Note: I’ve now turned comments off on this post. Lots of people have had their say. Feel free to take the discussion elsewhere or email me at email@example.com if you have more to say.
It’s about 10:30 p.m. and we are about halfway through tonight’s board agenda. We also have a closed session conversation to get through before the night is done. There is so much to say about tonight’s meeting — amazing testimony from students on lowering the voting age to 16; harrowing testimony from African-American students, parents and alumni of Lowell HS about a long tradition of racism and microaggression at the school; the decision to go forward with a policy that will allow at-risk middle schoolers to access condoms — but blogging isn’t going to happen tonight.
I’ll post a longer update hopefully tomorrow or Thursday, and I urge anyone who cares about any of these issues to watch the SFGovTV video once it’s posted. Tonight’s meeting has been incredibly difficult but a lot of people got to speak their truth; that’s always powerful.
Don, I’m disappointed by your comments, which seem to minimize the hurt and offense this incident caused, and the hurt that students, parents and alumni expressed in the Board meeting and in comments on social media. If the students wanted to get across only one message, it was that this is NOT just about one poster. (and as an aside, most people were offended by it, not just “some.”) Board attention is warranted — whether that means we have to take some action will depend on how school leadership engages and extends the conversation.
You or other people can dismiss this as an isolated incident, I guess, but to do so negates what the students are telling us. I don’t know yet what the appropriate response is, other than to assure the students I’m listening and I’ve heard them (and their parents) say this kind of behavior is pervasive and needs to stop. I think the way to stop it is for the adults and for fellow students to listen and try to understand. Understanding doesn’t necessarily mean you agree — it means you can see the other person’s point of view. This blog discussion has made me sad because you and others seem so unwilling to even try to understand how the students, alumni and parents who came to the board feel about “a poster” or an offhand comment.
All this hullabaloo because one non-white student put up a poster some found offensive? And the problem is white privilege? Lowell is 58% Asian!
I read the comments of an African American girl who came to Lowell feeling out of place and was scared and intimidated and did not try to make friends. Self-fulling prophecy? She eventually overcame her fears and made friends of different races. She also observed that students tend to self-segregate. That also holds true for African Americans. It may be that it was easier to make friends of other races because there we so few African Americans at Lowell.
I have no doubt African American students have experienced what they perceive as racist attitudes at Lowell. If you look for racism you can find it. I am guessing many are misunderstandings and due to ignorance of students who have not had much exposure to African Americans; and vice versa.
Board action is not warranted. The school staff can deal with it. Also, it may be better to let students learn to deal with adversity. When they get out into the real world, their employer is not likely to give them time off to protest.
I believe that everyone on this thread wants the best for all students in the SFUSD. The division seems to be in how we look at the problem and who is to “blame”. For me, the breakdown comes when people are called out as racists. Name calling just doesn’t work and is probably the best way to shut good communication down. I know it doesn’t work for me — a white mother whose white son is a minority in this school district (less than 12% of SFUSD students are white), and yet these white students and their parents are either explicitly or implicitly accused of 100% of the racism in the school district. Look at those statistics. And by the way, look at the materials about racism that are distributed by the SFUSD, the Board of Education and this thread — all of them describe racism as something that is done by whites against everyone else. In a multi-racial, multi-cultural city like San Francisco, this just doesn’t make sense and it just isn’t fair.
People need to check some of their assumptions about race and what actually goes on at a large public schools and perhaps, just perhaps, they’ll see that some of the problems stem from cultural differences and misunderstandings, etc. Also, it appears that most of you on this thread are not Lowell parents, so I assume that you don’t know about the overall culture at the school for all students — to clue you in: it is a very tough academic school that can be tough emotionally for all students regardless of race. It may be that some of the problems for the African American students come down to feeling isloated and needing more mentoring and help and attention. These are very legitimate concerns and needs. Please do not excoriate me for saying this, I am not saying that there are not other issues of racism that they have experienced at Lowell. I am saying that there might be a mixture of issues that need to be determined and addressed. An outside investigator should be able to break issues down into the essence of the matter, instead of automatically blaming others for racism (Which I feel many of you on this thread do to me, which is crap and unfair, since you don’t know me, but that’s a whole other story. I’d highly recommend that you do some reading about intercultural communications and relations and perhaps take some classes on this subject. I’d recommend this for our superintendent and Board of Ed as well. All of you really need some education in this area of study, as well as conflict resolution, not putting others down, etc.. I could go on and on.These are the things we teach our kids in elementary school!)
