AWHS hides behind name change for illusion of antiracist school

Last summer, with the murders of innocent Black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, a nationwide reckoning seemed to take place. Suddenly, white communities that had dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement seemed to finally grasp the meaning of BLM. For a while, ideas that had been formerly deemed too radical-like defunding or abolishment-were taking the main stage. This is not to say that before Floyd’s death people weren’t rallying for BLM. Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, and many others, all Black individuals murdered by police, ignited these cries. Even so, white Americans found it easier to turn a blind eye. 

This time “BLM” was trending, bringing good and bad news. White teens temporarily shifted from the usual sunsets and cute pictures with friends to black squares and an occasional infographic in order to declare themselves “allies,” avoiding the social ostracization of neglecting current events. Corporations posted vague quotes of soft antiracism, gently “condemning” the events so as not to lose business or fall irrelevant with the times. It was only a matter of time until schools and smaller organizations followed suit. 

In Marin, it’s easy to stay inside the safety bubble of comfortable ignorance that surrounds us. And many people choose to do just that. Racism and discrimination at Archie Williams High School (AWHS) are extremely common and overwhelmingly overlooked by the school’s Administration. Throughout the years, Swastikas have been graffitied, the N-word has been used as a discriminatory term with little or no consequences, and current students, parents, and alumni have continuously tried to wash it away for the image of a safe, progressive school. 

AWHS’s previous namesake, Sir Francis Drake, was a pirate and a slave trader. The lands he “discovered” had been inhabited by Indigenous peoples. His name was honored on our school buildings for 70 years and Marin’s overwhelmingly white population never batted an eye. This summer, concerns that his name on our buildings was traumatic for BIPOC students were raised. Our administration jumped on this as a chance to prove to the community just how progressive and inclusive we are. 

Rather than taking real responsibility for the unchecked racism at this school and our greater community, administration and faculty took the easy way out. Although changing the name on the front of our gym is an important step towards creating an inclusive and safe environment, it should be the first of many. If not followed with significant measures, changing the name shows no real intention to fight racism.

K-12 classrooms are essential training grounds for youth. If we want to build an equitable, anti-racist society we should start with education. The school needs to provide increased support for Students Taking Action for Anti-Racism, introduce restorative justice programs, and work to create anti-racist curriculum across all subjects, especially history, amplifying the truth of how the nations of our world have actually been founded.

We need to understand that Black Lives Matter beyond surface-level change. The white community needs to actively educate ourselves on how our privilege is at play in every step of our lives. It is not on BIPOC youth to retell their trauma in hopes that people finally understand. Taking a look around Marin, it’s easy to see the disparities. With the name change coming to a close, we’re intrigued to see what new performative crutch the school stands on to showcase their radical equity. Our antiracist action must not end at signage.