Editor's Note: This story includes racial slurs and the discussion of police violence. Reader discretion is advised.
The effect of race and its impact on society is undeniable. Systemic and unjust practices make the bulk of American history. From Asian immigration quotas to harmful rhetoric against the Latinx community and the disproportionate murders of Black Americans by law enforcement—it is important to acknowledge the fact that racism is alive and well in America today. The issues that minorities face in America were not snapped away in the 1960s, the centuries of oppression are still ingrained in society. Integrity is not just acknowledging these issues, posting an Instagram caption about them, and living as if racism has disappeared. Integrity means being actively against racism in all its instances.
When I was younger, I attended a march for my father to be legalized. Despite the rhetoric of many lawmakers, though he was undocumented, he was not a rapist or a gang member. I think about the many stereotypes and harmful pressures that minorities often put on ourselves because it’s all we see in the news or from powerful politicians. For much of my childhood, I had abandoned the fact that I belonged to my community. My father taught me to be proud of who I was and my Mexican heritage was the core of that. I couldn’t understand why, but I knew for a fact that my father was a man of integrity. Despite the hardships of coming to a new country, he persevered and created a life for us here. He would go above and beyond to help others, even if he himself had very little. He gave and did what he could, and that makes him a man of integrity.
As I got older, I realized the harsh realities of racism. I noticed them quickly too. From being called “sp*c”, “to go back to my country”, or even having a gun pulled on me and my mother by a law enforcement official at twelve years old, America told me I did not belong. My mother feared for my life, not hers, and her pain of that instance lasts to this day. She held onto her values and comforted me by saying I had done nothing wrong at that routine traffic stop. I reflect on the 2014 case of Tamir Rice. He was just twelve when he was shot and killed for having a toy gun. He would’ve graduated along many other first-years. Because of the unjust and despicable system we have, he will never get that chance. A man who points a gun at an unarmed child does not have integrity. The current system rewards this man, and even hires him again. We have to uphold our own morals and integrity, because the current system rewards those who have none.
Now it is 2020, and the world is once again fixated on issues concerning race. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are being called the start of protests. I disagree. The protests happening today are the result of abuse and mistreatment of Black Americans throughout history. The healthcare industry, unjust policing, racist laws enacted by politicians, the inability to buy housing, unequal education, disenfranchisement and historical segregation all play a role in what is happening in cities across the world. Integrity is fixing these issues, acknowledging the past and granting justice for these abhorrent murders. Integrity is not brands slapping a logo on something or changing their name; integrity starts at the root of these issues.
Altogether, integrity varies by person. Personally, I would want to be like my parents. A man who does what he can to combat racism, even if he alone can’t do much. A man who would fight to uphold his values even in the face of racism. As the news stops covering these protests, individuals have to remember to have integrity. Black lives mattering is the minimum. Everyone should have the right to a happy, healthy life. When we acknowledge our own privileges and stand unified, we can dismantle the racist systems that plague many Americans. Until then, it is not enough to be complacent.
This essay, written by Anthony Salgado, was a winner of the Duke Honor Council's essay contest for the Class of 2024 answering the question "How have current events and movements (such as the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the prevalence of Black Lives Matter) shaped your understanding of integrity as it relates to race?"