Re: the situation at Lowell: I firmly believe that we must have an independent, 3rd party come in and do an impartial investigation about all of the accusations that were made at the Board Meeting last week. The School can’t do this, since it is the subject of the complaints. And I don’t believe that the Board of Ed and/or Superintendent can be an impartial party and conduct such an investigation — I believe that the they have, due to their political biases and policies and past actions, actually contributed to racial divisions in the SFUSD. An outside, independent third party is the only one who can investigate these charges and come up with (a) findings (b) steps for improving the conditions for African American students at the school. In doing this, the whole school will benefit, and I think that everyone in the school will feel that things have been handled in a fair and just way. Why is this not a good approach? Given the tensions and bad feelings around this entire situation, I think that it is the only way to bring some clarity, fairness and hope to making things better. And I hope that that is what we all want, I know I do. Rachel, is this something you could spearhead and lead?
I agree with Louise that those who are guilty should be brought to justice and not condemn everyone else. I doubt Lowell is anymore racists than any other school or society in general and maybe less so. And we should know exactly what they are guilty of.
Rat – I did not see anything Louise’s writing that she does not accept white privilege. If you are born white, there is nothing much else you can do but accept it and be happy with what you have. You can’t change, although some have tried.
I agree that the concept of Fragility is unclear. But then again I have difficulty with the concept of social justice as it is applied to this situation. If there was race discrimination let’s see the facts as Louise suggested. How were students discriminated against and how were they harmed? Is this more than hurt feelings? If some students intentionally insulted other students, they should be told it was a bad thing to do.
Has it occured to you that your difficulty understanding people writing about white privilege may be due to the difficulty you seem to be having in accepting white privilege? I see that you claim to oppose racism, but you continue to be more concerned with potential false accusations of racism than racism itself.
My recollection from a sociology class many decades ago, is that we still have vestiges of an American Caste system. It seems to go beyond race. It is taking time to go away. And It goes way beyond Lowell. If privilege means white people were treated nicer because they were white, what can they do about it?
There should be a dialog? I am not sure many would want to participate in a dialog if they are blamed for being white and are called racists if they hurt someone else’s feelings. However, maybe the students that made the bad joke should be the one’s sentenced to a dialog as their punishment.
To E. Rat:
I actually find it difficult to follow what your points are and what you’re saying (I found the “White Fragility” article also difficult to understand, and frankly, poorly written). Let me be clear about my point of view: I take very seriously all accusations of racism and discrimination at Lowell High School, and anywhere else in SFUSD. As such, I believe that all accusations must be fairly investigated to see what actually happened. This is only fair to those who make the accusations as well as those who are the targets of the accusations. I do not believe that it is fair or just to automatically accept, without investigation, accusations that are leveled against people and institutions. The American justice systems is based on this system fair due process. To condemn Lowell High School, its students, faculty, administration, alumni and parents without thoroughly investigating the accusations would be just as unjust as refusing to listen to those who are making the accusations. Fair is fair. In what I’ve seen and heard and read from the Board Meeting last week, only half of the process has occurred — the accusations part. Everyone has accepted as fact all of the accusations that were made in that very open forum. I have seen no evidence that anyone wants to investigate these accusations to see whether they have merit, whether there were possible misunderstandings or if in fact some were totally false and prejudice. The point is, that if such severe accusations are made, there must be investigations about the validity of the accusations. This is the basis of the American justice system. In the case of Lowell High School, justice doesn’t seems to apply — everyone seems to think that it should be condemned flat out. I think that this is unfair and unjust. And it’s quite injurious to all parties when those in power and leadership (Rachel Norton et al) don’t step in and follow a system and process of fair play and justice for all. This entire situation needs to be handled properly; thus far it has not been.
Rachel, Thank you for responding to my email and for hosting this blog. It is good to have some type of outlet for communicating.
