Open Letter from Social Justice Students
May 22, 2017
We have decided as a class to stand together as a diverse group of students who are working together on Social Justice issues, in the community at large, and in our school Community. We have also decided that it is important, as a class to express ourselves and have a voice to address the issue of the racist card that was submitted at our Postcard writing event, The Ides of Trump on March 15th. We also recognize how this racist hate card impacted each of us in different ways. Our advisor, Cindy Haidu-Banks, encouraged us to write an open letter, to speak from the “I” place and to express our thoughts and feelings when we found that the racist threatening postcard had been submitted at our event. Cindy also asked us to express our ideas for moving forward, for healing, reconciliation, and to continue our work to understand each other.
It brought us feelings of great sadness, disrespect, and most importantly feelings of being threatened. We were hoping our letter campaign would bring our school together and in many ways it did but because of your one hateful letter it changed into a hateful, threatening, and scary day that is still with all of us. You might think of it as a good joke or perhaps these feelings are true to you, but we will continue to go on and do this type of work. I even challenge you to look into social justice. Look into all our country has gone through and many of us are desperately fighting to overcome. That might make you think a little harder the next time you write something of that substance.
The whole school is now reacting to this. Those hateful words affected the whole school. It is disheartening when we work very hard on making a positive difference but one hateful message spreads like wildfire over the many positive messages that we put out.
I have always believed Community High School to be a safe place. Our Social Justice class held the Ides of March event to encourage students to voice their opinions on issues many usually have no opportunity to. In an instant this racist postcard took away all feelings of progress and security and turned them to anguish. To the person who wrote this postcard, regardless of your intentions, it hurt black people and it hurt the effort. To you this may be a joke, but to many, including myself, “jokes” like these are inescapable.
To the person who wrote this racist, threatening, postcard, I am curious about what you were thinking when you wrote those words of hate. Maybe you were writing as a joke because of the recent hate that has been flooding the nation. Maybe you were speaking part of your truth as you truly believe black people are inferior. Maybe on your way into school that day someone shouted those words at you and you didn’t know what to do but agree and repeat it. Maybe you do not actually agree with the hateful words you wrote, but you turned to loathing words, instead of unpacking how you were really feeling on that day. I truly don’t know what inside made you think it was a good idea to write hateful words that day, but I want you want to know that your words have affected the entire school. It is important to realize that intentions don’t always coincide with impact, and that all actions and words affect more than one person.
Beyond this threatening and offensive card there were many others that crossed the line. Beyond this language, both utilized to marginalize minorities and attack our President, seems to be pain. However, regardless of the receiver, it is unproductive to attack others rather than address the source of the hurt. It is my hope that as a school, we can look pass vindication and forward to reconciliation. This means having an ongoing dialogue around uncomfortable topics and taking ownership of ourselves and our behavior. I can start by recognizing that I did not sufficiently restrict the use of profanity and vulgar messages and for this I take responsibility. I genuinely did not even consider the fact that preventative measures would be needed because I never expected the number of hateful messages to be so extensive. One quarter of the postcards were un-sendable. One quarter. Even beyond the content of these messages, which needs to be addressed, much work is needed regarding expressing feelings and upset. No matter the intent, hateful words have a deep impact and that impact continues to resonate in our social justice CR and throughout our school.
Whether you wrote this racist card as a joke does not matter. I have experienced racism beyond what you did. This is my reality. But that does not mean that it hurt any less. It’s like a punch in the face every time and after this incident I felt so broken down. I was physically and mentally drained. I hope you come forward and take ownership for the hurt you’ve caused.
The fact that this happened is a sign indicating the lack of time given to the very needed discussion about race and racism, the simple idea of hatred and that someone had the audacity to even write this. This is not the first racist incident that has occurred in our school and it won’t be the last. What needs to come out of this, is for people to be willing, maybe not comfortable, but willing to have the conversation. We cannot expect the problem of race in our school to disappear, just because we are afraid to talk about it. Everyone needs to be willing to check themselves and others around them. I felt hurt and very disappointed. All my years attending community, I have joined groups to push this conversation and dialogue. Space has been given for students to start this, though this has also not been enough. Students and Staff for many reasons are unable to sit down and truly dive into, what is race, culture, racism, and ethnicity. We need to transform the environment that we promise, to provide for each other and others who are entering this school after us.
“Alternative high school, with an emphasis on freedom and alternative learning” is what immediately came up when I searched Community High School. On March 15th, we (as in the students of Social Justice) took advantage of these enlightening words-in trust of our student body, and in hope of appreciation and responsibility. The enthusiasm around the “Ides of Trump” table radiated through the third floor, and we are eternally grateful for those who responsibly took apart of our event; but one vulgar, threatening, racist card was all it took to raise the desolation in our community, primarily affecting our students of color in ways which I cannot imagine. I felt guilty for getting caught up in the excitement, and not catching the vulgar language. I felt naive for not thinking of the possible outcomes of racism from this event. And I felt deep, deep sorrow for our class being robbed of great work, for our students and our staff, and primarily for those directly affected by the racist comments. It sickens me that the work of one person is all it takes to raise fear- in what is supposed to be a safe environment. As hard as I try, I will never understand how our students and staff of color must feel after hearing those words. But I will be standing with them as we continue to fight the injustice. No matter the intent, this letter is proof of a much larger problem in our society- a problem many people forget that “even” Community has. This letter will not go unnoticed, and neither will the larger issue of race at our school.
This is not new. The hurt that white students feel right now, is the hurt that many students of color and people of color everywhere feel every single day.
I would like to say that I was surprised.
Written by Social Justice Students:
Britta Carlson, Hawa Dicko, Olivia Freeman, Mira Kaufman, Sydney Lee, Nyah Selassie,
Sophie Swan, Lindsey Williams, Kylie Wiseman and Sadie Zinn
(There are 10 students in our CR, the numbers and names are not in order, some students desired anonymity).