Racism still plays a major role in schools and in the news media, according to research conducted by Hartford teens this summer.
That conclusion, presented on Friday, is based on interviews and 133 surveys administered by a group of 30 area youths aged 14-18 to their peers.
Ninety percent of respondents said racism still exists.
Almost half - 48 percent - said whites are usually depicted in the news media as owning businesses. The same percentage said African Americans are usually depicted as murderers.
More than 85 percent of those surveyed attended Hartford public schools, and nearly the same percentage were either African American or Hispanic.
The research is the result of the six-week Summer Youth Research Institute, a program that instructed Hartford youths in social research. The results were presented at the Institute for Community Research in Hartford, which ran the program.
The youths who did the research split into three groups, one focusing on interviews, one on surveys and one on visual research, which culminated in a documentary film.
Many of the young researchers said they hadn't thought much about racism before conducting the research.
"To tell you the truth, racism was the last thing on my mind. ... [The research] opened my eyes," said Jonathan Rosario, a 16-year-old Bulkeley High School student who is Puerto Rican and will be a junior in the fall.
The students chose racism as their research topic and focused on its effects in education systems, the news media, and attitudes and behaviors. Racism was personal for many of the teens, who had stories about dealing with racism.
"I was in science class, and one of these Caucasian kids said, `Something smells,' and another one answered, and said, `It must be black people,'" said Jodi Joseph, a West Indian 15-year-old who will be a Cromwell High School sophomore in the fall.
"We brought it to the guidance counselor ... and they said they were going to do something about it, and they never did."
Almost one of every four teens surveyed said they had been picked on by a teacher or a staff member because of their race or ethnicity.
There is plenty of explicit and implicit racism in the news media, as well, the researchers said.
"Newspapers constantly talk about violence. ... We don't need to read all that. ... I want to know the good in Hartford. What's the good in Hartford?" Rosario said.
The respondents also said African Americans are depicted by the news media as going to jail, fighting and murdering more than any other ethnic or racial group. Whites, on the other hand, are depicted more often as graduating from college, being the boss at a job, helping the community and owning a business, they said.
The responses in some of the open-ended interviews surprised some of the students.
In defining racism, respondents used the word "power" a lot, Rosario said. "It's a lack of power, or people are looking for power."
The summer program has existed in some form for more than a decade, said a spokesman for the Institute for Community Research, a nonprofit that conducts research and promotes equal access to health, education and cultural resources.
The students were paid for their work through funding from the Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program of Capital Workforce Partners, which receives support from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
But for some of the teens, it's more than a job.
"This is not just something to do over the summer," Rosario said. "This is a learning program."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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