During the last week of February, the Black Student Union (BSU) held many events and activities available to everyone hoping to start conversations among diverse students and take up space in Franklin’s Community. Julie Palmer, the advisor of BSU, 9th grade Community Coordinator and Instructional Equity Coach said that “many spirit weeks are filled with culturally inappropriate and exclusive themes that black students find rude. For example, whenever my school had crazy hair day, I noticed all my peers would alter their hair mirroring my natural hair, and I felt as though they thought my hair was crazy, so in doing these events we really want to be inclusive of everyone, especially our black students.” The events ranged from game activities to holding community areas in the cafeteria for socializing, slam poetry, and even contained a barber for free haircuts.
All seemed to be well received by everyone except for one: the pledge for anti-racism. Ariana Peters, a senior at Franklin, was one student who felt that this pledge may have been rewarding behavior that doesn’t deserve praise. “I was initially taken [a]back by it because I wondered why people needed to pledge against not being racist? That’s common sense, we shouldn’t be giving out treats to people who aren’t pieces of s***,” Peters commented, elaborating on what bothered her with the pledge. “Simply signing your name on a paper does not change how you’re going to go about your everyday life. The only thing you gain is a ribbon and everyone thinking you’re a better person when you might not actually be.” Today reposting social justice posts and petitions often are rewarded and signify your acknowledgement of a certain issue, but many don’t go on past an occasional retweet and petition sign.
Peters stated, “I personally would love to not have to have a month where we celebrate black history but we need to because our society holds no value of black history, none at all. For the past two years, Franklin hasn’t done anything for or addressed black history month. I had never been to a school that didn’t do something to acknowledge black history months before.” Jonathon Dixon, a senior and member of the BSU Leadership Council, which plans events and organizes BSU meetings, stated, “The anti racism pledge was for people to acknowledge that racism is relevant here at Franklin. By taking the ribbon, signing the contract, and reading the agreement, you acknowledge that racism is an active problem and that you are actively taking steps against it to help eradicate it from the Franklin community.” Jonathon Dixon and Julie Palmer went on to tell me how they are currently working on creating an event that brings together all the active BSUs in PPS under one roof.
“I feel like looking at ways to spread awareness in multiple perspectives might eliminate some of the problems that I’ve had with the way they chose to address racism. Asking for how the black community of Franklin would want to celebrate Black History Month could help provide a more accurate representation of many black students’ opinions on race,” Peters said. In response to Peters’ comment, both Palmer and Dixon stated that they really valued her opinion and wanted to hear more about this student’s perspective. Julie Palmer commented, “We hold weekly BSU meetings [during lunch] every Thursday in room M-210, where anyone can come in and engage with our club and myself. If this student would like to come talk to us about the situation or anyone for that matter has any comments or critiques about any race related events happening, please come start a dialogue. We’d love to have more perspective when it comes to facilitating these events in the future.”
It seems that the intent of the anti-racism ribbon was merely a message people can wear that will signify their active commitment working against racism, similarly to how one would wear pink to show that they are in solidarity with those who are fighting breast cancer. Providing this pledge is just a step toward creating a culture and community with accountability when one does or says something racist.