I am disappointed that you are not willing to jump in and be part of the solution to the horrible problems and racism that you so obviously think are and have been going on at Lowell. If this has been going on for so long, why haven’t you done something about it? And why are you personally doing nothing about it now? Isn’t this your job as a member of the Board of Education? I see you blaming the school, but I don’t see you taking any level of responsibility for anything. It is quite obvious that you have it out for this school — not a good attitude for a school board member to have, but it is what it is. Re: “White Fragility” — again, I don’t need to be lectured by you or anyone else. I’ll send you a few articles to read about leadership and fairness and doing the right thing, if you want.
You have much to learn in terms of being a good leader (my turn to lecture).
I will be meeting with the principal of Lowell this week to see what can be done to ameliorate the situation for the African American students, other Lowell students and the faculty and staff. When bombs are detonated indiscriminately, as happened last week in the school board meeting, everyone gets injured. I will also be investigating whether the student who created the poster had his rights violated and make sure he has legal representation, if needed. Do you realize that no one, including you, has ever publicly inquired as to his intentions or heard his side of the story? Again, I have absolutely seen no evidence of even handedness or any willingness to investigate anything, only accepting allegations made in an open meeting of a school board meeting — allegations that you and everyone else accepted at face value with no questions asked. And I’ll remind you that this is a large multi-racial high school where (a) kids do stupid things sometimes, (b) misunderstandings occur and (c) people sometimes offend others without knowing it due to cultural differences and norms (and by the way, white and Asian kids get offended and put down and suffer racial prejudice as well, although that doesn’t seem to be something you care about). Whatever happened to investigating accusations to get to the bottom of what actually happened? I don’t pretend to know exactly what happened at Lowell with the African American students, but I do know that all accusations need and must be investigated. In this case, however, there have only been across the board condemnations Also, I understand that the student in question was suspended for this incident — if so, then why was he not not eligible for restorative justice? That is the policy of the school district currently, is it not? Has he been unfairly discriminated against?
I believe that you, the other board members and the Superintendent bear some responsibility for this racial polarization in the school district. There are a lot accusations of racism out there on the internet (some connected to your blog, by the way) against Lowell parents because Lowell parents have advocated for their children’s education. Somehow Lowell parents are racists for wanting their children to have Algebra I in middle school ,so that they can take more advance math classes at Lowell ,which will in turn help them get into college and pursue certain math-intensive careers? How did raising the bar and wanting more for your child get equated with being racist? How did this happen? It happened because of your policies, and intransigence and unwillingness to work with the school and parents . Somehow you made it out to be a zero sum game, where if middle school students have the ability to take Algebra I in 8th grade, this is considered “tracking” and somehow is harmful and racist toward African American and Latino students? Offering Algebra I for 8th graders does not discriminate against or exclude any race. It is your job to ensure that all students are provided the level of education that by the time they reach 8th grade, they are ready for Algebra I. That’s the whole story. It’s your job to make sure that this happens — not divide and conquer and pit the parents against each other. My view is that we should give each other the benefit of the doubt and accept that we all want the best for our children. Your job as our elected representatives is to make sure that our children, all children, get what they need. Everyone of them, including the higher achieving students regardless of race. All of this has, I believe, contributed to this racial polarization. This should not be seen as a zero sum game. Why can’t all racial groups get what they need from this school district? Why did you contribute to this and why aren’t you helping to resolve it? Shame on all of you. You need to take some responsibility for this. It is possible that the Department of Education, Civil Rights Division needs to be brought in to investigate exactly what has been happening in this school district and what appears to be the Superintendent and Board of Education pitting races against one another, instead of educating all San Francisco students of all races. This is very serious.
Finally, as I said in my earlier post, my personal objective is to actively work within the Lowell community to do what I can do to improve the situation for the African American students, help create a safe environment for two way dialog for all parties and start the healing process. Assuming there is good will on all sides and a willingness to work together, we should be able to accomplish a lot. I was hoping that you would work with me and be part of this, but if you can’t or won’t, then so be it. Now if you or anyone else on this thread wants to put me down for this (which is what I expect at this point), then go ahead. Just get out of my way. Positive, good work needs to get done with or without you. I’m old-fashioned in that I think that people can do the right thing if they have a sense of good will, open hearts and want to work together. Racial polarity and distance exists when people want it to exist. (I have worked with many other parents of all races within this school district over the years and we treated each other with respect and would never have dreamed of calling each other racists — we could never have accomplished anything positive if we had.) I am not sure if the current political environment in this country allows for laying down arms, trusting each other, openly communicating with each other and trying to make things better.
