In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, an Instagram account emerged with the intent of sharing the stories of black students in our predominantly white school. The account handled @blackatgrace, later shifted to amplifying the experiences of all students of color, including alums and current students. The page received recognition from established newspapers such as The New York Times and The Cut.
The account was shocking to many white members of the school as their knowledge of racism within the school was limited. Henry Epstein ‘21 claims, “As much as I hate to admit it, when I first saw this account, I felt a twinge of fear. I immediately racked my brain for instances of racism I’d been involved in—and what was even scarier was that I couldn’t recall any off of the top of my head. I realized that I had been lucky enough to have the privilege to live in a way that incidents like that didn’t have such a profound effect on me; whether I was an accidental perpetrator or a witness, there was no excuse for my complacency.”
@Blackatgrace inflicted intense emotion among students, faculty, family members, and truly anyone else who came across it. However, @blackatgrace did more than just sharing BIPOC experiences, it also created a social media campaign allowing followers to send positive affirmations to people of color within the Grace Church community—all of which were posted anonymously. These posts built a communal platform to augment the experiences of students of color through praise and storytelling.
As we have returned to school this fall, it is evidently important to acknowledge the presence of the account as well as the unrestful summer that we have endured. In a recent town hall on August 30th, @blackatgrace was briefly mentioned in an explanation of how the administration plans to meet their student demands. Additionally, in an email written from the school, the administration claimed: “we will partner with representatives from Black Students Demanding Change to address the updated list of demands and report back to the community by the end of September.”
So far, I have experienced very few moments of acknowledgment regarding the account from my white peers and teachers, while many of my BIPOC teachers have initiated important conversations surrounding the account and what the impact it has had on our community. While these conversations may have been tense, awkward, and extremely silent at times, I appreciated the notion to make students step out of their comfort zone and recognize the somewhat enormous elephant in the room.
Not only have white teachers been quiet, but a majority of white students have also yet to speak up on the issue. I have had no conversations with my white peers concerning the account without me alluding to it. After a summer of immersion into black experiences through our required summer reading and a never-ending thread of social media activism, I hoped that minority students wouldn’t be the only ones attempting to speak up. Unfortunately, based on the past two weeks of discussions, it seems like once again, there is some hesitation deriving from our non-BIPOC allies.
Feeling frustrated by this, I decided to ask a few white students to weigh in on what I had thought to be true, and received mostly aligning opinions:
Willa Bradshaw ‘22 claimed, “I see a lot of discomfort from peers and some teachers. My teachers do bring it up in class discussions sometimes but never fully go deep into it. I think some people get nervous around the topic only because they were truly blinded by ignorance that they had before the account came out.”
Jane Arons ‘21 said “I feel like many white students feel hesitant to speak about it because they don’t want to overpower other people’s voices and they don’t think it’s their place to have an opinion- which to be honest, I think is extremely important. I expect that any reluctance to speak about it from teachers would come mostly from a place of not wanting to put the students who contributed to the account on the spot in a learning environment.”
Bella Johnson 22’ insisted “I’ve only heard one of my teachers bring it up, and she was a person of color. As for students, it’s not really something that people have talked about, but it definitely should be.”
Discussing racism from a privileged perspective may flood our senses with guilt and shame, although the outcome of this discomfort is beyond worth it. I push many of my white peers and teachers to spark this fragile conversation to pivot past the tension and dive into the subject deeply. It is essential that we lessen our reliance on people of color to educate us and instead work together towards the common goal of equality.