Minooka High School Students Combat Systemic Racism

Located in Minooka, IL, a small town with a population of 11,194 inhabitants, resides the Central Campus (that of which holds juniors and seniors) of Minooka Community High School, the institution I am now, as of May of 2017, an alumni to. While it should be noted, residing in the school are many educators who make an effort to ensure their own curriculum includes fostering an environment of equality within the classroom; it is easily assessed that the administration and majority of student body carries a different agenda.

The oppressive culture within the high school, can be instantaneously interpreted as one views the mascot on the aforementioned institution’s website, or on the signs that line the road of the school: deemed “The Home of The ‘Minooka Indians”, and fulfill the American common practice of objectification through the appropriation, white-washing, and profiting off of Native Americans’ image and culture. The permeation of racism within the school’s halls is no quiet disease; derogatory phrases and slurs are thrown as commonplace, and in some cases, have been said to perpetuate violence. Recently, Sean Grant, now a senior, came under fire for black-facing, that of which was met with well-warranted criticism, and unfortunately, defense from students, as well as lack of administrative action. Even more harrowing, this was not an isolated incident; a year prior, another student chose to commit the same injustice and was met with similar reactions from both student body and higher administration.

The immense feelings of disappointment, hurt and disgust have flooded the halls as well, at the almost ritualistic hate crime/normalization/erasure cycle that pervades through the student’s high school experience. I had the honor of interviewing my fellow peers–Brittani Collins, now a senior, and the leader of the Minooka Black Student Association, Amani Myers, a now alum, and Justin Myers, a now junior– all of whom are black, and passionate for equality, on their feelings and reactions to the recent events, and their overall experience at Minooka Community High School; in order to elevate the P.O.C voices that should be obviously at the forefront of this discussion, the interview will consist of the majority of this article.

  1. How did you react initially to the recent black-facing? How did you feel about the situation as a whole, and how do you feel now?

Brittani Collins:  Initially, I was not shocked at all. I was pissed, and felt like crying to be honest. It’s sad because this is literally my high school where we’re all supposed to learn to accept each other’s differences, and yet, we still discriminate against each other. When I heard about it I felt like more of an outsider than I already was. I didn’t even want to talk to my white friends [and] at that point I could feel the separation; for the first time I felt like a second class human. I don’t ever want to feel that again.

Justin and Amani Myers: At first, I was quite surprised, but honestly, not really, because there’s been similar incidents that have happened in our school before. My approach was to, at first, educate the culprit on the situation since he found the event as humorous.

I was disgusted by the situation because it happened previously and the administration had done nothing to resolve the issue. I am still very upset about how the faculty has went about bringing light to the situation, which is not at all.

  1. Why do you think racism within both the community and the school system has permeated so viciously and unceasingly for so long?

Brittani Collins: Because there was never anyone standing up to it. Even the ones being targeted didn’t really feel comfortable speaking up because they were out numbered. You feel as though no one has your back or believes you so naturally, you shrug it off.

Justin and Amani Myers:  First, it starts with how the kids are raised at home by their parents because that’s where they get their initial views from. If their parents carry racist views then their child will take after them. Within the school system, there is no proper education on racial stereotypes. Racism is deep-rooted throughout many generations and talking to students doesn’t change the family outlooks they deal with in a wide spread manner.

  1. Who do you think is to blame, overall and/or specifically, for the institutionalized and normalized oppression within the school systems, area in which we live, societally, etc?

Brittani Collins: I definitely believe the educators are to blame. The policing of African American students and the praise of white students starts in the classroom. White privilege is born in the school systems and the sense of entitlement only fosters arrogance.

When these kids get in the real world, nothing is given, it’s earned. And the ones who don’t understand that early on become jealous of the minority for working hard all their lives and ending up in a better position.

Justin Myers and Amani Myers: I think the school is a reflection of its community and so are the employees, therefore anti-racism efforts have been superfluous because many of the school staff and faculty are products of the same community.  

  1. Do you feel safe within your community/school? Why or why not?

Brittani Collins: It honestly depends; I mean all of my friends accept me and I have good relationships with all my teachers and they understand my drive to achieve my goals. But I will admit police make me nervous and it’s not that I’m doing anything wrong. It’s that in the back of my mind I know there’s a 50% chance they can take my life and not bare any consequences.

Justin and Amani Myers: Yes but I feel like the question of “do I feel safe?” based on my race should not have to be asked in 2017.