You don’t need to respond to this posting. You have been good about letting me speak and responding and I appreciate that.
Proud mother of a Lowell student (and of a 2014 graduate) and long time volunteer in San Francisco public schools
All I ask is that when discussing the subject, the whole school community is able to be involved, as I feel as though this will be much more constructive when it comes to fixing the problems African-American students are experiencing. I am not trying to discount what my fellow students are sharing, but am simply showing my frustration with the fact that Lowell will be thought of as a racist institution by many people who hear about this through news articles online and through other outlets, without knowing the full story about our school’s community. I think that as long as we ensure all students have a voice in discussing this matter in the future, we can solve the problems that caused black students to feel this way while also ensuring Lowell isn’t misrepresented in the public eye.
Thank you for hearing me out and taking the time to respond, I hope you can understand I too want the best for my peers.
Louise, I am leading, in the best way I know how. I’m listening to the students, amplifying the issues they and alumni raised, and calling for a respectful dialogue. I am asking for more people than just the Black and Latino alumni at Lowell to try to understand what the fearless women of the Lowell BSU are trying to explain. I said their testimony was harrowing and reported their assertions that there is a tradition of microaggressions and racism at Lowell. I’m not the first person to say that and though I hope I’ll be the last, I kinda think I won’t. Not for a while anyway. Part of our community is hurting. We owe it to them to hear what they’re saying and try to heal it — because we care about all members of our community and we want to be inclusive and respectful. Has anyone talked to you about white fragility? I think that is what E Rat and others are gently trying to talk to us about: http://www.alternet.org/culture/why-white-people-freak-out-when-theyre-called-out-about-race
Dear anonymous student – I know you are a student because I did some Internet sleuthing and found your Facebook page. (Not to be creepy, but I want other readers of the comments to know that you are, based on your Facebook page anyway, who you say you are. Also not a bad lesson for students to know that everything you put on the Internet can be traced back to you). I am glad that you have had such a positive experience at Lowell. At the same time, I encourage you to listen to the comments of your fellow students and alumni from the Board meeting — they are saying: actually, this is NOT an isolated incident. What would their motivation be to lie? Why would you want to contradict them or negate what they are telling you about their experiences? Did you read The Lowell articles detailing the experiences of Black and Latino students at the school? Just because you haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I want to be clear that just because something ugly might be happening at Lowell doesn’t mean that you can’t love the school or be grateful for the experiences it’s given you. But can’t it be even better? Some of your classmates are saying it can, and my instinct is to listen to what they are saying and try to understand.
Using the colloquial “feels” to describe young people sharing personal, painful stories minimizes their experiences, the strength they demonstrated in sharing them, and the validity of their lived experiences.
I feel that you are minimizing the reality that for far too many students, Lowell is already “blown up” and communication hasn’t been happening at all. You are blaming these students – and the decision of the Board and Superintendent to hear their concerns – for the potentiality of hurt feelings among white people. Implicit in your comments is the belief that a (possibly) spurious accusation of racism is worse than racism itself.
As a white person, I have the privilege to demand that I not be considered racist for refusing to consider that I may benefit from institutional racism. I have the power to silence important discussions about race because I may possibly have my actions or beliefs challenged, and that might make me uncomfortable. I can ignore systemic bias, racist asides, and microaggresions directed at people of color by attributing them to “cultural differences”. I can insist that these actions I take are meant to end racial divisions, or refer to colorblindness as a goal, and refer to my general kindness and liberalism.
I can do all of these things because I am a white person in a racist system that allows and even encourages me to do so. I choose not to (or at least, I try hard to act in ways that advance racial equity). I choose to talk about these issues even though it may be uncomfortable for me, and I choose to listen when others share their truth even though it may give me cause for unpleasant personal reflection. This is because I want to do better and be better, and because I believe challenging racism means challenging not just the system but my place in it.
I would encourage you to think about whether being called a racist is really the worst thing that can happen to a white person. Isn’t it far worse to be racist, or to passively accept bias from which we benefit?
