We write this letter in support of the Watertown middle school student who has endured repeated racist attacks by her peers. We do not know this student personally, but as a White family and longtime residents of Watertown, we want her to know that we stand with her in solidarity. This young woman, at just 13-years-old, should be applauded and encouraged for using her voice and fighting for racial justice and deserves nothing less than support from our schools and community.
Recently a local news channel covered the extensive harassment of this Black Watertown middle school student by her classmates. According to the interview, the harassment started when the student began speaking out against racism and affirming that black lives matter. The harassment was reported to school officials; however, according to the interview, no disciplinary action was taken against the offending students.
This situation is appalling. Calling the behavior of the perpetrators “harassment” or even “bullying” is side-stepping the truth of what is happening here, which is racist abuse. Calling a Black individual the n-word is an act of violence. Repeatedly targeting an individual because of their race and instilling fear for one’s safety is racist intimidation.
Only as a result of the media attention, the Superintendent and middle school principal each sent out an email to Watertown parents to voice their commitment to anti-racism and support for all students. However, these emails do not go nearly far enough to address the severity of the incident. The school failed to protect this student, and this incident shines a light on an area in which our schools and our community are faltering. The administration needs to provide more specifics as to how the school district plans to handle acts of racism moving forward and what efforts they will be taking to dismantle white supremacy in our schools. The Watertown Public Schools must immediately institute a zero-tolerance policy for all racist acts and commit to establishing antiracist policies in our schools.
Yet, the school’s response (or lack thereof) is only one part of the issue. It is time to ask ourselves, what kind of community do we want to be? What kind of people do we want to be? These questions are worth spending some time reflecting on.
It is imperative that White individuals, particularly those who are responsible for the safety and well-being of children of color, understand the deep and lasting harm caused by acts of racism. Failure to directly call out and confront white supremacy and racism head-on only serves to embolden racist beliefs and actions in our community.
“There is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.” It is ‘antiracist’… One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.” –Ibram X. Kendi
Scott and Jessica Volmer