Racism is alive and well in the San Francisco Unified School District. Often times, we discuss institutional racism and the microaggressions that exist around race, but we never dive right into meaningful and thought-provoking discussion. That could be because people perceive direct discussions about racism as taboo. I think that is how we all grow and affect change together. These direct and open discussions should take place in our communities, government institutions and definitely in our schools. If we hide behind or try to cover up some of the ills that exist in our schools and within society, we are not allowing for change and growth.
This is why it saddens me that, even today, the overt and prevalent racism that continues to exist in our school system is often overlooked. Over the past few weeks, there have been several incidents at Lowell High School that highlight San Francisco at its worst when it comes to race issues in our schools. Some Lowell alumni feel and know that this side of the school — one of our most deservingly celebrated schools in the area for academic achievement — has existed for decades.
More recently, this Black History Month 2016, a Lowell student decided to create a poster with horrifying images of what is supposed to represent black culture. The poster provided inappropriate photos of President Barack Obama, in which he was depicted as a thug, as well as other inappropriate images in the photos that were very offensive to black people. If that wasn’t enough, the creator of the poster decided that “#gang” was the appropriate caption to represent and reflect black culture. The images and the depiction of black culture were immature, inappropriate and, dare I say it, very representative of racist views.
I can actually get over the actions of a young person who has a lot to learn about differences and how his or her actions can offend any number of people. What bothers me the most is that there was some adult that allowed these images to be displayed in an area in view for all to see. This should not have happened. Furthermore, the initial response from school leadership truly invalidated the seriousness of the action and has caused a lot of pain and suffering for the black students and black families of the Lowell Community and has put a “black mark” on the school as a whole.
In addition to the initial, inadequate response from school leadership, I have seen some deeply racist texts from parents and students alike. I have also been witness to emails and texts from other adults connected to the school, which may not be racist, but are extremely insensitive and inappropriate. Whether a child identifies as a part of the LGBT Community, or is black, Latino, Chinese, Jewish, Pacific Islander, Arabic or any other race or ethnicity, our schools should be safe for all and a place to address issues immediately.
I have also met with members of Lowell’s Latino community who feel some of the same tension and racial isolation. I do believe we need to work together and use recent incidents for healing and for leading the discussion about how to make our schools hubs of diversity and growth. As a member of the Board of Education here in San Francisco, I feel that is imperative that we take racism — and the ignorant ideals that fuel racism — head on. No child in the SFUSD should ever have to feel isolated and invalidated when blatant racist acts have been committed. Racism is alive and well in our schools; together let’s work to fix this.
Shamann Walton is vice president of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education.