Students speak up about racism and white privilege in Pittsburgh school districts

Kidsburgh and other media outlets recently ran a first-person column by Will Generett about his experience with racism in Fox Chapel School District. The piece sparked other young people to discuss their familiarity with the subject. Here are their essays recently published in Pittsburgh media. We hope to hear from more.

J. Oliver Choo, a graduating senior from Fox Chapel High School, wrote this piece in PublicSource:

Black Fox Chapel students have spoken up about racism in our school district. Now students like me are no longer afraid to share our experiences.

Until a month ago, I was proud of graduating from Fox Chapel Area High School. I was grateful for the enthusiastic faculty as well as the friendships I had made. However, the recent controversy surrounding racism at Fox Chapel has compelled me to revisit my own experience with prejudice at the school – one that I have tried hard to forget.

My ethnicity is half-Taiwanese and half-Korean. My heritage is known for its legendary empires, scientific innovation and excellent cuisine. Yet the repeated denigration of my race has revealed to me that at Fox Chapel, I am a second-class citizen at best, and a strange, ugly foreigner at worst.

After learning about Genghis Khan’s conquest of Asia in my sophomore history class, a student asserted that because I am Asian, my mother must have been raped by Genghis Khan. He repeated this several times in my ear and then promptly informed me of his relation to a small line of European kings.

Read Oliver’s complete essay here.

Sam Blehar, a 2014 graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School, started a petition on asking his school district to include anti-racism education. Looking back, he sees now how black history, culture, and anti-racism were never taught and why it’s so important to include it. Read his letter in full below and sign his petition here. This piece first appeared in NEXTpittsburgh.

Dear Mt. Lebanon School District. A student petitions for change

Dear Dr. Steinhauer and the Mt. Lebanon School Board,

As an alumnus of Mt. Lebanon, I’m grateful for the education I received and the extracurricular opportunities that were available to me in this community. With that said, there is a specific area in which Mt. Lebanon education must evolve.

After the murder of George Floyd, I’ve been taking time to properly educate myself on white privilege and racism. I am ashamed that it took me this long to understand my own white privilege, recognize my ignorance on this subject, and see the implications that white privilege has on our society. I am still learning.

I strongly suggest that Mt. Lebanon – a school district that is 91% white – implements courses (across all subjects) not only on white privilege and systemic racism but also on the recognition and celebration of black culture as a cornerstone of American culture.

Your mission is “to provide the best education possible for each and every student.” Growing up, I thought I received that. However, now that I know better, it is clear that the school district’s curriculum fails to address an entire part of our oppressive history that is still a current reality.

In your school district, I was taught that slavery happened and ended. In your school district, I was taught that segregation happened and ended. I was not educated on white privilege, white supremacy, or systemic racism, nor was I taught that these issues continue to happen and segregate our country.

The society that we live in today is not fair. From a racial, educational, and economic perspective (among many others), our citizens are not treated as equals. If you find yourself questioning what I’m saying, just take a look at your student body and the Mt. Lebanon community at large. There is very little diversity.

You have the power to shape a student body that is not only aware of its privilege but is also actively anti-racist. It is not enough to be not racist.

Instead, Mt. Lebanon needs to teach its students to call out racism and injustice when they see it in others and to educate those who lack this awareness. You can shape students who will leave your community with the knowledge to create a safer and equal America. Don’t you want your students to be as aware as possible?

I, along with the alumni and community members below, urge you to make this change to the required curriculum at Mt. Lebanon School District. This could have a massive impact on Pittsburgh, the United States, and the world.

Thank you.

Sam Blehar, class of 2014