By Lena McEachern | Contributing Writer
Young people have been at the center of an international anti-racism movement sparked by recent Black Lives Matter protests.
The case is no different in San Diego, with the anonymous Instagram account Black in PUSD (@blackinpusd) exposing decades of racial discrimination within the Poway Unified School District.
The account, unaffiliated with PUSD, began posting stories from parents, staff members and students regarding their experiences with racism in the district on June 17. As of July 30, the account has shared over 500 testimonies and gained over 7,000 followers.
The submissions come from Black community members, other minorities underrepresented in the district and bystanders who have witnessed racist acts. Community members can share their experiences through an anonymous Google form linked in the Instagram account’s bio.
“This account was originally created for Black students to express their encounters with racism in the Poway Unified School District, but because Black people make up only 1.9% of the population we decided it was best to provide a safe space for other minorities to voice their experiences,” the creators said.
The account’s stories are often jarring, and the amount of traction the page has received was unexpected by Black in PUSD’s founders. One testimony from Poway High School details a history teacher who told his students that he believes LGBTQ people are mentally ill and refers to African American people as “the blacks.”
“In his class he often made us watch videos of police brutality, and after, we would debate whether the person deserved to die,” the post read.
The testimonies of racism date back to decades ago, revealing the long-standing nature of racial discrimination in Poway schools.
“I was there when students hung a noose in the lunch area where mostly Black and other students of color sat for lunch,” a post from the Poway High School class of 1999 read. “There were no consequences.”
While the account’s creators amplify others’ stories of racial discrimination, they too have personal experiences with racism in PUSD. One founder encountered a teacher reading aloud the n-word in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, simplifying the action as a harmless part of the reading.
In the same class, a debate over the n-word included a student arguing that the slur was “just a word.” In a separate incident, another student equated the Black Lives Matter movement with the Ku Klux Klan.
“I’ve been called the n-word on multiple occasions, some of which were even in front of staff members, but no real action was taken,” a Black in PUSD creator shared. “These are just a few of the hundreds of racist encounters we’ve had in this community — the list goes on and on.”
In an effort to educate followers, the account teaches an Instagram story series titled “What They Didn’t Teach You in School.” The series features topics such as unethical medical testing on Black people and the school to prison pipeline. To create the lessons in the series, Black in PUSD’s organizers find informational posts from Instagram that present facts and statistics in an easy to read format.
“I like using Instagram posts that have a nice layout and are appealing to the eye, because I feel like it’s easier for followers to view,” one of the account’s creators said. “I always check sources to verify that it is accurate, and I do my own outside research.”
To improve PUSD’s curriculum and prevent ignorance among students and staff, Black in PUSD has compiled a list of 20 topics that they hope become more emphasized in school lessons. The list includes the prison industrial complex, redlining, the war on drugs and LGBTQ history. An Instagram poll conducted by the account found that only 9% of responders had learned about at least half of the list’s topics in a PUSD school.
“We felt that a lot of these topics are very relevant to what happens in today’s society, socially and culturally, and we felt like it’s important to emphasize a lot of the structural racism and the systemic oppression of people of color in this country, because a lot of the racism that we see today stems from all those different policies and ideologies that were enforced in the past,” Black in PUSD’s founders said.
The account’s leaders have been communicating with PUSD to discuss their concerns over the curriculum currently in place. They also hope to see mandatory anti-bias training for both students and staff to create a more tolerant environment.
While the anonymous nature of the posts makes following up difficult, the school district is working with Black in PUSD to ensure that people can file formal complaints against staff for investigation. Additionally, the school district will continue partnerships with groups representing parents of color, such as the Concerned Parent Alliance, and analyze student achievement and discipline data to create better outcomes for all students.
“PUSD realizes it is a brave and difficult thing for students to share their stories, and we cannot tolerate this kind of racism happening at our schools,” PUSD Chief Communications Officer Christine Paik said. “We believe it is ultimately the voices of our students that will affect the most change, and we are looking forward to collaborating with them in working toward a better PUSD.”
While Black in PUSD’s founders have received hate comments, they have also received positive sentiments from both parents and teachers in the school district. On June 25, the Poway Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution to fight racism and correct systemic inequity, citing the Black in PUSD Instagram for adding to the urgency of their action. The resolution includes a commitment towards a racially relevant curriculum, diverse staff and additional anti-bias training.
“At the end of the day, we just want to make sure that everyone is treated equally and fairly and we hope that our account makes a difference beyond PUSD,” Black in PUSD’s leaders said. “We want people overall to take these messages and apply the lessons to their everyday life to dispel biases and ultimately end racism.”