Guest opinion: Lincoln’s lack of acknowledgment

Senior students share their opinions on the lack of acknowledgment of students of color and the history of marginalized groups while celebrating Lincoln’s sesquicentennial

In case you haven’t heard, it’s the 150th anniversary of Lincoln High School. We have special shirts, banners, assemblies, paraphernalia, and a never-ending stream of celebration for 150 years of public education. It is a special milestone. However, we seem to be forgetting one of the most important parts of reaching this significant point in history; thoroughly acknowledging the past and current state of affairs in order to improve the next 150 years.

Claims of being “woke” and being a “liberal” city are thrown around as excuses when in reality our school, amongst others across Portland, continues to dodge the issues of race and equity across the district.”

It is not shocking to anybody (or perhaps, for some it is) that Lincoln has a shaky history in terms of race relations. Minstrel shows in the early 20th century, a slow desegregation process in the 1950s and ’60s, and now, students of color that face the impacts of generations of continued systematic and institutional racism.

From 1965 up until the 1980s, Portland Public Schools, including Lincoln, used mandatory busing to attempt to improve the racial balance of public schools. The Black United Front worked to stop busing [presumably due to the lack of effect the policy had on desegregation and the way the policy may have hid the fact that segregation was still occurring] and the Portland School Board responded with a plan to desegregate schools “voluntarily” by ending forced busing and infusing the city’s black schools with extra money and teachers to create a magnet school in black neighborhoods. This allowed black and white students to transfer interchangeably between previously majority white schools and black schools. It had a very limited impact and Portland schools remain very segregated.

In 1972, the population of black students at Lincoln was 7 percent. Today, the black population accounts for a meager 1.3 percent of the student body. Whether it be a critical analysis of our history or celebrating any strides made when it came to civil rights, we have not led a discussion on the past and have not incorporated our racial history. It is a disservice to our minority students to not examine the steps towards equality across our history at Lincoln as well as the challenges that still exist and are faced daily.

If we look towards the culture of Lincoln, it could be best described as a school that values rigorous public school education and academic achievement. But for students of color it is accompanied by micro-aggressions creating a strong culture of white privilege that is never truly acknowledged. No, Lincoln does not have overt racism with KKK signs posted in the school, or banners that say “No Black or Brown Students Allowed!” (even though we have heard students shout the n-word). Instead, racism is much more nuanced and includes the systematic and discrete parts of racism.

Examples of manifestations of a white privilege culture look like trying to reach a quota of people of color, the lack of discussion of white women’s involvement in racism, a “there are fine people on both sides” mindset, and a “he just made a mistake, it was a long time ago” mentality. Claims of being “woke” and being a “liberal” city are thrown around as excuses when in reality our school, amongst others across Portland, continues to dodge the issues of race and equity across the district. Each microaggression may not seem on its own harmful but the culmination of these aggressions leads to continued alienation of students of color. They exist in nearly every type of institution or organization. Lincoln is steeped in them.

Ignorance is not bliss.”

Planning the multicultural assembly provided a perfect example of race relations at Lincoln. For students, getting to have Matt Groening, someone successful, come to Lincoln and talk to us about the highly popular show, the Simpsons, was exciting. It was valid to invite both Groening and Mayor Wheeler in the name of the 150-year celebration. As the students leading the multicultural assembly, however, it was disappointing to see the engagement put in for last minute assemblies for Mayor Ted Wheeler and Matt Groening, but not for the multicultural assembly, a tradition at Lincoln for many years, where we could acknowledge our history, celebrate strides and discuss what needs to be seen next. As the planners of the assembly, we wanted to extend the length to make sure to more voices.

While we don’t deny the support given, there were numerous hoops to jump through. Continued “lack of time” and “too many snow days” were referenced when we attempted to extend the assembly. Yet two extra assemblies, that we had not had in the past were easily added on. It was a bureaucracy that didn’t seem to apply to the other assemblies.

Our history is important and there are so many avenues to present it and learn about it. Recognize your privilege, open up discussion, critically analyze your environment, be conscious, and listen. Don’t fear calling people out, even if an issue seems small and irrelevant– these “small issues” lead to much larger is- sues. Talk about our history. 150 years of public education is an amazing milestone, but within those 150 years, there has been positive change as well as set- backs that need to be acknowledged and discussed.

Ignorance is not bliss. Only people who are privileged can ignore discussions about racism without repercussions. Don’t wear a blindfold to reality. The 150 years celebration has been a missed opportunity to open up a discussion about minority students at Lincoln.

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