The 2005-2006 Essay Contest Winners:
1st and 2nd Place

High School Division

First Place

Zoey Greco
Grade 9
Chase Collegiate High School
Waterbury, Connecticut

All my life I have heard about the struggles of my predecessors to build a nation based on truth, justice, and equality for all, and thought perhaps, I would be a member of the first generation to truly realize all the benefits of being an American. However, I now find that there are many more obstacles to overcome. I do not see any way of prevailing when my opinions and views of the world are constantly being skewed. I believe that many biases, prejudices, and influences of self-serving interests are very apparent in all of today's media. I believe there is less truth and accuracy in today's news then ever before. Since our media networks are owned by a few large conglomerates, we only receive the narrowest and most biased views slanted to represent commercial interests. I'm not a big believer in conspiracy theories, but I do believe that we are largely told what the power elite want us to know. Adults, young adults and children are so poorly informed on the current state of the world by the American press. How can we as a generation be expected to contribute in a meaningful way after wars, natural disasters, and many other recent tragedies? And more tragedies are to come if no one will talk truthfully to us about national and global events? We need to be educated to meet our responsibility in the world, but without a true view, how successful will we be?

The recent hurricanes have shown us, if nothing else, that poverty is so grossly under-reported in this country. Poverty is one of America's best kept secrets, one of its most disturbing flaws. In the chaos of the mismanaged aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we saw clearly and, perhaps, for many of us, finally, what the face of poverty looks like. Clearly not the random few homeless "winos" and "bums" most Americans believe, but, instead, tens of thousands of elderly, of women, of children, and of working poor. We saw what happens to people without the means to save themselves. They were left to suffer and die in designated government shelters. For days on end they went without food, water, or even medical care. Others, many elderly or disabled, could not evacuate at all. The poor did not "blow in" with the hurricane. Quite the contrary—the poor were always there, unnoticed, unattended to, and unreported by our media. Not a few, but hundreds of thousands of people in this country fall under the statistical category of "poor", and the reason that poverty in this country is devastatingly underestimated is because we simply don't see or hear enough about it. There are Americans that have never left their states, or even their home towns. These people are dependent upon the media for their world views. If American media won't shine a light on poverty, how will it be seriously addressed?

In their eagerness to cover "the big story" of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the media was surprised to find that the true story was that of poverty, and, further, its inexorable link to racism, yet another of America's best kept secrets. Viewed through the cameras lens, it was impossible not to make the connection of poverty to people of color in this country. This should have been a triumph for truth-in-media advocates. Sadly it was not. From the outset, the broadcasts, newspapers, and news magazines were reporting from a prejudiced perspective. As the victims scavenged to stay alive, whites were identified as "survivors" while blacks were said to be "looters". Whites were seen as "asking" or "pleading" for assistance, while blacks were "demanding" and "insisting" on help. Whites who did not heed the evacuation warnings were "unable" while blacks were "unwilling" to leave. And so it went, day in and day out, with broadcasters seemingly unaware of their role in perpetuating stereotyping and stigma. This is nothing short of a travesty.

I find it painful to live in a world where hatred and prejudice abound; the prospect of living in a world where all manner of influence contributes to this scenario devastates me. Knowing that, over time, with increased exposure, I too run the risk of succumbing to this form of "group think" is unacceptable. I will instead support alternative forms of media, foreign language stations, blogs, and non-mainstream, ad-driven newspapers and magazines, and I will encourage others to do so as well. We will wait for the American media to develop a conscience and begin to actually report the news rather than to invent the news.

Read the High School Honorable Mention Essays

Middle School Division

First Place (tie)

Chelsi Bowler
Grade 8
North Branford Intermediate School
North Branford, Connecticut

What is prejudice? It is simply defined as an opinion made without adequate basis. But how do we reach these opinions? The answer: influence. Yet, how much can we blame on the media today? Can we go as far as to blame the prejudiced minds of Americans on the cartoons they grew up watching? There are more positive influences to combat prejudice than there are to support it.

