Paradigm Shift

We all have vastly different experiences with racism— as Duke students, our upbringings are varied and historied: some have experienced racism more than others, some have experienced the unique intersection of racism with sexism or  homophobia, some are clueless.

Nevertheless, the majority of us are knowledgeable about racism and racist institutions to some extent. We all have a tacit understanding that racism is bad— but what else?

I grew up in a household where Asian-Americans were supposed to be the hard workers. That implied that other BIPOC were simply genetically inferior. I retained this mindset for years— in my community that was 50% Asian, 40% White, and 10% “other,” I rarely had to confront my own prejudices because I lived in a bubble.

But I’ve learned from that. As I began to navigate a more diverse crowd through high school and extracurriculars, reading lighthearted Buzzfeed articles about hip-hop led to poring over more nuanced pieces in the LA Times about Latinx immigrants, which led to investing in my own community, engaging in volunteer work to mend educational inequities, and writing about workplace reckonings about racism.

I know I still have work to do— but what astounds me is the paradigm shift I was able to achieve just through consuming these forms of media. Humans learn from tools of socialization, so in the same way that we learn racism, we can unlearn it. Over the past year, we’ve seen social media activism flood our feeds: the Black Lives Matter hashtag was used at an all time high rate, our peers reposted mutual aid funds, and so much more.

So that’s why I’m doing this fellowship. I am a firm believer in the glimmer of hope we have in fixing racism and racist attitudes: I was a case study. As a journalist, I am inclined to think that my work has an impact on my communities. But how can I intentionally impact my communities in a positive light, rather than journalism that portrays Black people as criminals or that limits academic credibility to old white men? I am ready to answer these questions.

Derek Deng is a first-year student from Los Angeles, California, majoring in Public Policy and Visual and Media Studies. On campus, he’s a staff columnist at The Chronicle, and is involved in Blue Devils United and Duke Impact Investing Group.

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