by SOPHIE GORECKI and the Lantern Staff - September 14, 2020 - Westfield students of color share their experiences with racism and how it has affected them.
At the Lantern it is our goal to share the experiences of all students and to highlight the true lives of Westfield students. As a staff, we feel it is our responsibility to report on what is going on in both the world and in our community, so in light of recent social justice movements, we invited students of color at Westfield to share their real stories involving racism in order to do our part to share the voices of POC at Westfield.
These are stories of discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry, and we are specifically sharing these stories to show that we all need to do better, which means using our voices to amplify those of marginalized groups. These stories will stand alone, without commentary, to show a more unfiltered, raw depiction of what real students in our school experience on a daily basis. We also have chosen to keep the identities of these students anonymous in order to protect them from any ridicule or backlash for sharing their stories. While reading about these experiences, think about what you can do to stand up against racism and support people of color in our classrooms, our hallways, in our community as a whole. To find ways that anyone can support equality and change in our community, refer to the infographic below and contact our WHS Black Student Association or Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) team.
Photo courtesy of JAKE RICHARDSON (12)
On the corner of Union street, protestors hold up their fists as a sign of unity to the community.
I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was rough for any minority. The amount of times I was told to ‘build a wall’ were plentiful. The only option I thought I had was to laugh it off and joke about it. Inside I felt ashamed, and now that I’m older and try to talk about it, people discredit me because of my reaction back then. That sucked, but the main problem I’ve faced was that I felt like I had to overcompensate for my ‘lack’ of culture. Though my appearance is that of what a person would think a Latina is, I felt like I was anything but. I can’t speak Spanish as well as I’d like, and my family isn’t too immersed into the culture. For what I did know, I felt like I had to be overtly vocal about it to make up for what I didn’t. People, regardless of race, were shocked that I didn’t know Spanish. Westfield is better than most places, but it still has a long way to go. Hearing about the girl from WMS breaks my heart, and I know we can do better with the treatment of all minorities.
I'm lucky enough to be able to fly under the radar most of the time. I get reinforced with positive stereotypes instead of negative stereotypes because I'm Asian. In the past, I have faced discrimination and microaggressions from my classmates. The worst part is that it starts at a young age. In elementary school, my peers would make fun of my eye shape. They would take their fingers and make their eyes look smaller. In middle school, a group of boys would make fun of me by saying ‘ching chong’ or ‘ching chong ping pong.’ They would call me yellow. Overall, race has and hasn't played a big part of going to school at Westfield. I don't have to deal with everyday racism, but it's still there from time to time. My achievements get downplayed because I'm Asian and I'm supposed to be smart. I'm supposed to be a music prodigy, a wizard at math, a future doctor. The test I worked so hard to ace is immediately downplayed by my peers because I'm Asian, so of course I passed. I've been asked where I'm really from. It's like my explanation that I was born and raised in Indiana isn't enough. It's only small things that I have to deal with, but small things add up in time.
I am a half white and half black girl. During my freshman year at Westfield High School, there was a comment made in the classroom while the teacher was out getting papers. A black male had said, ‘why would I take advice from you?’ A white girl responded and said ‘I used to own you,’ (meaning as a slave). This was the most degrading thing I had ever heard. Looking around at everyone else laughing was so embarrassing. This inspired me to form a club called the Equality Club. My club was meant to bring people of all races, sexual orientations, genders, etc. together. Although I enjoyed taking the time out of my day to educate others and talk to them about their struggles, I wish it didn’t take that comment in the classroom to bring others together, and it still didn’t make a big enough impact. I started attending Westfield schools in the 3rd grade and during those years I experienced a lot of racist comments and racial slurs, but the situation I explained above was the worst. I know a lot of the people around me who were laughing could not and never will understand how deeply painful that comment was.