Everybody knows the Rugrats. As loved as they are, however, many parents think Rugrats to be a show based on the mischievous lives of a few kids. But is that all they are? Think about the notorious cast of characters. You have Tommy, who represents all the rebels and kids who aren't afraid of a challenge. Then you have Phil & Lil, the twins who are both Catholic and Jewish. Also, you have Suzie living with her African-American family across the street from the Pickles'. Finally, there's timid, fearful Chucky, living without a mother, who always tries to talk Tommy out of their dangerous adventures. With such a diverse cast of characters, Rugrats illustrates and emphasizes the many ways they overcome obstacles in their lives. The cast gives all kids something to relate to. It teaches kids that it is okay to accept differences in life. It also includes methods they have found to cope with the differences. They are always there for each other no matter what and that's an important thing for children to grow up seeing and learning about.

Being in the Christmas time of year, I think it's appropriate to mention a Christmas movie that represents acceptance towards diversity. The beloved Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer does this job, perfectly. In the beginning of this movie, you see how a few characters are initially rejected because of their differences. Rudolph, with his red-nose, as we know, is not allowed to "join in any reindeer games." Rudolph travels to the Island of Misfit Toys where he find characters that've been afraid of people's opinions regarding their differences. Trains with square-wheels, swimming birds, a Charlie in the box, and more, all represent the minorities in our country today. After a bit of understanding, the other characters in the movies learn to accept Rudolph and the Misfit Toys, for they realize they aren't much different from them. I quote, "Everyone began to realize they were all hard on Rudolph and the Misfits. They realized they deserved a place too." This shows that when you stay open-minded you can learn to accept differences between different people.

Is it not the moral of a story that's intended to teach young minds the difference between right and wrong? The end result is what impacts children most, and ultimately it is what helps them in forming opinions later used to express feelings on a certain matter. In this case, prejudice. In the end, with both examples used, the moral is this: it is okay to be different. Exercised in ways throughout many sitcoms and movies made for kids, it's shown that even with differences it's possible to overcome obstacles. Rugrats and Rudolph should definitely both be included on a list of movies for young viewers to see. They both include important life lessons that may help to better shape a young person's minds, thus combating prejudice. Therefore, by growing up a cartoon viewer and benefiting from it, I strongly believe that most programs made for children are well-produced, and if TAP'S list were posted, I would expect Rugrats and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to both be on it for the benefit of their morals and the effects they have on young minds.

First Place (tie)

Emily Zhang
Grade 6
International School of Beijing
Beijing, People's Republic of China

Cartoons and Prejudice

Savages, savages,
Barely even human,
Savages, savages,
Killers to the core!

These were the words sung by white settlers in the movie, Pocahontas. Movies like this can show how hurtful prejudice can be. The world is filled with prejudice, and it's everywhere. It may not sound possible, but many animated movies like Pocahontas and Popeye the Sailor Man show prejudice and stereotyping in many ways.

Pocahontas is about a Native American girl who is always curious about other things. Even though her tribe is prejudiced against whites ever since Pocahontas' mother was killed by one of them, Pocahontas is still curious to meet a white man when they come to the "New World" where she lives. They begin a war, but at the end they decide that their stereotypes of other people were not true at all. This shows prejudice, alright, but think about it. If kids watch this show, they find out more about how prejudice begins and how hurtful it can be.

The movie Popeye the Sailor Man shows stereotypes in a number of ways. The line "Oh Popeye, save me, save me!" in a shrill voice that belongs to Olive Oyl is often used. It is about a man named Popeye who eats a lot of spinach to make himself stronger to beat up big, fat, huge, Bluto so he can save Olive Oyl, a woman that is always weak and helpless. Olive is always begging for help from men like Popeye. To us, we know that this is not how women act at all, because they have had plenty of experience. But some kids have never experienced it, so when they watch this show will think all women are like Olive Oyl. But do all women have to be like her? Do bad people have to be big and fat? Of course not! Many people are unlike Olive; even Pocahontas is different from her because she is more independent.

