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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: Aniyah Coffman and El Mele

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James Fields IV

This edition of The Race Project is a conversation between two female college students, El Mele, who is white and Aniyah Coffman, who is Black. They describe their experience with racism, prejudice, stereotypes and the artificial barriers they see within society.

Editors Note: Transcript lightly edited for clarity.

El Mele: Hello, my name is El Mele, and I'm white. I'm 21 [and] I'm from Philadelphia. I'm currently a second-year student and I'm studying pre-health professions, psychology and scientific communication.

Aniyah Coffman: Hi, my name is Aniyah Coffman, and I am a[n] African-American [19] year old college student. I am a third generation college student also. I grew up in Columbus and I was enrolled in Columbus City Schools. And then I made a transition into a suburb, which allowed me to meet a lot of different people from different backgrounds.

El: Aniyah, have you ever wished to be another race even as a child?

Aniyah: Yes. I [deeply] wished to be white and I really struggled in middle school. I definitely had like identity crisis because, you know, when you're that young and you see other peers around you talk about, 'Oh, and I, it looks different. I don't really like her,' or 'Her hair looks weird. Why is it puffy?' And I tried to change my voice, things like that. So I [straightened] my hair a lot. I used to have pretty long hair, and then it got shredded from heat damage.

El: Yeah, it's [funny] you say that. I realize [all] the popular girls in my school who are African-American, [still] straighten their hair and [dress] exactly like the white girls.[Especially], with the hair part. I didn't [realize] it was like a form [of] camouflaging, almost like trying to, [fit-in] and [you] know, kind of like rejecting that you're not from there.

Aniyah: The interesting part about that was I was not only rejected by white people, even when I try to look exactly like them, I was also rejected by the black community. Well. What does race mean to you?

El: Well, we just learned in class the other day that it was literally just something that's completely socially constructed. You know, it's based on these negative stereotypes from colonialism that was used to put white people on top and put other races, you know, down to be able to take their lands. Take advantage of the fact that, you know, have free labor is entirely fabricated.

Aniyah: I don't blame anyone for having feelings about certain races. You know, it could have been taught and it was just passed on by generation to generation. And that's scary for people to be like, 'Was I wrong that whole time?'

El: So I know someone who is in charge of hiring and firing people at a certain business, and he was trying to basically sit down and tell me that he has had a lot of not great experiences with the black employees that he's hired, saying like, 'They're lazy, they're flaky, like they come in demanding their paycheck, even though they don't work full-time.' And Blake, you know, obviously everything that he's saying is relevant, but at the same time, your experiences with a few Black employees does not apply to all U.S. population. Aniyah, what can someone do who is in a posse due to help end racism as best one can, you know.

Aniyah: Black and Brown people, we're frustrated, we're upset about why it is an issue where we have to deal with police brutality and instead of listening, I've heard white people respond with, ‘Our people get killed too. White lives matter as well.' And that wasn't generally the point. The point was we want to be heard and seen as humans and we want to be treated as such. That's the point. Oh, do you think racism is reversible?

El: [W]e were talking about it in one of my classes the other day about whether we should teach our kids to be colorblind. You know, and if we teach our kids to be colorblind, then like we're not teaching them about like the backgrounds and the issues that people of other races have to face. But like right now, it's a fact of our society, and the only thing that we can currently do is just have that communication that you were talking about. This is not reversible. But it's like something we can move on from.

Aniyah: But also, I feel like we need to respect ourselves in our own community because [white] people will always exist. But why? Why should there be black people who don't like other black people like each community needs to have understanding and like equal respect for everyone?

El: Thank you, and I love you, girl.

Aniyah: Thank you El, for communicating today.

The Race Project is produced by Basim Blunt at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. This conversation was edited by Community Voices producer David Seitz.