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Blackface incident is just the latest moment of anti-blackness & racism in Fresno Unified

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The recent news of a Bullard High School student donning blackface and using the n-word on social media has hurt our community deeply. While the student’s actions are disappointing, the student’s ability to make that choice exists in an America where there is a long and toxic history of systemic racism and anti-blackness. Incidents like this do not have any place in our schools or city and any response to it should be just as powerful, bold and enduring as the pain caused by them.

Anti-blackness is defined as being a two-part formation that both strips Blackness of value, and systematically marginalizes Black people and their issues. This form of anti-blackness is overt racism. Beneath this anti-black racism is the covert structural and systemic racism which predetermines the socioeconomic status of Black folks in this country and is held in place by anti-black policies, institutions, and ideologies.

This is not the first moment of anti-blackness, racism or hatred that has been expressed against Black youth in Fresno Unified. It’s not even the first one to happen this school year. Each time these wounds are reopened Black families are forced to relive generations of trauma.

Between April and June alone, there have been at least three other incidents of anti-blackness and violence against FUSD’s Black youth. In May a substitute teacher was caught on video physically assaulting a black student at Fresno High School. Weeks before that, an Edison High teacher used the n-word and targeted black students in their classroom. Even earlier this spring, parents shared how strongly anti-black bias affects students and families at FUSD.

Their powerful testimony was supported by findings from the district’s own task force, which concluded that “the environment for the district’s African-American students is in a state of emergency.”

These are just the stories that made the news. We know that for every one major incident covered in the news, there are countless day-to-day interactions that cause our Black community to feel unsafe, unsupported and unwanted. Black students frequently feel isolated and held to different standards than their non-Black peers. Many of the youth in our program have shared stories of feeling singled out for their natural hair, skin tone or complexion. Subjected to increased dress code scrutiny and discipline with limited offers of help or assistance in class compared to peers. Black students and families navigate this tension everyday in our school district, community and society.

We must acknowledge the trauma that an incident like the Bullard High Blackface video recreates for our students, staff and families. These wounds do not simply go away because of a tired apology or statement. The problem is complex, systemic and multi-faceted, and so must be our solutions.

We urge Fresno Unified and the community to commit to a systemic response to the anti-blackness prevalent throughout the district. This work requires prioritization and proper resourcing as well as space for Black student and family voice. It must go beyond cultural awareness or sensitivity training, and dig deep to address implicit bias and racism at their roots within the district and our community. These events have not occurred in isolation, and neither should the response. There needs to be clear accountability and actions, led by Fresno Unified leadership and informed by community.

We look forward to working together with students, parents, staff and the larger community to identify solutions rooted in policies and practices that can lead to a system-wide change. It is only through centering Black power and liberation that we will reach a place where all students can thrive.

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