White Youngsters Gather to Talk About Race In Los Angeles, a group of young white high school students get together alone to talk about race issues. They meet without any people of color because they feel they can be more honest and open with each other.
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White Youngsters Gather to Talk About Race

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White Youngsters Gather to Talk About Race

White Youngsters Gather to Talk About Race

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Young people are especially vulnerable to the racist and sexist stereotypes in the media. In Los Angeles, high school students recently started an awareness group for white kids on campus. Clare Robbins of Youth Radio explains why some white teens and young white adults including herself are separating themselves to talk honestly about the role that race plays in their lives.

CLARE ROBBINS: People get funny looks on their faces when I talk about the group I'm in. I'm a part of an awareness group for white people. We talk about how we can stand up to racist remarks and actions and how we can unlearn racist attitudes we may have heard growing up white.

The idea of an all-white group still evokes images of Ku Klux Klan meetings, and it just sounds weird to some people. Explaining it to others isn't always easy. Sixteen-year-old Joelle Brothman(ph) has to do it all the time.

Ms. JOELLE BROTHMAN: My friend, he's Armenian and he asked me the other day what we talk about. And I said, we talk about white privilege. And when I first said that, before I was even done, I saw a whole change in his face. And I was, like, oh, shoot, like, I have to, like, finish before he gets the wrong idea.

ROBBINS: Joelle finds herself having this conversation often these days. She's helping to form a new white awareness group at Cleveland High School. So far, about 30 students participate. Most have completed a unit on race and racism and want a space to keep that conversation alive outside the classroom.

(Soundbite of group meeting)

ROBBINS: Just a couple weeks ago, I was in philosophy and I realized that I have not read anything by a woman or a person of color this entire year. It - first of all, it took me all those months to realize that I hadn't read anything by a person of color, so I think that that, kind of, reminded me that I was, kind of, getting off the path of where I wanted to be.

ROBBINS: But why for white people only? Students say it's hard to be really honest about racism in their life when there are students of color in the room. For many students at Cleveland High School, it's taken a while to even identify as white. That's because many of them are Jewish. Sixteen-year-old Will Levenberg(ph) says his parents do support his newfound passion for antiracism, but they don't always agree with him, like the one time they made a joke about a Latino person on TV.

Mr. WILL LEVENBERG(ph): And I was, like, well, you can never understand what they go through. And then they were, like, okay, how about this, Will? They can never understand what Jews go through. And I go, listen, okay? And then I was about to explain to them the fact that Jews can hide themselves, hide their religion, because of their whiteness(ph). So they can change their name if they want to, you know, and they can't really be recognized of you're Jewish, you know? And so - and that was one more thing that create a little bit of tension between my parents and I.

ROBBINS: Generational differences have played out very differently for Debbie Winters and her daughter Lisa. Lisa graduated from Cleveland last year, and around that time started actively attending AWARE meetings. Lisa tells her mom that she didn't think her parents would understand her new activity.

Ms. LISA WINTERS: I was very private about it. I didn't want you guys to know, you know?

Ms. DEBBIE WINTERS: But then later on, you did. I mean, it was so interesting because I think, when you were young, we were teaching you concepts. And then all of a sudden, you came home. Once - I think it's true. You were private at first because I didn't really know what you were doing…

Ms. L. WINTERS: Mm-hmm, and then I…

Ms. D. WINTERS: But then you started to get more comfortable and then started buying us books, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. D. WINTERS: And it was, like, wait, I just feel(ph) comfortable, I really want you to share this.

ROBBINS: When Lisa's home on her college break, she finds her parents are just as active in the AWARE meetings as she is.

Back at Cleveland High School, there's still a number of white students who say they'd never join a group like AWARE. Some of them don't believe white privilege even exists, or that racism is a big problem today. Others told me they are dedicated to being colorblind, and an all-white antiracist group is a step backward, not forward.

Now you might think this is all very L.A., but these groups exist all over the

country. There's even a national gathering called the White Privilege Conference. The gathering includes multicultural and white groups like AWARE. This year's target audience? Young people.

For NPR News, I'm Clare Robbins.

HANSEN: That story was produced by Youth Radio.

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