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The Race Project invites Miami Valley residents to talk about their life experiences through the prism of skin color. The conversations are honest, frank yet civil.

The Race Project: Jessica Thomas and Eliza Mindy Berman

James Fields IV

Two young ladies, Jessica Thomas—a former teacher—and Eliza Mindy Berman—a high school student—answer questions on the topic of race in America.

Jessica: I'm Jessica Thomas. I went to Urbana University. I'm currently sitting here with my two and a half year old on my lap, and I am Black.

Eliza: My name is Eliza Mindy Berman. I'm 17 years old and I'm a senior at Yellow Springs High School. And I am white. Jessica, have you ever experienced a situation where your race or background seem to contribute to a problem or uncomfortable situation?

Jessica: I taught high school in a predominantly white district, and I taught American literature where race is a huge theme. I taught slave narratives. When we talked about the Civil War. So we read excerpts from the autobiography of Frederick Douglas. So I actually made a conscious effort to include more Native American stories, just to find a way to explain to students that, like, if we're going to call the United States a melting pot, then our class should reflect that. And so you really just need to get on board. I had a small vocal group of students who said that I talked about race more than their other teachers, and they thought I talked about race more just because I was black. Eliza, do you think the level of discrimination in America is rising or falling?

Eliza: I think it's rising. Unfortunately, I think we're going backwards more than we're going forwards for sure. My family and I, we all went to this Vietnamese restaurant up in Huber Heights. This was right after the pandemic hit. They had gotten some awful racist vandalism. They spray painted the walls. They might have broken something, but I know there was just some vulgar spray paint. It was just blaming them for COVID. And it's like that place closed down completely. I just don't think anything is going anywhere with all this hatred going around.

Jessica: Eliza, do you ever feel like you might be acting differently towards someone because of their race?

Eliza: In my psychology class last year, we talked a lot about implicit bias, where you test your gut reaction towards pictures of Black people and white people. I had a slight preference towards white individuals, but it really set in that I'm not different, that the biases were there because of society and obviously the way it works.

Jessica: You said you took an implicit bias test. Do you think you would ever do that again?

Eliza: I mean, yeah, I think it would be interesting because I don't want to mistreat anybody, but I also don't want to be offensive to anyone.

Jessica: I'll just be very vulnerable here. Like growing up, [Ye] was one of my favorite rappers, and as a Black person, I am struggling with who he is today and the types of rhetoric that he is espousing. So as a Jewish person, how do you feel about the types of things he says and the diehard fans who are unwilling to question him or critique him?

Eliza: I'm hurt by his comments. The only oppression I've ever experienced has been because I'm Jewish. There's been a lot of antisemitism, and I feel like nobody's talked about it until [Ye] decided to make those remarks. I think it's disgusting. And it's more about his fans like you were saying, Jessica, that refuse and don't see that as a problem. Jessica, which types of people suffer the least discrimination?

Jessica: Those are typically white men. There are no structures in our society that are built around oppressing a white man as a person of color. I can see how there are structures that are built to affect Black people and Black women especially.

Eliza: I'm overall hopeful for the future of activism against racism and for an equal future, because I know that there are so many insanely powerful voices in my generation and the upcoming.

Jessica: Thank you for chatting with me.

Eliza: Eliza Green Thank you, Jessica. This is a great opportunity.