By Xihuanel Tutashinda
On June 5, I was among the over two hundred Berkeley High students who marched against racism on Shattuck Ave. We staged a sit-in at the Berkeley Unified School District building. Minister Keith Muhammad talked to us about confronting racism and a few students read poems and sang songs dealing with the racism they had noticed around school. The vibe was respectful and calm.
Although Berkeley is known for its liberalism and hippie-loving people, recent events at my high school have totally contradicted this notion. I am currently a senior and only have one more week of school. I strongly feel that the story behind the protest is one that I should share with the world because it is important for people to know that blatant racism still lives.
It all started in 2008, when a couple of white girls made a video on Facebook that made fun of black girls. They said things like, “Girl my weave is longer den yours,” or “Man my daddy is in jail for life” -- things that are negatively associated with black women and black culture. One young black student was appalled at these actions. The white girls were making fun of what they thought black culture was. They were amused about something they didn’t know about. This started a chain of discussions about race and created tension on both sides. No action was taken in response to the video because it was on a social networking site, and Berkeley High’s administration could not legally do anything. These tensions carried on throughout the year, but no serious altercations took place.
Now, in 2009, when we have elected the first black president in history, we are still dealing with racism. Three white male seniors made an album on a social networking site, and titled the album with the word "Niggas". This album made me very angry, so I posted a link to it as my status on Facebook, so people could see how some white people use this word so casually. This action alone started a huge argument online; people were calling me names and said I was making “too big of a deal”.
Another recent event was the accusation of a white senior calling a black girl a "Nigger Bitch". Then, my friend discovered a picture on Facebook posted by a white senior. The photo was of an African-American teacher who has taught at Berkeley High for many years. It depicted him in chains, and a grill. Comments to the picture by students called him "Nigger".
This caused tremendous anger among members of the Black Student Union and other students who were offended. We demanded that all who were involved with the album, the picture, and namecalling be suspended for committing hate crimes. The attention we raised contributed to one of the white seniors getting suspended. He was responsible for posting the photo of the teacher.
I believe that a lot of people who don’t face inequality on a regular basis have a hard time understanding the bigger issues that underlie everyday slights. Many of my fellow seniors don’t know about white privilege. Having power that you are not even aware of can cause huge problems. Issues of racism need to be discussed within the classroom, so ignorance won’t continue to recycle within Berkeley High. I feel strongly about this issue and will do whatever it takes to help cultivate leadership among underclassmen. The administration needs to create a comfortable environment where students can talk about race. We also need more teachers of color, so the learning environment can be a diverse mix of personal experience and cultural awareness. These issues have been present , but the latest events were what “broke the camel’s back". It just exposed a bigger problem that we all need to face because it is all around us.
Ignorance is passed on, until someone takes the initiative to stop the cycle. I have hope for the future, and know our fight for equality will not end here.