Intolerance for racism is a need, not a want

Naomi Hancock, Staff Writer

Before I moved to Liberty, I had never been fully introduced to what racial inequity meant in an educational environment. It took years of self-educating to realize that our schools do not do enough to discourage tolerance towards racism in an educational environment, and that I have experienced racism in a school setting.  

Up until high school, I attended a private school in Burien that was predominately white, where my older brother and I were the only Black kids. Because of this environment, I was raised around people who did not look like me; rather, I did not look like them. Through the years in my old school, up until graduation, I experienced microaggressions that didn’t seem particularly harmful, simply because they were something I subconsciously classified as normal. 

Right before the start of fifth grade, for example, a friend I had met through soccer transferred over to my school. She was also Black. From that year, up until about eighth grade, the two of us were on the receiving end of racially fueled commentsjokes about our race that were seemingly harmless to our white friends, the mixup of our names by teachers, and the constant question of if we were cousins.

Burien was a place where I experienced microaggressions rather than raw and unfiltered racism. Liberty was the first school in which I was faced with a blatantly racist incident: a leaked video of a girl doing a cheer claiming that Black people should be lynched, essentially praising the Klu Klux Klan, while repeatedly using the N-word.

I understand that there are legal ramifications preventing the Liberty administration from disclosing what happened to that student, but I, among other students, wish that they were more transparent as to how the school handled the situation. The administration should have made it a priority to make Liberty’s students of color feel safe. For example, the school could have encouraged teachers of color to reach out to students or given students a platform to voice their concerns and feelings. 

During the summer, an unknown Issaquah School District student took on the responsibility of giving students that platform by creating an Instagram account called @dear.isd, which took submissions anonymously, posting student stories of encounters with racial discrimination and racism in the Issaquah School District.

One submission read, “A girl in my grade said the N-word and was suspended for two weeks. She came back, and they swept it under the rug. I have a friend who was very much affected, and they made her feel like it was her problem to take care of. No student should feel uncomfortable in their own school because of their race.”

Several other posts expressed similar feelings towards the mentioned video, recognizing the Liberty administration’s poor reaction towards events that are harmful and offensive towards marginalized groups. Liberty’s “safe space” was violated, and my conversations with other students of color have found that we share the same feelings of isolation and discomfort.

The account receives constant submissions (including but not limited to Liberty) that share similar sentiments of the students throughout the district. Stories of homophobia, racism, suggested rape, and ableism are disturbingly frequent, and many students express their disappointment regarding their administration’s lack of response and the continued perpetuation of a negative and racist culture in our learning environments.

It should be acknowledged that Liberty’s copied-and-pasted apologies and punishments are inconsequential in the big picture. There has been little progression towards a more equitable environment at Liberty, and the administration’s repetitive apologies and empty promises have proven that, and their lack of effort negatively impacts students of color. 

In October, three students and I met with several administrators of the district and Liberty. During our two hours together, we shared our feelings and experiences of racism in the district. 

The aim of this meeting was to provide administrators with the narrative and experiences of students of color, so they could see just how inequitable and hard it is to attend Liberty as a person of color. Ideally, we will have more meetings in the future to discuss solutions as to how to provide a truly safe learning environment for people of color.

A few weeks later, the school announced the establishment of Liberty’s first-ever equity-related club, appropriately titled Equity Club, started by senior Silvia Carias-Centeno and English teacher Joan King. At the club’s first meeting, I found through discussions with members that most of us held similar opinions of the Liberty administration: they do not do enough to amplify, value, and respect marginalized voices.

But while change at a systemic and social level is required, I doubt I will see a substantial difference in Liberty’s treatment towards people of color by the time I graduate. It is a sad truth, one that is shared across America. Making a difference across multiple levels of power and influence is extremely difficult because white people are comfortable with their white privilege, and uncomfortable with facing the fact that they are supporting a racist system.

Schools across the country have been handling racially offensive incidents the same way. For decades, people of color have been forced to behave in ways that keep their white neighbors, bosses, friends, and family comfortable. But it’s not as though we’re comfortable with the racial atmosphere of America; it’s simply that we have learned to live with it because people of color have been forced to the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Although Liberty is beginning to make those strides to catch up to the other schools in the district, we are still years behind other schools and districts in Washington, and it will take a long time to make any sort of real improvement that can help the younger generations attending Liberty.

Liberty is starting to take those steps forward, with the introduction of the Equity Club and the new Equity leads in administration, but they need to do more. An open line of communication between student and staff is essential, because adults cannot speak for us. They do not know how we feel.