Opinion: The unrelenting grip of racism on students

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WSPN Staff

WSPN’s Katya Luzarraga overviews the racist events that have occurred over the past month at Wayland Middle School, describing the consequences that we, as a community, have to accept and what we can do to prevent them from happening again.

By Katya Luzarraga, Wayland High School

Belonging, empathy, respect and trust. Wayland Middle School has turned these four words into the core focus of the school. However, in the past month, the school has been attacked with racist videos and slurs written on bathroom doors with a shooting threat that was inspired by TikTok. Belonging, empathy, respect and trust are a necessary part of students feeling safe in their day to day lives. Racism should not share a home with education.

On Dec. 3, 2021, a student in eighth grade filmed a Snapchat video of their friend shooting a metal can with a BB gun that they were holding. While their friend shot the metal can, the student filming said a racist joke connected to the action. What may have started as a joke quickly circulated throughout the middle school, sparking disbelief and concern in students and staff.

Since the video was released, and then quickly taken down on Dec. 4, 2021, it has created a ripple effect in the WMS community. Students and parents, appalled that a child could even think to upload a racially motivated video, gathered outside WMS on Dec. 10 to protest the racism. This was the first of three protests that were led by parents. Unfortunately, the protest was the only beneficial event that stood against the racist incident.

Bathroom stalls in the eighth grade wing of the school were vandalized with racial slurs on Dec. 8, not even a week after the racist video hit the media. Whether to increase the “buzz” created by the video or to simply express individual opinions, it was horrendous and shameful.

The vandalism could not be deleted with one click and explained away. It was a deliberate choice that hurt many people. Not only that, but it’s unfair to the rest of the school. Now, outside the bathrooms there are staff from Central Office and WMS signing students in and out of the bathrooms. A loss of privacy and privilege for all students was the result of these racist incidents.

It’s unbelievable. After all the world has been through fighting for equal rights and raising awareness to the Black Lives Matter campaign in the past two years, we are back to square one.

Wayland, a town that didn’t have much of a history with racism, is now victim to two thoughtless acts of racism. I don’t think this is even near the end; it’s just the beginning.

Society has always valued teaching children inclusivity and anti-racist ideas from a young age. So, for racism to reach children between the ages of 12-14, this shows how messed up the current climate of the world is. When I was in middle school, the most significant thing on my mind was if I had done well on my math test. Now, it’s a matter of hazing each other or trying to act “cool” by posting offensive videos, photos or comments.

COVID-19 wasn’t a walk in the park for anyone. Everyone was devastated by the widespread effects of the pandemic, including schools all across the country. The pandemic has welcomed racism and mental health issues into schools, causing it to be more difficult to work productively in a learning environment. Students are beginning to feel judged and stereotyped by their peers because of the color of their skin, distracting them from the subjects that are being taught in school. All of this is because we forgot how to treat each other when we’re not isolated behind a screen.

Remote learning, put in place during the lockdown, restricted many students’ learning abilities. Some may not have had a stable connection to connect to their classes, and others didn’t have electronics to use for classes. This has created a disparity between students across the country. Wayland Public Schools fortunately provides students with Chromebooks and laptops at the start of the year, but imagine what would happen if the town didn’t?

People have become less trusting and quicker to point the blame at one another. At the beginning of the pandemic, the blame was put on to Asian Americans, who carried the “China virus” in their bodies. Then, police brutality took the lives of countless Black people, followed by anti-Black violence and the uprisings that came from it. Our country is divided, and so are its children.

Kids hurting kids isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. We are supposed to inspire each other, not bring each other down. As the world slowly and cautiously begins to shift back to “normal,” our cruelness is brought into focus. Cruelty sparks from fear because if you act meaner first, then less people can be mean to you. That’s how racism in schools has started. We doubt that the people we were friends with before the pandemic are the same people they are now. Collectively, there is a more racist outlook on each other as we return from the pandemic that hit us two years ago, almost like a black and white filter that we are subconsciously applying.

In a world full of uncertainty and darkness, students need to know that they’re respected and viewed as human beings, not just racial slurs written on bathroom stalls. If you see a racist act, speak up and make a difference in someone’s life.

This story was originally published on Wayland Student Press on January 13, 2022.