Whitman students face backlash from blackface


Photo credit to Flickr.com

The two students were suspended from school for one week, although their actions will likely have negative impacts down the line. Posting offensive images on social media does more harm to oneself than it will do to others in general, but using a Snapchat story shows a lack of awareness that has to change.

Will Cohen, Online news editor

Two Walt Whitman High School freshmen recently had a Snapchat “private story” exposed with racist content. The girls were wearing black facial masks recognizable as blackface in the photo, captioned with the n-word in the phrase “We’re n****rs.”

This marks the third racially charged incident at Whitman this year. The first was reported by Montgomery County Public Schools spokeswoman, Gboyinde Onijala, vaguely as a Whitman student using the n-word. The second most recent incident occurred in March, when a student posted the racist term to an interactive classroom. Whitman students have been the center of national attention recently, with stories about the incident and the school’s lack of diversity published in the Washington Post, ABC, The Hill and other major news sources.

“I don’t think that this incident is representative of the entire Whitman community,” an anonymous Whitman sophomore said. “There is a really large white population at Whitman, but I don’t think it’s fair to classify all of them as racist, although you cannot deny that some of them are.”

Whitman is the least diverse school in MCPS, with a 67% white, 14% Asian, 10% Hispanic and 4% black student body. It recently took the number one spot in the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of Maryland high schools, a sign of great academic success, but also a shroud over the challenges and tensions many students face daily.

“I feel like there’s a lot of racial tension at Whitman High School, and as an African American student in the four percent of black students, I feel like I don’t belong,” Whitman freshman Mady Boid said.

Students at WJ were shocked after seeing the photo. The picture was shared and reposted on many Snapchat stories, exposing the actions of the Whitman students, but spreading offensive language and a disturbing image as well.

“It was disgusting to say the least. In this day and age, there is no excuse for racial discrimination of any kind, whether it be a joke or not. I go to a very diverse school and know many African American students who saw no humor in the photos,” WJ junior Bean Wiederkehr said.

Continual efforts have been made at Whitman to improve what some students see as an inequitable academic setting. The week of the racist incident, the Minority Scholars Program at Whitman scheduled to give presentations in math classes about the inequities they faced.

“We had already scheduled presentations about racism and minorities at Whitman so the topic was really relevant at school,” the anonymous Whitman sophomore said. “I think a lot of people were disappointed that this happened and some felt almost embarrassed. It was just terrible and it made people who weren’t already [aware] realize how prevalent racism is.”

Looking forward, Whitman teachers and administration are hoping to build a more accepting and understanding environment where messages like these are no longer sent.

“Our efforts to build students’ cultural proficiency at Walt Whitman High School are critical and ongoing. Unfortunately, this most recent incident is another indication that this work needs to be intensified so that all of our students feel safe and valued each day,” principal Robert W. Dodd said in a letter to the Whitman community.