I would hope that the district’s recent attention to the longstanding issues at Lowell will include making not just space for hard conversations, but also supporting facilitators who can make these conversations powerful and actionable. This wouldn’t mean white students would be protected from every discomfort; I think most of us would agree a little discomfort supports real learning. But I doubt that these brave students, families, and alumni have silenced the conversation by speaking out.
Hi Ms. Norton,
I am a student at Lowell High School who would prefer to remain anonymous. As a member of the Lowell community, I have experienced the treatment by Lowell students towards one another first hand. I find it important to point out I am white, as this obviously has limited some of the experiences I might have at the school. However, I wanted to voice my views, which is something I feel I can’t do openly elsewhere. I believe it is unfair to paint Lowell as a racist community without first conducting further investigation at the school and hearing from other members of the community. Having read several articles on Facebook about the Black History Month incident, the walkout by black Lowell students, and the school board meeting, I have seen Lowell portrayed as an institution in which our minority members are not only not welcomed but also actively antagonized and mistreated. I feel this is a gross misrepresentation. I have experienced Lowell to be a welcoming community where students of all races get along. Being in Polynesian Club, I may have been spoiled in this acceptance, but in the hallways and everyday student life, acceptance is also present. I in no way condone the “#GANG” incident, but I also feel its unfair to let this incident represent Lowell. It was an isolated incident by a student trying to make a bad joke, and it was the first instance which even hinted towards racism that I have seen occur in my 3 years at the school. It is deeply hurtful to me and the rest of the Lowell community to be called widely racist when in fact Lowell is possibly the most accepting and safe school in the district (having gone to Hoover in middle school and viewing interactions at other high schools in the school district, I can say this with limited but confident knowledge). A problem that I do feel has to be addressed is diversity, which is a fault of the admittance system and so has little to do with the actual community at Lowell. Regardless, I felt it was important that my opinion could be heard. I of course wish my African-American peers to feel comfortable at their school, but I think more investigation most be done in order to avoid painting the school in an unfair light.
Thank you for taking the time to read this,
Anonymous Lowell Student
I’ve looked at the entire 30 minute video of the School Board meeting. I have no doubt that things need to change and improve for the African American students at Lowell. Part of the problem is that there are just too few African American students at the school, which is no fault of the school or its students, faculty or staff. I also think that there have been matters of cultural differences — we are a multi-cultural city and school, after all — which likely have caused misunderstandings and hurt feels. From the video, though, it is quite apparent that the entire event at the Board meeting last week was a 100% condemnation of the Lowell students, faculty, principal and the wider Lowell community. Wow! It was a case of prosecutor, judge and jury all wrapped into one. Talk about tar and feathering an entire school and community! This is completely biased and unfair.
Now, it’s up to those of us in the Lowell community to pick up the pieces, make things better for the African American students and their families as well as the the entire student body. This will be very difficult — blowing things up like this with these horrible accusations and wholesale condemnation means that no one will do or say anything out of fear of being called a racist. Communication is basically shut down because of how this has been handled. And this is not helpful to the African American students at the school. either. Think about it. Do you think that my white son will say anything to anybody? Are kidding? He knows he can’t win — he’ll be labeled a racists for anything he says. All of you on this thread should think about this. Or do you not give a damn, because Lowell is an awful place and the school and everyone associated with it deserves it? As for me, I ‘m not concerned about what you or you Rachel Norton say about me or think. I’m too old and I’ve worked too hard in this school district for too long to give a hoot about your bad vibes. Call me any name you want. I know that the Lowell community must work together to dig out of this together, yes together. Instead of this entirely polarized, negative, highly politicized situation, as long as there is good will, I believe that people can work together and mend anything. The key here, though, is “good will”. I saw absolutely no good will or even a glimmer of it in this entire video. I see no good will at all from you Rachel Norton or anyone on this thread. Check out your motives and feelings, please. If we have the seeds of good will, I believe we can move mountains. Good does overcome evil and good vibes beat out the bad ones. I believe in being constructive and positive and working together. I don’t believe in racial division and blowing things up and throwing stones. And Rachel, I once again challenge you to show leadership and do the right thing. You can still do it. Why wouldn’t you? Will you step up, or will you just blame us and stir things up and throw rocks? The choice is yours. It breaks my heart to see this city and the SFUSD break down into racial divisions — you and the the Board of Ed and the Superintendent have actually played a role in this. You bear some responsibility for it. However, you can help improve things. I invite you to do so. You are the leaders. Can you give me some glimmer of hope that you’ll work with me in helping mend this situation?