  1. Do you feel as though you are considered as much as your white peers within the school administrations’ eyes?

Brittani Collins: Not at first. For example, when I told my counselor that I am pushing towards the ivy leagues and UC’s for my college options (I named, like, six schools) she proceeded to ask what my other options were, as if to say “yeah right” to my face. Yet she learned very quickly what type of person I am and has since been sending me all types of info and events those schools were having. Her prejudice came from the fact that she truly didn’t know any better than to assume that my goals didn’t reach past JJC, which is unacceptable. Teachers need sensitivity training so they know how to better serve every type of student because we pay to get educated, not policed or put down.

Justin and Amani Myers: In most instances, yes. Most of the time it’s peers that cause disruption, not the faculty; but, the faculty doesn’t do anything to stop it.

  1. Is there any other situations, such as microaggressions, hate crimes, or anything of the like, that you or others have experienced that you would to bring to light and/or you feel was not given proper consequences for?

Brittani Collins: None that I can confirm. Have I seen things that are derogatory? Yes-but no true hate crimes where someone was specifically targeted.

Justin and Amani Myers:  I’ve been called the n word at school before but personally, other than that, I haven’t dealt with it directly.

  1. What is your view on the word “tolerance”?

Brittani Collins: [The fact] that people tolerate the behavior, that causes Sean and McKayla to do what they did. They clearly missed the lesson that BLACKFACE is racist and will always be racist. Only now, they will get this lesson from me.

Justin and Amani Myers: Tolerance had negative connotation in that it implies that one is being courteous enough to censor or edit themselves for the sake of politeness and political correctness.

  1. What do you think needs to occur for our community, school systems and society to progress towards equality, and towards the unfulfilled promise of “Liberty and Justice for All”?  

Brittani Collins: For starters they can hire some black staff because they seem to believe there’s a shortage of black educators which is all but true. Secondly, everyone that works in the school district needs sensitivity training and mental health examinations to see if they are able & equipped to teacher all the personalities and backgrounds that will be in a public school setting. Lastly, there needs to be CONCRETE consequences for racism hate crimes and attacks on an ethnicity, especially when that ethnicity accounts for 4% of the student body.

Justin and Amani Myers: Start imbedding into the community and the schools the multicultural respect for not just cultures new to many, but also show accomplishments beyond the stereotypical ‘firsts’ in history (e.g. first black man in college, first black scientist to win a Pulitzer, etc, which merely highlight slow progress and not respect for equal, and, sometimes supreme abilities of minorities).

Consider a large fest featuring costumes, goods, foods for the whole town that is well organized and advertised; maybe have assemblies that feature a montage of current greats in science/math/art – the Iranian woman who won [the Math Nobel Prize],the autistic black artist who draws entire cityscapes by memory, the University of Chicago hospital system head doctors.

  • Is there anything else you would like to add?

Brittani Collins: MBSA will be starting next school year on August 23rd.

I hope to see a huge turnout, and everyone fired up to get involved in making much needed change in Minooka, IL. Thank you.

—-

Within our school grounds, other forms of hatred (homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, ableism) persist, in turn causing even more emotional turmoil on students of color with intersecting identities.

The scope of the issue of internalized oppression within school systems  is not secular to our small town high school; in a study conducted by the BBC, over 88,000 racist incidents of both physical and emotional abuse were recorded within the UK’s school systems between the years of 2007-2011, the number of which compiled only through the incidents that were reported. As detailed by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, “in 2013, higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students than of White students reported being afraid of attack or harm both at school and away from school.” School is a place in which all students should be free from emotional and physical trauma; their childhood should not have to be influenced by the grip of hatred.

To quote Audre Lorde, “Black…people are expected to educate white people as to [black people’s ] humanity” while “the oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions”.We must all work to eradicate this system for our fellow human beings, for silence is a luxury; so, it is obvious that we as a people must support and stand up for P.O.C,  hold peers, administration and family accountable, and look within yourself for microaggressions.  In the end, all we’ve got is each other, it is our duty to stand up for one another.

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tazia cira is an 18 year old self described queer-vegan-feminist-artist-activist-writer-musician-youtuber person, but they feel their most important trait is being the overly emotional aries they are, for radical vulnerability is revolutionary. they believe in the power of people and nature. You can find more of them on their instagram -@taziacira .

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