Don’t be a hypocrite

Acting locally will help speed needed change

Novelist+Colson+Whitehead+was+a+keynote+speaker+at+the+Winnetka+Campus%0Aat+the+last+All+School+Seminar+Day+on+Feb.+28%2C+2017

colsonwhitehead.com

Novelist Colson Whitehead was a keynote speaker at the Winnetka Campus at the last All School Seminar Day on Feb. 28, 2017

There is no ignoring the mass call to justice for the black community that is being demanded across the world. I believe we may be on the cusp of real change, change which is long overdue.

But, as many have expressed over social media, I fear that some people who have demonstrated solidarity with the black lives matter movement will neglect to take the actions needed to bring about change in their own lives and communities.

It’s vital that we fight just as strongly for change in our own communities as we are fighting for justice for those like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Because injustice and racism is everywhere, not just in law enforcement. All forms of racism need to be confronted, even if an act or comment doesn’t seem “as severe” as an innocent black man being murdered by a cop.

Both students and administration need to do a better job in addressing racism in our community. One way to start is for the school to bring back Seminar Day and to listen to what students, especially students of color, have to say. ”

It’s easy to advocate for big, drastic changes and, don’t get me wrong, reforms to education, the criminal justice system, and numerous other institutions are necessary, but small, individual changes are just as crucial. And it’s important to remember that these changes don’t just happen. This change needs to be actively pursued by every one of us if we hope to heal our country of racism.

In order to create change, I think it necessary for us to first acknowledge where our school and ourselves have fallen short in the past.

Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally sent an email to all students on June 2 addressing the Black Lives Matter protests. In closing, he wrote that “every voice that speaks out against racial injustice is a voice that makes a difference in creating a more equitable and just future for our country.”

I agree with this statement, but I haven’t seen the school actively uplift voices that speak out against racial injustice.

Firstly, the school stopped hosting Seminar Day a few years back, eradicating the opportunity to address racism in relation to our community, instead of fostering more needed discussions around race.

This year, the school instead held the N-word presentation in advisery, which was taught by our advisers, most of whom are white/non-black and were visibly uncomfortable talking about the subject. This discomfort could be expected as the advisers weren’t given the option to present. The administration should have made it optional so that the presentations themselves were more comfortable for everyone involved. It would have been even more beneficial for students to hear from black speakers who relate to the issue on a more fundamental level.

While black speakers shouldn’t be the only ones to bear the responsibility of educating everyone else, I think we learn much more when we hear from people of color who want to educate others. Ideally, we can hear from people like this in person, but because the school discontinued Seminar Day, there isn’t as much opportunity for that.

While the N-word presentations were far from perfect, and a seminar day would have been more adequate, it doesn’t change the fact that the conversations started were important. Yet many students didn’t seem to take the subject seriously, instead “joking” about it by using the word more. We need to recognize no matter how much we may justly criticize the school, we are also part of the problem.

Then the previous school year, in February 2019, my friend and classmate, Ghousia Anwar, passed away. Some of you may remember that in April of that year we published two articles she had written before her death. The first is about the experiences of minority students at our school and the second addresses islamophobia, both of which I highly encourage you to take the time to read.

But there’s another aspect to this story that most of you don’t know. After a few weeks of grieving her death, we thought it pertinent and necessary that we publish the articles. The administration felt otherwise. Thus began a long back and forth with the administration as we at the newspaper fought to ensure Ghousia and other students of color were heard.

When many students of color were traumatized as they grieved Ghousia’s sudden death, the school didn’t provide ways for them to express their grief outside of social work and some affinity groups. By attempting to keep the articles from publication, the school limited the ways in which students of color could express themselves, something my peers and I found disturbing and frustrating.

Of course, the school did eventually allow us to publish the articles, but we shouldn’t have had to fight so hard to get them to.

While I understand the circumstances were extremely difficult and sensitive, that doesn’t change the inexcusable decision they made to silence our few students of color when it was perhaps most necessary for them to be heard.

Instead of silence, the administration should have created opportunities for students to openly process and express their loss. This should have been a time where they encouraged all staff and students to reflect on the type of community we foster for students of color and address areas we can improve.

This kind of silencing doesn’t just happen at our school. So many people, institutions, and businesses are guilty of failing to apply their professed ideals into concrete action. As this is a community where we invest a lot of our time and energy, it’s crucial that we push for change.

Maybe the school has changed since last year, but we can’t assume that. As a community we need to uplift, not suppress, the voices of the marginalized in our school. Especially given the black community makes up only 0.6% of our population, whereas 79.9% of our student body is white.

In a school where the voices of minorities can so easily be drowned out by the white majority, we need to do more to bring their voices and experiences to the forefront of our civil discourse.

It is also important that we listen to our peers when they do speak out. When Ghousia’s articles were published last year, no one seemed to pay all that much attention. Though we were given space in advisery to discuss them, many students (not all) seemed to be turned off to having discussions about it by the time they were finished reading them a couple days later.

This lack of interest bears a stark contrast to the sudden wave of support towards the Black Lives Matter movement. While I do believe the majority of people acting in support of the movement do genuinely care and want change, this support can not just be shown when it is most convenient. In fact, I think it’s more crucial to stand up to racism when it’s inconvenient.

I believe true change in this country can be achieved through countless individual changes both small and large. So please, engage in the national dialogue around racism but don’t neglect what’s going on right in our backyard or even in our own homes.

When we wrote articles about the N-word presentations, most students were tired of talking about it, but we shouldn’t be complaining about having conversations about race. We should take advantage of every opportunity we have to educate ourselves and better understand our peers by engaging in discussion with them on these issues.

Both students and administration need to do a better job in addressing racism in our community. One way to start is for the school to bring back Seminar Day and to listen to what students, especially students of color, have to say.

But how we change and grow from a seminar day or listening to our peers depends solely on us. While the administration may be in charge, students need to articulate the change they want to see in order to shape a safer and more inclusive community. After all, there are more of us than there are of them. We have a lot of power over how our community functions.

The first thing we all have to do is take a good hard look at ourselves. No matter how accepting we think we are of people of color, we need to take some time to really think about how we treat them because our actions speak louder than words (though words are important too).

If you haven’t listened to black communities and other marginalized communities before, now is the time to make that change. This movement offers us the opportunity to be the change we want to see in ourselves and in our communities.

It’s never too late to listen. It’s never too late to educate yourself. It’s never too late to change. Let’s all start doing a better job by uplifting and listening to the voices of the students of color in our community. Then, I think there is hope for change.