Protesting racism at Berkeley High

By Jean Whittlesey

BERKELEY, Calif.--Some 300 students protested against racism June 5 at Berkeley High School, in the midst of preparation for finals and presentations of final projects.

The protest was organized by the Black Student Union in response to two racist images placed on Facebook. One image was of a Black student with the word n----, and the other was a doctored photo of a Black teacher in chains.

The group of almost exclusively Black students protested twice during the school day. In the morning, they wore small signs on their chests reading "I am not a n-----." In the afternoon, the students marched back and forth through the halls for about half an hour, ending their protest with a sit-in and speeches in the entrance of a central classroom building.

The demands of the Black Student Union include ethnic studies as a requirement for graduation, reinstating a full African American studies department, hiring more Black teachers with student input, implementing cultural awareness training for students and teachers, and setting up truth and reconciliation forums for perpetrators of hate crimes or disrespect because of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.

Berkeley High is a large urban high school of 3,100 known for its academic achievement and its student diversity. White students are a plurality, but not a majority. Black students are the second-largest group, with about a third of the population.

One of the stated goals of BHS is to overcome the equity gap (also known as the achievement gap) between white students and students of color. One big step toward this goal is to put the demands of the BSU into place and incorporate an understanding of race and racism into the life of the school.

All members of the BHS community will benefit from and should support these demands.