While I was watching Popeye the Sailor Man, I realized how much stereotyping this show shows, and it shouldn't be on a list of programs for kids to watch because it shows a lot of stereotyping of many people. Pocahontas discourages prejudice because when Pocahontas meets a white, her stereotypes of white people change. I think this show should not be excluded from a list of movies for kids to watch because in this movie kids learn about prejudice and stereotyping and how we could try to stop it.

I would recommend the movie Pocahontas for kids to watch, because after I watched it, I realized prejudice could actually change if we got to know other people and break the stereotypes of their religion or culture. As for Popeye the Sailor Man, that would be one movie that I could just not accept because of the stereotyping.

The world is filled with prejudice right now. If we could just empty it out, it would be a spectacular world for all of us.

Second Place

Phillip Huang
Grade 6
International School of Beijing
Beijing, People's Republic of China

The Fight Against Prejudice

Prejudice and stereotypes should have died a long time ago. But now, they still survive, continuing to live in the people who believe the wrong things about a group of individuals. The number of people fighting prejudice with all their might is only matched by those who promote prejudice and pass it on to young minds. TV shows support both sides. While some unmask prejudice as what it really is, others build up its strength, hiding its true nature from kids. You might be uncertain what's going on. If so, this essay should help you understand the problem and see what can be done.

In my opinion, many popular cartoons, animated series and animated films encourage prejudice. The examples in this essay are no exception: South Park and Kids Next Door. South Park is a school where there are a variety of kids such as disabled kids, black kids, fat kids and so on. There's a constant flow of swear words as the characters get into arguments. Unpredictable things happen in this school and none of them good. Whether someone is getting arrested for a hate crime, or if someone is suffering from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder,) prejudice is alive in this show. There is racial prejudice, mental prejudice, physical prejudice, economic prejudice and just about any other kind of prejudice against someone who is different from the majority. This relates to real life because in the real world, this is exactly what's happening! Prejudice and stereotypes keep alive the wrong ideas and the minority suffers.

Kids Next Door has less prejudice than South Park, but a whole lot more offensive stereotypes. Five "cool" kids try to free other kids from the "tyranny" of parents. Their "enemies" are delightful children and nerds. This TV show also sketches out a realistic picture of what's happening across the world. Some kids realize this and may think twice about their stereotypes and prejudices. Most don't. You may think that stereotypes are unimportant but in most cases, you'd be wrong. Stereotypes lead to prejudiced thoughts, judging people wrongly and showing prejudice towards them. They illustrate a "general" sort of picture, which usually leads to hate. Examples of these are the idea of the common "nerd," and that parents are really mean.

If Teachers Against Prejudice (TAP) are going to publish a list of films and TV programs young kids should see, they should make sure that these two shows are excluded, perhaps even at the top of a "Do Not Watch" list. Too many stereotypes, bad habits and prejudice are at stake to allow kids to watch these harmful shows regularly. For one reason, South Park has a lot of swearing and most of the episodes encourage prejudice, showing kids divided by race, gender, religion and other ridiculous categories that prevent them from seeing the whole picture. Kids Next Door shows stereotypes of characters such as nerds, parents and teachers. Kids will always try to be "cool" and won't do their homework. If you let your kid watch these shows regularly, he/she will soon be transformed into a completely different person, living by wrong ideas, wrong beliefs and wrong behavior.

Do you see the picture now? It's not only these two shows, there are a lot more. These two shows give an example of what cartoons might be like. The fight against prejudice has been a long and hard one, but we are doing our best to extinguish the fires of prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination and hate. You might have already seen prejudice in your school or your neighborhood. Defend victims of prejudice. To stop prejudice, we must unite as one. Only if we work together can we defeat prejudice, the monster that has destroyed so many people.

Read the Middle School Honorable Mention Essays