Roots of racism at the high school



Even at the high school, there is a history of racist events going back generations. This playbook advertised a minstrel show performed at the high school in 1896.

Over these past few months, the turmoil ever-present and lurking in the shadows of this town has bubbled dramatically to the surface. We’ve watched three overtly racist videos circulate amongst students recently, all of which were deeply painful—and that pain is not at all foreign to the everyday experiences of non-white students.

The school population has regarded these issues as discrete, uncommon incidents that are the culpability of a small and unusual few. They focus on the administration’s shortcomings to address these issues “as they happen.”

While I’ve been refreshed to see us address racism—which is vastly important for the commencement of progress—I can’t help but sit and listen to the subsequent conversations and be frustrated by them. Sitting taciturn, slouching into the back of my seat, I ask myself, “What about the roots of such issues? Is it something outside of you or me? Something much bigger?”

Racism exists where we cannot see it, and these more subtle and nuanced forms are just as foul and harmful as blatant words of hate. In the words of Senior Director of Equity Jenee Uttaro, “Brookline is inequitable by design; there are inequities in just about every educational context.”

These disparities make themselves visible in countless ways, and it is solely the indifference of a complacent white population that allows them to stay concealed and unaddressed.

Imagine the sheer frequency of these actions that are not caught on video. Imagine how many times these incidents of racism are only ignored, or, at best, awkwardly laughed at. Only when there is a physical embodiment of the ignorance and prejudice at play is the white population forced by public pressure to finally pay it any mind.

Thus, they choose to focus solely on the racist exemptions and the shocking, “troubling incidents,” overlooking institutional causes that lurk beneath these disturbing examples.

For example, an estimated 75 percent of white students who graduated from the high school in 2020 attended higher education, compared to an estimated 65 percent of Black students. Similarly, Black students make up only around 6 percent of students in Advanced classes, as opposed to white students, who make up almost 50 percent.

These inequities are only more dramatic in science and technology classes, in which the culture of our school places an emphasis of prestige and importance. Clearly, the high school isn’t serving its Black students the way it serves its white students.

On a larger scale, obstacles that have been set in place by our nation’s racist institutions have constructed our community, and many others, to be ones with very little socioeconomic and racial diversity. But prejudice exists outside of statistics; it exists in me and you. As Americans, we are guaranteed the inheritance of racism.

And perhaps that inheritance is no individual’s fault, for we cannot control the institutions under which we are raised, nor can we control the families we are born into. However, it is our responsibility to unlearn and undo the prejudices that plague both mind and action; while this is not easy, it is eminently necessary.

The main impediment to achieving these goals in Brookline is the entitlement of many white liberals; those who believe that just because they have been raised in a liberal environment, they exist outside of the systemic issues that influence us all, even subconsciously. This, very overwhelming, demographic often fails to see the larger implications and causes of their prejudice.

Thinking that just because they don’t say the N-word and have a few Black friends, they assume that they are completely free of these inherited and inevitable biases. This practiced blindness makes it nearly impossible to acknowledge the prejudices inherited and therefore perpetuated; because people don’t think they’re racist, surely they can’t be.

Despite white people being the main perpetrators of these inherited biases, the effects of colonialism and other dehumanizing systems create animosity between and within communities of color. This is a useful tactic in ensuring and extending the oppression of such groups because as we stay divided and distrustful, we are less likely to overcome the obstacles set in our path.

As a result, catering to whiteness has caused estrangement of people of color, by people of color. Colorism within Asian and Black communities grants more privilege to those closer to whiteness. BIPOC face incalculable appropriation, hate and exotification when interacting with East Asian countries with low racial diversity. I myself have experienced the pressure to assimilate with the overwhelming pressure from my family to singe my hair under 450 degree heat and stay out of the sun.

My mother is an immigrant from Latin America who moved to the United States very late in life. Although facing sizable amounts of racism herself, I have heard her say things that are just as, if not more, ignorant than things said by the typical “white, southern, Republican racist,” who is easy to point at and separate ourselves from.

Her biases will become my own, and it has become my burden to fully understand the harm I’ve caused as a consequence. We must all acknowledge that racial prejudice exists outside political labels: Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, become meaningless as we face the inevitability of our biases.