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Diversity Boston

Teen perspectives on race and ethnicity

How does the next generation view current attitudes about race in Boston? We asked young writers from the Teens in Print program whether divisions exist based on skin color or ethnicity.

Left to right: Tenneh Sesay, Mussuba Samati, Shanae Saddler, Penda Seck, Shanique Lewis, Alexandra Zuluaga, Makiz Nasirahmad, Ieisha Sampson, and La’Neece Byrd.

Photos by Yoon S. Byun and Essdras M. Suarez/Globe Staff

Left to right: Tenneh Sesay, Mussuba Samati, Shanae Saddler, Penda Seck, Shanique Lewis, Alexandra Zuluaga, Makiz Nasirahmad, Ieisha Sampson, and La’Neece Byrd.

How does the next generation view attitudes about race and ethnicity in Boston? We asked young writers from the Teens in Print program whether divisions still exist based on skin color or ethnicity and whether discrimination is a factor in their lives.

La‘Neece Byrd, 16

I do think Boston has become more integrated. Friendships now aren’t based on where you come from, but more on people’s personalities. Who I’m friends with does not depend on their background or race. I feel as though people are accepted for their backgrounds and don’t get judged for what they are.

Shanique Lewis, 17

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Compared to how life was in the past, I think Boston has become more integrated. The friends that I have are diverse. I don’t discriminate against anyone because of race, skin tone, looks, etc. I base my friendships on personality, connection, loyalty. I’m the type of person who doesn’t judge others based on what I see.

Makiz Nasirahmad, 18

One time, I had a feeling that racism was part of my life. One of the people in my school asked me where I was from. When I answered Afghanistan, he said: “Isn’t that Osama bin Laden’s country?” It might not be considered racism, but I do find it offensive that an entire Afghan population is associated with a terrorist who is not even an Afghan.

Shanae Saddler, 16

It’s hard to say, but true, that my first pick of friends is from my own skin color. I find myself attracted to my own skin color, which is black, because I feel I will be more accepted by my own kind rather than trying to be accepted by someone who’s hard to relate to. For me, skin color speaks a whole lot about who you are.

Mussuba Samati, 17

Assumptions have been made about me because of my skin tone. Strangers and acquaintances would automatically assume that my future would not be as bright because I am a dark-skinned African. Someone once said to me: “The only successful thing you’ll be able to achieve is modeling; other than that, your future isn’t as bright.” (Of course, modeling is good, but I wouldn’t be judged on my intellect.) I asked her, “Is my future in your hands? Your negativity does not decide my fate. I do.”

Ieisha Sampson, 18

Sometimes I am discriminated against because I am brown skinned. People don’t expect me to have as many accomplishments as I do, because of my color. This usually occurs when I am introduced in a professional setting other than school. Whenever I meet a new boss or program director, it surprises them that I don’t speak street slang.

Penda Seck, 16

I am from Guinea in Africa. Sometimes I feel like people who are white or African-American or Hispanic judge me. They think that because I’m African they are more special, or better than me. When I meet new people and they ask me what nationality I am, and I say African, even though they wanted to be my friend, immediately their minds change. They come to me with smiles on their faces until I tell them I am African — then their faces drop like they are sad.

Tenneh Sesay, 17

Sometimes people think I’m Haitian or African-American. That’s so disrespectful. Just because I’m dark-skinned, people shouldn’t think that I’m not what I really am: full African, from Guinea. In history class this year, some guy asked me if I was Haitian or Nigerian. I got mad. Why can’t people ask me instead of assume? When I want to know where white people are from, I ask.

Alexandra Zuluaga, 16

Being a light-skinned Hispanic isn’t easily accepted by Latinos. Sitting on the Blue Line, I’m seen by some as an absent-minded, above-the-struggle white girl in preppy clothing. My skin doesn’t bear a sun-kissed glow, and sometimes, out of sheer annoyance from hearing them talk about me in our native language, I call my mother and let the lush sound of Spanish fill the corners of the train. I sense surprise making its way onto people’s faces, and I walk off the train self-assured, proud to be Colombian.

Read about the Teens in Print program, sponsored by The Boston Globe and Write Boston, at bostontip.com.

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