“Racism doesn’t exist!” is a statement you will most likely never hear at Marlborough. But it was said at a student government convention I went to a few weeks ago, Junior State of America (JSA). At JSA, over 700 students from different schools in Southern California with all very different opinions, many who do not share the liberal views as I have, come together to discuss bills they think should be voted on by congress. The convention celebrates healthy debates and looking at issues from all sides.
One speaker in particular challenged my liberal views more than expected. He was Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, who lived on a plantation in Alabama, is a part of the South-Central Tea party and has one of the most controversial conservative radio talk shows on air. He walked on stage and his opening statement was: “Racism doesn’t exist.” Some kids’ mouths fell open in shock, others looked at their friends confused. Many spoke in an uproar, while others pulled out their phones to record what they knew was only the beginning of a very offensive speech. All of us Marlborough girls just looked at each other in disbelief because we had never heard anything this offensive. And now for a plot twist… He’s black! Yes, I repeat, a black man. Peterson stated that racism isn’t real. Peterson lived on a plantation, where slavery had been, and yet still believed that there was no prejudice against black people.
Well, what about the centuries of slavery and racial discrimination that black people have faced over the years, you ask? Well, his answer was that racism is a myth fabricated by black people as a way to blame white people for their family issues at home. He said that black people go to jail because of the actions they have taken, which is why so many black kids grow up without their fathers around, along with not having their mother to take care of them because she has to work multiple jobs, and in the end, they end up blaming white people for putting their family members in jail, mistaking their imprisonment as racism. He also claimed that Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and black people who are in jail deserve what they get because they are all thugs.
After questions were opened up to the anxious audience, he also said, “Black Lives Matter is worse than the KKK.” When asked about LGBTQ, “What do you think about LGBTQ rights?” Peterson answered, “they don’t exist.” He believes that everyone was born with the same rights, so no one, not blacks, not Jews, not LGBT people, needs specific rights. By now, the governor of JSA had to stop the questioning because the crowd was getting too rowdy.
Although the Reverend’s speech was very problematic and offended me in multiple ways, the scariest and most eye—opening part of his speech was that, each time he said another controversial comment, the number of teens clapping and cheering him on would increase. I never thought that people my age would agree with the things Peterson said. In addition, because I go to Marlborough and live in Los Angeles, which are both liberal bubbles, I was not prepared for people to have such contradicting views as me. This experience has given me a new perspective on being tolerant with people whose ideas are alien to me.