On Monday night, precisely on Martin Luther King, Jr Day, the hashtag #BlackAtBLS started trending on Twitter. It was filled with tweets written by students of color at Boston Latin School expressing their frustrations with the racial climate that exists.
As an African-American who attended BLS, the tweets resonated with me a lot. I found that the students today have similar experiences as I did. There were multiple instances of microaggressions throughout my six years in attendance. For the most part, it was initiated by people who did not even understand why or how they were being racist or offensive. High school is a difficult time socially: these 13-18 year olds are doing whatever they can to fit in and feel accepted even if that means degrading others in the process or being entirely unaware of social issues.
Unfortunately as well, the hashtag contained the tweets of students who felt that POC having a supposedly safe space to talk about their feelings was infringing on their ability to peruse the internet. A lot of students, both members of BLS and otherwise lashed out against the #BlackAtBLS hashtag and the people behind it. It was heartbreaking to witness the amount of hatred exhibited, especially behind the mask of fake accounts.
What I learned most from reading #BlackAtBLS was the statistical racial disparity between the BLS population and the BPS population. Half of the white students who attend Boston Public high schools go to Latin. There are over 20 high school in Boston and while BLS one of the biggests, it does not make up for these statistics.
Once in a health class, the teacher had for some reason asked a question like, “if you had not gotten into BLS, how many of you would be in private school?” and nearly everyone in my majority-white (typical) class had raised their hand. I remember feeling extremely isolated at the time that it had happened and after recent events, I realise the gravity of that question and subsequent answer. I realise that it meant the students who were coming to BLS, specifically the white students who were so egregiously outnumbered in elementary and middle school, were essentially being pipelined into the top school in the city. After attending private or charter schools and having the highest quality education that money could buy, achieving acceptable scores on the entrance exam is simply expected.
Boston Latin School, along with the other Boston exams schools, provide students with a lot of opportunity both academic and extracurricular. Just having matriculated at any of these schools enhances your networking power exponentially. Our BPS students are being elbowed out of the BPS schools with the greatest selling power. It only proves to further embed the cycle of oppression that people of color and people with a low economic background face.
Beginning in the mid-70s, after the Boston Bussing Riots had broken out, there were very few students of color enrolled at Boston Latin School. To remedy this, they used Affirmative Action as part of their admissions vowing to admit at least 35% black and hispanic students. Ever since this practise was taken away in 1995 the racial profile of BLS has continued to become more and more unbalanced.
I now attend a school with a nearly identical racial profile and feel even more uncomfortable. This is not an accurate representation of the real world, or at least not a world that I want to be a member of. We need diversity in order to learn and grow. The world is not homogeneous so why should our schools be. As I transition from undergrad to post-grad/grad-school life, I have a great deal of choices to make. I am essentially decided the type of community that I want to be a member of for the next phase of my life.
As an alumna of Boston Latin School, it fills me with immense hope that individuals are finding the courage to call injustice to attention. It shows me the beauty of the world that we are living in and who are are evolving into. #BlackAtBLS, just like #BlackLivesMatter is just a small slice of the civil rights movement that is taking place in this day and age. It is a continuation of the work started in the 60s that I hope will never stop until true equality and justice is attained. As unfortunate as it is that we still need to be having these conversations, it’s inspiring to watch it unfold. If I could go back in time and say one thing to my doe-eyed, sixie-year self, it would be, “take action.” I think the shift between young people today and young people even a few years ago is that we were not empowered enough to unify, fight, and make our voices heard for change. BLS B.L.A.C.K.’s success comes from great leadership and the realisation that there is no time like the present.