In many ways, independent schools in America’s northeast are pinnacles of privilege. Similar to elite colleges, there are students with long generations of alumni whose last names are on buildings. Private schools like these send students to top universities each year. I was the first person in my family to attend an independent high school like Miss Porter’s and my parents only saw it as one thing: an opportunity. I didn’t focus on the fact that I would again be one of few black students in white-majority classrooms, or that there would be students coming from such widely different socioeconomic backgrounds. I went in open-minded.
For black students, as well as other students of color, in white environments microaggressions are a regular occurrence. My school is overwhelmingly “liberal” in the sense that few people openly support Trump, but yet people say ignorant things all the time even when they claim to be “woke.” The number of times I’ve heard students complain that their older siblings didn’t get into their best college option because “it’s getting harder for white people” or had to deal with instances of students saying the n-word is too many.
In my experience, I felt like it was always other black students’ jobs to give white students the benefit of the doubt, with the excuse that “some people came from different backgrounds, maybe they didn’t know better.” We are forced to just accept microaggression after microaggression as if white students are not capable of taking responsibility for their learning and actions. And I’m going to say it- there needs to be a limit to “making mistakes.” I do not care what corner of this country you came from, if you have access to the Internet or a history textbook, you know that blackface is offensive. Why is the pressure put on black students and faculty members to teach you these things?
These “Black at…” accounts are popping up from almost every independent school, and they’re highlighting black students, faculty, and alumni whose voices have not been heard for many years. Students have decided to tell their stories- whether the school approves or not. I looked through the accounts of many other nearby schools and saw posts about microaggressions, but also posts about very blatant racism perpetuated by both fellow students and faculty members. Many students speak about how they were ignored when they tried to shine light on racism at their schools.
At Independent schools, years of tradition and upholding reputation keeps students from sharing the truths of their experience. Some schools remain more concerned with keeping full-pay parents happy than forcing their students– or faculty members– to be accountable for the harm they’ve caused. Black students and parents are left to fight for fair penalties– which often do not happen.
As white students read all of these posts from students at their schools there is only one thing for them to do: LISTEN. This isn’t drama or being “exposed” it’s about understanding the experiences of others. My high school experience in no way has been wholly negative, but the microaggressions I’ve endured certainly stood out enough. If you’re a white student and all those stories you’re reading about your school make you sad and uncomfortable, you should think about why. Is it because you know that you stood by while you heard things like that happen to black classmates? Is it because you dismissed the words of your black friend when they claimed they didn’t love the school as much as you did? Let this be a learning moment, because many black students have lived that feeling of sadness for much longer.
Black students have sat in silence, and now we’re tired of waiting to be listened to. We demand to be heard, and white discomfort is the least of our worries. It’s time that these private schools, and their students, are forced to see the harsh reality that their black students have been experiencing forever, and it’s up to them to make changes.