Students say race shouldn’t factor in determining role models


While race continues to play an important role in one’s identity, according to senior Frankie Kozak, who is half-Hispanic, it is important to extend beyond the concept of skin color, especially when identifying role models or leaders.

According to a Pew Research study released on Oct. 22, 75 percent of Hispanics said they believe their community needs a leader. While Kozak said he agreed that the presence of a role model is important in an individual’s life, he disagreed with how the study proceeded to express a need for Hispanics to identify a Hispanic leader. Instead, Kozak said people should choose role models with no regard to race.

“I personally find the concept of certain races needing leaders of their own race weird,” Kozak said. “We are all humans. Just because we have a different skin color does not mean that we need leaders for our specific skin color. In general, a role model or leader is just someone that someone can look at to make sure that that stay on track for their goal.”

Kozak said he accepts his race as a part of who he is but also said one cannot base an individual’s identity off of a single attribute of who they are. Reasoning that one’s identity should instead be a summary of their being as a whole, Kozak said he agreed with certain parts of the study, but said people should not limit themselves to just looking at people of their own race.

“I cannot think of a specific Hispanic leader in my own community, but we should all look up to people because they are great leaders, not because of their skin color,” Kozak said.

While Kozak said he treasures his own race and views it as something he is proud of, he also does not let it interfere with his mental perception of the world around him. To Kozak, like to many other students, race is just a side-note they take into account, but it rarely affects the bigger picture.

French teacher Lisa Carroll, who studies French culture and has witnessed the effects of race while studying abroad, said she agrees with this mentality and said that past racial struggles have left very minimal stains on today’s society except in the form of racism.

“An individual’s race doesn’t affect their view of the world as much as the stereotypes that the media and society project on certain races do. These stereotypes can be detrimental to young children and impressionable young adults who are trying to find their place in society,” Carroll said. “These often negative stereotypes play a major role in shaping how certain races view themselves and, therefore, the world.”

Other students at this school also support Kozak’s stand on the issue of race and its relation to leadership as the concept goes beyond just the Hispanic ethnicity. Sophomore Erika Arakawa, who is half-Caucasian and half-Japanese, also said she recognized the importance of role models, but she said she disagreed with determining one based simply on ethnicity.

“(Role models) are a motivation tool for people. People set them high on a pedestal and look up to them and strive to be them. These role models are beneficial to people; I think they help people discover who they are,” Arakawa said. “However, for races to have their own leaders promotes the idea of race. It shouldn’t matter what race the role model or leader is; the important thing is the things that person has accomplished and how they affect other people.”

Arakawa, like Kozak, said she cannot identify a role model who matched her own race. However, to both of the students, the realization was not a problem as they did not wish to idolize someone due to one of their physical attributes.

“I’m sure there are plenty of leaders in my racial community, but I’m just not aware of any,” Arakawa said. “I am not bothered by this, though. If we pay so much attention to race, it could lead to racial discrimination. I think the biggest effect of racial discrimination ends up being that we make too many assumptions, and that, as a whole, cannot better society.”

However, in this school, just like in any diverse population, different opinions are present. Sophomore Morgan Orton, who is African American, said she proudly associates herself with a role model of her race, President Barack Obama.

“Obama is a role model to me in my race because he managed to become the first black president despite the people who said he couldn’t,” Orton said.

While addressing the presence of this prominent African American leader, Orton continued and said that while Obama’s race did play a role in why she looked up to him, the contributions he has made to the world and the obstacles he overcame played a greater role in why he qualified as a role model.

“Nowadays race doesn’t really affect my identity because I’m the person I am today based on my goals and what I’ve done so far in life, not because of my race,” Orton said.

Arakawa expressed a similar point of view, as her own race does not affect her tremendously on a daily basis.

“The stereotypes of my race anger me because people just assume things about me. While I am aware of my Japanese culture, it’s not prevalent in my life,” Arakawa said. “I would say that race doesn’t affect my identity because I spend most of my time immersed in a prominently American culture.”

Voicing a different perspective, Carroll said it is important for races to have well-known leaders or role models that represent their race. Unlike Kozak, she said she believes such a role model is important in order to embody change and provide inspiration.

“It is vital for young people especially to have people they can look up to that may not fit the negative stereotype that pervades the media and culture that they are exposed to daily,” Carroll said. “These leaders and role models can help break the cycle of racism and self-fulfilling prophecy to help empower the next generation and break out of the negative stereotyping that has become all too familiar.”

With the prominence of racism even in today’s world, individuals may feel the need to completely disassociate themselves from the concept of race in order to be open-minded. However, Kozak still takes his own race into consideration because he said he is proud of how it makes him unique.

Carroll said she recognizes social injustices occurring even in today’s world and cited the Arabs as an example. She said she believes that by finding a role model of similar race, one targets stereotypes as long as that role model is an exception and embodies the good of the race. While every race has good in it, Carroll said specific individuals can at times lead to negative perceptions of a certain group of people.

“Having studied abroad in Morocco, studied French culture and also having lived through the 9/11 attacks, one of the most recent people to have suffered from discrimination are the Arabs. Arabs as a whole have been heavily discriminated against with even their traditional clothing of the ‘burka’ being outlawed in France,” Carroll said. “These stereotypes and, therefore, discrimination, still hold fast in today’s society and affect every Arab in very real and tangible ways.”

With Carroll referring to the use of role models to escape racial stereotypes, different individuals have different perceptions on the role race plays in today’s society in relation to role models. However, Kozak said it is important to not focus specifically on the color of skin when determining a role model, since one should instead pay attention to the individual’s qualities and accomplishments.

He said, “The problem of not being able to find a role model does not lie in the fact that I am ignorant of the world around me, but it is more specific to the fact that I see beyond the limitations of skin color.”