spur them back to anger. This cycle consisting of the unnecessary execution of Black Americans at the hands of police brutality, national anger, and eventual forgetfulness, albeit trite, has yet to show concrete signs of ceasing. Our nation’s stagnation and lack of progress to end this cycle becomes apparent in the wake of George Floyd’s death, an incident that too closely mirrors Owensby’s two decades earlier.
I do not mind stating that this essay prompt offends me in more ways than one. Most Black students’ understanding of the intersectionality between race and integrity began much closer to the era of Roger Owensby than that of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Many Black Americans know the “‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ Hands in pockets. Don’t drive shirtless. Don’t play music loudly, etc.” lecture heard at young ages and delivered by petrified parents.
Secondly, this question solely pertains to the opinions of those hailing from an immense place of privilege. Integrity denotes acting with courage while knowing that no one notices. Due to the color of my skin, I cannot allow myself to assume that no one notices my actions. I know that some patiently wait for a misstep they can reference to achieve their goals of blaming me for my plight or “proving” gross generalizations about the Black community. Whether it be the store clerks checking me for imaginary stolen goods (“No, sir, I did not print this Sunoco receipt at home so I can steal your Sour Patch Kids”), or the “You lost, Son?” police officers to whom I explain that I know inner-city Cleveland is in the opposite direction while walking through an affluent neighborhood. Depending on who watches, the consequences of a lapse in integrity range from the inability to convince a stubborn proponent of All Lives Matter to granting an officer a rationalization to shoot. Unlike many of our university’s students, my race renders integrity irrelevant due to my stake in this issue. While everyone should concern themselves with police brutality and other forms of systemic racism, these issues have potentially fatalistic implications for our Black student body.
While privy to systemic racism’s effects on my life, I acknowledge that acts of integrity practiced by our society’s hegemonic group can serve as a helpful supplement to my race’s fight for equitable treatment. I want to assert that the last thing I aim to do is beg for aid from White Americans with a savior complex. I can admit, though, that eradicating the power dynamic between the White and marginalized races becomes much easier when White Americans, who disproportionally stand in positions of power, use their inherent privilege to help end our asymmetrical appropriation of influence and prosperity.
I, as a Black man, enjoy seeing my White peers’ contributions to the fight against a corrupt and biased system unrecognized by many Americans. However I, again remembering I am a Black man, prohibit deluding myself with anything exceeding cautious optimism. Harkening back to the idea of integrity, I cannot help but question the motives of White youths who post “Sign This Petition to Arrest the Murderers of Breonna Taylor.” Do they want to catalyze change, or do they want to seem “woke” for friends and strangers on the internet? I desperately hope, perhaps naively, that the former rings true. Current events coinciding with the growing use of social media to share one’s ideas continue to shape my understanding of integrity as it relates to race, but not mine. Please remember, non-BIPOC students, that the fight for racial equality never ends for Black Americans; ingenuine advocation for systemic change used as an accessory to boost your popularity exacerbates our problems instead of fixing them.
Sachin Shah, 3rd Place
Being Racist is Never Okay: An Analysis of Integrity as it Relates to Race and Recent Events
It pains me that there exists reason for me to defend the fact that is my title, but it is the unfortunate truth that racism is still quite prevalent; I am afraid that I was under the misguided assumption that human beings were decent and that outright acts of racism had ceased. The murders of individuals such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor reveal the systemic racism that still pervades our society. These were brutal murders that were founded in racism with blatant disregard not only for human decency but for integrity as well. I suppose that I should define integrity at this point, but rather than using a dictionary, I will use my own definition, which I believe is likely more applicable and less impersonal: I believe that integrity is doing the right thing whenever possible and recognizing and correcting harm. Thus, in this essay, I will begin by explaining how current events have demonstrated connections to integrity, followed by the steps I believe need to be taken, and I will conclude by offering my perspective on bringing integrity into racial conversations.
The recent murders discussed above reveal that integrity often does not exist in cases involving race. The three African-Americans killed were killed due to their skin colors, and for obvious reasons, these murder were highly immoral. Thus, the killings evidently lacked integrity in that they were wrong to begin with. However, even afterward, society has lacked integrity in attempting to avoid future injustice. While some changes have been made, systemic racism still exists. Thus, I would argue that we need both portions of integrity. First, people should not harm others, whether that harm is racially motivated or otherwise. Second, if people do cause harm, they should admit to that harm and strive for change. Only by adhering to these principles can we create real change.
The obvious question that arises, therefore, is that of how we can adhere to the above principles in a practical manner. I believe that we all need to commit to integrity at a personal level as well as at a political one. Change must occur from the bottom up as well as from the top down. We must strive for integrity reaching from individuals to organizations, as well as from governments to the people. Thus, I believe that political action against racism, combined with an effort by individuals to constantly and actively combat racism, is necessary to further the integrity that is necessary to deconstruct systemic racism.
In answering the question of how I view integrity and race, I believe that integrity is a fundamental part of any discussion of race. Without integrity, attempts to change society become meaningless. The recent racially-motivated murders have brought to the forefront the importance of integrity, not only in today’s world for individuals, but also for the networks that we are all a part of. At the end of the day, we are all human, and we should be treated as such; we must behave with integrity.
An Additional Note: As I was reading the prompt, I noticed that Breonna Taylor’s name was misspelled as “Breanna.” Given the important connection between name and race, I would urge greater consideration of the potential impact of something as simply as a typographical error. I doubt that this was intentional in any way, and I do not wish to place blame; I am simply offering my observations.