Instagram accounts detail Bethesda students’ experiences with racism

Instagram accounts detail Bethesda students’ experiences with racism

Hundreds at Whitman, B-CC submit anonymous messages

| Published:

Walt Whitman High School

via MCPS

Students at two predominantly white Bethesda high schools are calling out racism on new Instagram accounts that invite anonymous submissions, detailing incidents dating several years.

The first account, blackatwhitman, was created June 14, the day after Whitman was vandalized with a racial slur and drawing of a noose. It has more than 2,000 followers and almost 100 posts — nearly all submitted accounts by students who say they were discriminated against or witnessed racism.

A similar account, blackatbcc, was created Sunday for students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, also in Bethesda.

Neither account discloses who runs them or who submits posts. Both have links to Google forms students and alumni can fill out with their firsthand or secondhand experiences.

Stories include Black students being called the “N-word,” white students wearing blackface, and teachers “perpetuating stereotypes that Black students are ‘ghetto.’ ” Several posts include stories about Black students routinely being confused for other Black students.

In one post on the Whitman page, a student wrote that they transferred schools after one year “because of bullying and racism.”

Another: “I was threatened by a white student that I would be lynched the next day.”

“So much racist stuff has happened at Whitman it’s so disappointing,” one post reads, signed by a student in the class of 2022. “The thought of continuing to attend this school makes me question whether it’s a good idea because I know something is bound to happen, and I’m just going to get sadder and sadder.”

MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said, “it’s important for us to hear these voices” and the stories are a “welcome part of the conversation, so we can improve and address what we know exists — implicit and explicit biases in public education.”

“It does help us understand where we need to go moving forward,” Turner said.

The new accounts follow a nationwide trend of anonymous accounts created to bring attention to often unchecked racism, according to The New York Times.

The trend comes amid a national uprising for racial justice following the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after a white officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes. His death led to public protests across the country, including in Bethesda.

But the movements were too little too late, some Bethesda students wrote.

Black students wrote in posts on both the Whitman and B-CC Instagram accounts that they felt ostracized at school.

Both Whitman and B-CC are majority-white schools with small populations of Black students. At B-CC, about 14% of its 2,300 students are Black and 58% are white, according to school system data. At Whitman, less than 5% of its 2,000 students identify as Black and 67% are white.

Whitman and B-CC were both focuses of conversations about “de facto segregated” schools at the height of a debate about an ongoing countywide review of school boundaries.

A widespread conversation about racism and segregated schools began last year when parents at a forum about the boundary analysis argued against changing boundaries – which determine what schools students attend based on where they live.

Some opponents said that doing so would decrease their home values and that students from schools with higher concentrations of poverty “won’t be able to keep up” in historically high-performing schools, which generally have low concentrations of minority students.

Many students disagree, and say children learn integral life skills through interaction with “others who are not like them.”

They say they are hurt socially and academically by a lack of diverse student populations in their schools.

Several schools across the county have reported incidents of racism, but some of the most high-profile cases have been concentrated in the Bethesda area. At least three have happened at Whitman since last spring.

In April 2019, a bias-related incident was recorded by police after students at Whitman posted a photo on social media wearing blackface. In March and again this month, the school was vandalized with a racial slurs and drawings of nooses.

After the blackface incident, Whitman began a new program called OneWhitman to “increase inclusiveness and tolerance.” Students met occasionally to discuss “challenging topics,” according to messages sent by the principal to community members.

In posts on the blackatwhitman Instagram page, students wrote that their peers did not take the program seriously and often make fun of the topics discussed.

In the future, Turner said, the school district must double down and determine ways “to get people to understand their experience might not be the same as their colleague’s sitting next to them, based solely on their skin color.”

“There’s been a national culture shift to recognize the African American men and students, and it’s not going to happen overnight, unfortunately, but we’re at a moment where we’re having real conversations,” Turner said. “We have to constantly do our best to meet students and support them.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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