On June 13th, racist graffiti was found at Walt Whitman in Bethesda for the second time. Last year, two students posted a photo in blackface. Black students at Whitman had enough. They wanted real change, not performative acts, so they started an Instagram account, @blackatwhitman, to detail their experiences at Whitman.
Whitman has tried to combat racism through ‘One Whitman’, weekly 45 minute discussion-based classes aimed at promoting “inclusiveness and tolerance.” Current students have deemed it ineffective. Neither the teachers nor students take it seriously. We need to hold Whitman accountable for its wrongdoings against Black students and other students of color. For current or past Whitman students and teachers, you are loved and together we can make Whitman a better place.@blackatwhitman, June 14th
Black students at other schools within Montgomery County soon started their own accounts, including Black at Wheaton, Black at Blair, Black at Richard Montgomery, Black at Quince Orchard, Black at Walter Johnson, Black at Clarksburg, Black at BCC, Black at Rockville, Black at Northwood, Black at Einstein, Black at Wootton, Black at Winston Churchill, and Black at North Bethesda Middle School.
These experiences detail overt racist remarks and actions and more covert forms of racism, including microaggressions, from both other students, teachers, and staff over several years.
I spoke with one former B-CC student who graduated in 2017. While they no longer attend B-CC, their experiences continue to impact them in significant ways, including anger and disappointment in fellow students. The latter failed to speak up on behalf of Black students. “Growing up around rich white kids from the B-CC while being black made me question my own identity and self-worth, and really put into perspective the serious gap between me and my classmates in so many different ways.”I spoke with one former B-CC student who graduated in 2017. While they no longer attend B-CC their experiences there continue to impact them in significant ways, including anger and disappointment in fellow students who failed to speak up on behalf of Black students. “Growing up around rich white kids from the B-CC while being black made me question my own identity and self-worth, and really put into perspective the serious gap between me and my classmates in so many different ways.”
Two common themes appear in many of these posts: 1) the lack of support from administration, and 2) the gaslighting of Black student experiences. The student I spoke to from B-CC also noted that “it didn’t help that it felt as if the school didn’t actually care about their students of color or their concerns.” They also stated that “students would act like this in hallways and the administration never did anything to combat it or even acknowledge it.” This lack of inaction “allowed for students like [redacted] to act the way they do without having to worry about penalty.”
I spoke with another student who runs the Black at Wheaton account. One of the experiences posted involved a specific incident at Wheaton with one particular teacher. The teacher reached out to the Black at Wheaton account and noted that “administration has been contacted” and continued to threaten legal action if their name continued to appear in the post. The teacher explicitly stated that “the teacher did nothing wrong but that the student twisted the teacher’s words to make a false accusation.” Black students continue to be gaslit even while highlighting their experiences of being gaslit by teachers and administration within MCPS.
Several accounts by students detail a culture of racism within Whitman’s walls, as well as several other schools within MCPS, among its white students.
Current and former students at Whitman asked the administration to address the experiences of Black students. They noted that these experiences are either dismissed through gaslighting or that the administration’s actions do not go far enough to educate teachers, staff, and non-Black students. In a letter to Whitman administration and to MCPS in general, current and former students ask for Montgomery County Public Schools desegregate.
We call on administration to create a system of accountability and education for teachers and students who commit racist acts and microaggressions in the future. Administration must prioritize the hiring of more Black teachers, staff, and administrators and continue to push Montgomery County to redistrict Whitman.Whitman SGA Racism Accountability Letter
School redistricting has been a controversial issue in Montgomery County, resulting in one of the most divisive and contentious Board of Education races in Montgomery County history. Candidates ranged from pro-equity to pro-de facto segregation. One candidate and his supporters echoed racist dog whistles used during desegregation as pro-segregation slogans.
While this isn’t about school boundaries within Montgomery County needing to change, it does speak to whether Black students at majority-white schools experience a more racist and hostile environment.
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MoCo Local reached out to several Board of Education candidates that will be on the ballot in November, as well as the Board of Education. At the time of publishing, the Board of Education has not responded. MCPS administration has also not released a statement on the now hundreds of accounts of racism within MCPS by current and former students.
Sunil Dasgupta, a candidate for the At-Large seat on the Board of Education, states, “I am grateful for those stepping forward with their testimonies at this time and look forward to when these testimonials are no longer anonymously delivered and become even more powerful. As someone running for the Montgomery County Board of Education, it is time now to dismantle the structural conditions that uphold racism in schools and mis-educate our youth.”
Michael Fryar, a candidate for the District 2 Board of Education seat, which is currently held by Rebecca Smondrowski, notes that “Students anonymously posting on the internet means that they are too afraid or have no other venue to share their stories. We need to immediately ensure that students know how and where they can safely report incidents of bullying, harassment and threats. Whatever is in place now is clearly not working.”
Lynne Harris, a candidate for the At-Large seat on the Board of Education, writes, “There is so much to unpack about MCPS in this moment in which we are hyper-aware of systemic racism, and many are calling for us to do the intentional, substantive, hard work to become a truly anti-racist school system.” She continues to highlight that “[t]he “Black At……” Instagrams are a powerful reflection of years of experience in MCPS schools — what is horribly troubling to me is that these students either felt powerless to raise their concerns and share their experiences in real time, or they did and were patronized or ignored.”
Montgomery County needs to reckon with its systemic racism. From policing, to housing, to education, Montgomery County is not immune to it. We need to listen to Black people and their experiences. We need to stop telling them that what they experience isn’t racism, or they misunderstood. We need to protect Black students and provide them with an environment that allows them to live an authentic experience, just like white students.
How can we do that? We need to listen to these students and take their experiences to heart. We can listen to Black students, listen to what they need, and then give it to them. We can also start by advocating for an inclusive, anti-racist curriculum. You can read more about student-led Anti-Racism Education and Initiatives and sign the letter to the Board of Education.