In Response to the Poly Prep Incident

Yesterday, a video went viral of two white girls wearing blackface and imitating apes.The students in the video went to Poly Prep, a private school...

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Yesterday, a video went viral of two white girls wearing blackface and imitating apes.

The students in the video went to Poly Prep, a private school in Brooklyn. The Stuyvesant Black Students League stands in solidarity with the students of color at Poly Prep who worked to bring this despicable and offensive incident to light, staging a sit-in and bringing the story to news outlets after their administration failed to take explicit disciplinary action.

Blackface is used to perpetuate harmful and offensive caricatures of Black people, such as the ape-like behavior shown in the video, and has long been used to degrade and dehumanize Black people. As Black students at Stuyvesant, we are forced to navigate these stereotypes every day.

That is why it comes as no surprise that a student in the video currently attends Stuyvesant. Our school’s pervasive anti-Black culture is apparent every time someone says the n-word in the hallways, tries to touch a Black student’s hair, or when Black students are told by their peers that our people are lazy and unintelligent. This incident is not isolated. We cannot distance ourselves from the racism apparent in this video when the same racism is perpetuated by both students and teachers every day in our hallways and classrooms.

When a Black Stuy student posted about the incident in an effort to draw attention to the toxic anti-Black culture at Stuyvesant, they were quickly approached by a Big Sib and asked to take the post down and “leave it to the administration.” This attempt to censor someone speaking to their experience as a Black student in a racist environment demonstrates a larger problem. We must talk about issues in order to address them. Shutting down conversations about racism at Stuyvesant perpetuates that same racism by stifling opportunities to enact real change.

The discomfort that the Stuy community attempts to avoid by censoring these complicated discussions about race pales in comparison to the discomfort Black students feel as they walk through the halls of a 1% Black institution every day. We bear the brunt of the discrimination and microaggressions that continue due to our school’s unwillingness to talk about issues of race.

We have been asked to “leave it to the administration” before. When a student submitted a racist yearbook quote to the Indicator, students in the Black Students League were asked to keep quiet and let the administration handle it, passing over an opportunity to spark dialogue about the toxic culture at Stuyvesant. When students attempted to call attention to the use of the n-word at school, the administration took no concrete action. We have left it to the administration. And nothing has changed.

We understand the administration makes an effort to take appropriate disciplinary action in incidents like these. However, when the administration silently handles racist acts as isolated occurrences and does not publicly condemn or even acknowledge the culture of racism at Stuyvesant, it sends the message that engaging in racist behavior has no real consequences and prevents the administration from making concrete policy changes to address the racism at our school. And to Black students, it sends the message that our administration is unwilling to take substantive action to make our school a safer place for us.

Inspired by Umoja, the organization for students of color at Poly Prep, we are asking for the following:

— For the administration to send out an email to students, parents, and faculty addressing the contents of the video (specifying the use of Blackface) and clearly condemning it.

— For the administration to publicly condemn the use of the n-word in school by non-Black students both in and out of classrooms

— For the administration to add to the Stuyvesant code of conduct a clause specifically addressing racist behavior including slurs and hateful speech and outlining the consequences of such speech.

— For the administration to annually hold a mandatory, school-wide seminar for students and faculty to discuss issues of race and inclusivity and how to handle racist incidents both in and out of classrooms.

— For the administration to hold mandatory sensitivity training for all teachers.

— For teachers to be held responsible for addressing racist comments or behavior both in and out of the classroom.

— For the English and Social Studies departments to prohibit the use of the n-word in classrooms, even when reading text.

— For the Big Sib program to release a statement condemning racist behavior, including the use of the n-word, and explain to their little sibs why it is unacceptable.

We urge everyone who reads this to take the first step: share this post. Repost it, mention it, comment, and do your part in helping our community feel safe and accepted at school.

We believe that if these concrete measures are carried out by students, faculty, and the administration, we can begin to create a more inclusive Stuyvesant.

The Stuyvesant Black Students League