By: Ch'ade Delotte-Bennett, Junior
This month I entered the Elie Wiesel Foundation Prize in Ethics Essay Contest. This is the 31st year of the contest, but this is the seventh year of this competition at the high school level in Miami Dade County Public Schools.
This contest challenges students to talk about ethical issues. This year's topic focuses on discussing one of the many “untold... violations of human values and ideals” and asked those writing for the contest to analyze a quote by the famed Elie Wiesel himself and create a well-researched, argumentative paper discussing the relevance of their ethics. The quote was taken from Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech from 1986:
“There is much to be done, there is much that can be done. One person.....one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled, we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”
I wrote an essay titled “Our Ethical America '' that focused on how America’s First Amendment causes prejudice and hate speech instead of the positive freedoms that it may be intended to provide for Americans. The following except is from the essay, which placed second in the county-wide contest (cash scholarship: $2,000):
My entire family is compiled of black excellence, generations of successful hard working black people. But in America, I am constantly overwhelmed by the question: What does it mean to be black? For me, it’s being scared to have your hoodie on while walking around in a store or neighborhood at night; it’s praying before your older brother and father leave the house because you would never want them to fit the “profile” of a dangerous black man, or gang banger; it’s my terror of ending up like Antwon Rose, Trayvon Martin, or Tamir Rice: all young black people killed at the hands of police officers. When Elie Wiesel stated: “the quality of our freedom depends on theirs,” it led me to think about the way America and its government have dealt with its victims of prejudice, especially families of those previously enslaved. There has been little to nothing done: no reparations have been made, and the current climate that most African Americans have to endure today is, arguably, just an extension of slavery; the government has turned its back on its own citizens because of skin color. Why do African Americans, who have been freed since 1863, still have to struggle to maintain their freedom?
Our country has supported laws and policies that allow racism to persist despite the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow. As a young African-American woman living in contemporary America, I experience the need for the American government to reflect and institute policies that can help eradicate racism, instead of maintaining policies and not having restrictions that support discrimination, which incites humans to be hateful to other humans.
In contrast to the way that America has dealt with racism, slavery, and discrimination, ironically, other countries, like Germany, have been efficient in taking ethical action against prejudice. America, however, has the First Amendment, which is unique to our country and quite literally the foundation to the American way of life. This Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, press, and expression. Nevertheless, one could say that this Amendment protects hate speech and actions that could potentially insult a group of people or race.
Although racism is a long standing, complicated issue for the US, I think we all should look to Elie Wiesel’s wisdom: “ There is much to be done…There is much that can be done.” As a country and as a people there is much that we can do in order to eradicate hate and racism in this country. The life I plan to live as a proud African American, will not be perpetuated by hate, but I will be inspired by the many strides that have been taken before me to extinguish prejudice. I will make efforts to incite change in others, not hate. It’s true: There is so much that has to be done; it is vital to the future of this country that the American government take an ethical stand and institute policies that make hate speech history.
My name is Ch'ade Delotte-Bennett. I enjoy spending money and taking naps.