This statement jumped out at me: “starting a dialog between the Lowell community and the African American students and their parents” — I thought the whole point was that these African-American students are Lowell students and thus a part of the Lowell community. Talking about them as though they are outside of what constitutes “the Lowell community” may be a big part of the problem.
Sorry Ms. Whitlock, I cannot let your accusations go without comment. I too have been involved with the school district for a long time and I have found Ms. Norton to be the most responsive of the commissioners. She would not have this blog if she did not want to engage the community.
Lack of involvement? If Ms. Norton was not involved, she would not have taken on this often time thankless job. Lack of leadership? Sorry, this is laughable. You seem to have no knowledge or memory of the work she has done on the board and the work done prior to her election to the board.
The testimony WAS harrowing.
Commissioner Norton wrote this: “harrowing testimony from African-American students, parents and alumni of Lowell HS about a long tradition of racism and microaggression at the school;”
Commissioner Norton’s statement was NOT: “out of line”
Commissioner Norton’s statement was NOT: “throwing all of the students and teachers and administration and alumni under the bus”
Commissioner Norton’s statement was NOT: “Calling the school, it’s students, teachers, administrators and staff as racists”
Either Ms. Whitlock has a problem comprehending what she reads, or she is deliberately misconstruing what Commissioner Norton wrote.
I don’t see how anyone with an ounce of empathy could have watched that testimony and not been saddened and angry; if parents and students are feeling this way, then something has to be done about it.
Thanks for all you do, Commissioner Norton.
Thank you for your editorial comments on my writing. I think I’m a good writer and you might be a lousy reader, but in the end those are all just opinions. I am sorry you feel I’m lecturing you. I’m speaking my truth, and allowing you to speak yours on my blog, although I do retain the right to edit or suppress comments that become repetitive or tiresome. Am I doing nothing? Gee. I’ll have to reflect on that. Love those Lowell students! Check out the video I’ll be posting soon.
Re-read your post. Your accusations are quite obvious or else you’re a lousy writer. You are not helping in this entire race relations matter. If you really want to help, then get involved and do something about it instead of lecturing people like me about being racists. How about coming to Lowell and talking to the student body about all of this? Bringing the African American students together with some of the students at Lowell and getting some real dialog going? Help the school heal? You are in a leadership position. If you do nothing, then it just looks like you are fueling the flames or racial division in this school district. How about it?
Actually, I didn’t call any particular person or institution racist. What I did was report that a group of students at Lowell, their parents and allies in the alumni community all report similar experiences of being disrespected. And all of those people happen to be African-American, and their experiences feel — to them — very racist. Did you know that you can act in a racist way without being an actual drooling racist? It has taken me far too long in my life to learn that, and now I’m working hard to learn how people of color experience the world that for decades I blithely inhabited as a “color-blind,” liberal, non-prejudiced white person. I invite you and anyone else to join me on the learning journey. It’s hard and painful and I make a lot of mistakes. But it’s the only way.
One other thing, Rachel, if you truly want to improve race relations at Lowell High School, why don’t you show some leadership and help improve things, instead of just calling Lowell students et al racists? I am willing to help in starting a dialog between the Lowell community and the African American students and their parents to improve things at Lowell. It’d be nice to see some positive leadership from you and others at SFUSD instead of accusations and name calling. This entire incident has caused a lot of damage at Lowell (assuming you even care about the other students at the school). Are you up to the challenge? I am.
Thank you Louise for your perspective. Please do meet with the principal.
Rachel, Your report about the “harrowoing testimony from African-American students, parents and alumni of Lowell High school and the long tradition of racism and microaggression at the school” is one hell of a statement. Thank you for throwing all of the students and teachers and administration and alumni under the bus! You need to step back and take a look at what you are saying. Calling the school, it’s students, teachers, administrators and staff as racists is an irresponsible charge. You are obviously biased against Lowell. I will be meeting with the Principal of the school as soon as I can about your irresponsible behavior. Your behavior is inflammatory and unhelpful. I will not stand by and let you and others malign this school, students, teachers and administrators. You are out of line.
Louise Whitlock, parent of a Lowell Junior
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