I am the daughter of a black father and a white mother. Racism was never not apparent in my life. Throughout all my schooling: preschool, elementary, intermediate, middle, and even high school, I have seen and experienced racism. I’ve been told things my parents thought were unimaginable for children to say. But it wasn’t just the students at Westfield, it was also the administration and teachers too. A kid could say a cuss word and get lunch detention immediately, but saying the n-word resulted in a ‘stern talking to’ at most. The counselors also ignored me when I brought up I was being bullied and accused me of lying about it. It didn’t just make me feel ‘different’ from others, it made me feel insignificant because I wasn’t being heard. But with the awareness now of systemic racism and racism in general, I do actually believe that something will change. No one deserves to be treated as unequal. We are all the same and everyone deserves to be equal because we are all human.
I’m mixed (white and black) and attended Westfield schools for all of my life. The first time I ever felt discriminated against was at WMS, when I was called a ‘dirty n-word’ by a white girl via Snapchat. It was during the school day, I had proof (her face was in it), and it was completely unprovoked. When I brought it to administrators I was told they ‘couldn’t do anything’ about it. Then they asked if I wanted them to call her down and have her apologize to me. The girl didn’t get into ANY trouble for calling me a racial slur even though there was PROOF. I never went to the office, even when I experienced racism, after that.
I have certainly had negative experiences with racism/xenophobia at Westfield, although I recognize I have privilege that mitigates that. During the 2016 election, racism was more prevalent. Hispanic students were chanted at with things like ‘build the wall’ sometimes. Or you know, just having white classmates who feel the need to chant that already makes you feel so unsafe. That year, a senior who sat behind me in band, after finding out my ethnicity, proceeded to berate me with a series of comments like ‘get out of my country,’ ‘get a visa,’ ‘stealing our jobs,’ without even knowing my immigration status. He then called my friend next to me the n-word. My white classmates around me either laughed or said nothing. One time I was told to ‘get deported’ in the middle of class.
So, so many times there are racist jokes that minority students won't speak up against because if they do, they're *that* person, *that* minority snowflake that got offended. Instead, the pressure is to join the white majority in laughing at your own people.
Again, I have privilege with lighter skin. That also means sometimes white students, for some reason, feel more okay saying racist things in front of me about my own ethnicity, because I'm not "one of them," itself a racist sentiment.
Common comments throughout high school FREQUENTLY were that ‘Hispanics at our school are dumb,’ ‘Hispanics at our school do and sell drugs,’ and that I wasn't like the ‘other ones!’ In fact, one time while discussing diversity with a classmate after he had seen me speaking with other Hispanic students in Spanish, referred to ‘the Hispanics' in a negative way that indicated they were an other, then was quick to add that I ‘hang with the right crowd.’
What I'm trying to show is that our school culture perpetuates an idea that Hispanic students, or really most minorities in general, are incompetent, dumb, or delinquents. It is incredibly sad to hear that because so many comments come in the form of microaggressions or passive insinuations that at the end of the day, my ethnicity is inferior.
It's hard because minorities can't have it either way - to many, if we perform poorly, we're all dumb, and if we excel, it's affirmative action.
I cannot tell you how many times, especially senior year, people said to me that my SAT score, college admissions, scholarships, or literally ANY position or award that was given to me over a white boy was because, ‘well, you know, ... you're a minority.’ The same occurs for a lot of female students. The feeling of inferiority that can inflict on students is debilitating. And it is COMMON.
This year, one of our best students, who is a black African immigrant, won a full ride scholarship to a top 10 school. The most common comments I heard weren't congratulatory - they were, almost verbatim, ‘it's because he's black.’ An entire high school career and accomplishment degraded to nothing more than skin color
While these experiences can be hard to read, it is necessary to know how we can all do better. The WHS equity team is currently working on doing exactly that by training our faculty on solution-based problem solving as well as bias recognition and elimination. Westfield High School’s vision is a school where all feel safe, included, respected, supported and inspired to succeed regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ability or socioeconomic status. While our administration works to make Westfield a more inclusive place, so can you. Looking for ways to show your support? Refer to the infographic below for five simple ways you can get involved with fighting for equality and be a part of change at WHS. Every small action, donation, and vote is one more step towards equity for all.