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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Being Black At Stuyvesant High School

By Tabitha Wilson

“You’re so white,” “Oh my god, you’re such a white girl,” and “You talk so white,” are a few phrases used by my peers and even by my friends. I am not white: I’m one of the few black students at Stuyvesant High School. I don’t follow the stereotypical mold for a black girl—I don’t live in a dangerous neighborhood or have an illegitimate child. That doesn’t make me white; that makes me a normal person! Most blacks that you will meet, to the surprise of most, do not follow these ridiculous stereotypes.

At Stuyvesant, my race barely crosses my mind—I don’t see myself as the minority that I know I am. Frankly, we at Stuyvesant have a lot more similarities than we have differences: I obsess over grades and worry about college just as much as my peers; I’m just as competitive as my white or Asian counterparts. During my school career I have always been a minority in gifted programs I took part in, going as far back as elementary school. By now, I am used to being one of the few black students in all of my classes.

However, at Stuyvesant there is quite a different reality of being black. I have never been in an institution (as opposed to a single class) that is only about 1.5 percent black.

I genuinely believe that no one at Stuyvesant is trying to be racist, because I believe that our generation is making progress at getting past that hatred. I know that my friends and those I associate with would never try to hurt me intentionally; my friends love and accept me for who I am, regardless of my race. I feel that most of the student body is composed of decent and good people who do not wish to hurt anyone. But there is such a disconnect here from Black American culture, and it makes for an “us” and “them” discussion.

At Stuyvesant there really isn’t anyone to inform the student body regarding these race issues, and it is difficult to realize that this is necessary with the black population being so minute. During this past February, which happens to be Black History Month, I overheard two Asian students questioning why there should even be a month attributed to blacks. This offended me—someone who has taken Unites States history or knows anything about it should realize that blacks and members of every other race deserve to be celebrated. At a school with a higher black population, I doubt I would hear something like that; I doubt that at Stuyvesant, students would question Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is this month of May. When slavery is mentioned during any of my classes I can always feel the sideways glances in my direction. It’s a blatant truth that some of my ancestors were slaves; some of them were also white slave owners, Cherokee Native Americans, Caribbeans, Indians, Jews— the list can go on. My lineage is diverse but that’s hard for people to realize when they are so caught up on the color of my skin.

This year’s SING! led to some heated discussion on whether or not Junior SING! was racist due to the fact that one of the characters playing a subservient role was black. During the performance I was not offended, unlike my mother, who was sitting in the audience beside me. Afterwards, she said that it took her nearly half of the show to stop being upset. My mother, as well as her parents, experienced severe racism in her youth in South Carolina under Jim Crow laws. I recognized that subservient roles such as these were meant to be outwardly racist and hurtful up until the late 20th century. They were established to keep blacks “in their place,” showing that blacks were always less than whites.

It appeared that the cast of Junior SING! was completely unaware of this. Therein lies the problem at Stuyvesant; the disconnect between races can potentially lead to something hurtful. While reading the never-ending discussion on Facebook, I saw my other black peers concede that the show wasn’t racist without realizing the history behind the role, which surprised me.

After questioning the black students that I know, I concluded that most blacks at Stuyvesant are either ethnically West Indian or African. As a result of this, even black students at Stuyvesant are disconnected from historical racism, especially students with parents or grandparents who are immigrants. Moving ahead at Stuyvesant, we should be more conscious when it comes to racial issues, for every race. Laughing at racial jokes is fine—I do so myself—but we as a school need to establish what’s funny and what’s offensive. An open discussion about race, ethnicity and gender should be established. We need to learn more about our peers. This isn’t simply so as not to offend the few black students at Stuyvesant, but, instead, to create a better and more knowledgeable community from which everyone can benefit. When we leave Stuyvesant, we will no longer be placed in an environment with mostly two races, which is why we, the student body, should do all that we can to acknowledge and respect others, regardless of their ethnicity, lineage, or skin color.