The Black Experience at HHS

Cheveyo Baker

Within the past two years, the experience of Black citizens within America has come to light. Through the repetition of brutal police killings and systemic racism, we have seen global protests to end violence and discrimination not only against Black citizens, but many other systematically disadvantaged POC’s (People of Color) and other disadvantaged groups such as LGBTQ+, women, and more. One thing that is not talked about often, however, is the experience of Black students in high school and specifically, at Hamden High. We, as Black students, have seen our lives up for debate, have been victim to being placed in groups due to racial stereotypes, and have had to endure a society that has normalized racially insensitive language and slurs. In order to fully understand the experience of Black students, we need to have our voices heard, and more importantly, we need actions to be taken as a result of our concerns. If we are listened to, but the necessary changes aren’t made to make us feel more comfortable in our school setting, then we will continue to feel disrespected..

In 2020, some famously known cases of police brutality or racially motivated killings were the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Briana Taylor, and, unfortunately, more that have flown under the radar. In 2021, there was the murder of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man who was stopped at a traffic stop and shot by a police officer who claims she mistook her taser for her gun. Another murder was of a 13-year-old Hispanic boy, who was chased by police, and when he surrendered, was shot and killed. Ma’Kiah Braynt, a young 16-year-old black girl, was killed by police after calling them for help when she was in danger. There are many more cases that, if you attempted to name all of them, you would fill up page after page. As Black students, it is difficult seeing people who look like us killed for reasons that are not justified. As a student, who before distanced learning, walked to and from school, I am now nervous to even do that in fear of being labeled as potentially dangerous or having looked like someone else.

While receiving my first vaccine shot the other day, I was asked my age. My mother responded with “He’s 15” and the man took a step back. He then, in exclamation, said “He’s 15?” We laughed about it and the man said that he was small when he was my age and therefore couldn’t believe I was 15. While amusing at the time, this, for someone who looks like me, is not something that’s always a positive. As soon as someone with black or brown skin begins to grow up and look mature, because of generations of systemic racism, they are labeled as a threat. We are stereotyped as scary, thugs, or thieves. As a 15-year-old sophomore, who looks a lot older than he is, I worry that I will be labeled as dangerous. I worry that I will be told I was mistaken for someone else who is a suspect in a crime, I worry about becoming another statistic of young black men and women who don’t make it home.

Another student, who would like to remain anonymous, had an opinion on what it was like to be a Black student at HHS. In response to the question, “What is it like being a Black student in 2021 after a huge rise in the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020?”, they say “I feel like a normal high school student most of the time, but when teachers and certain students use certain terms such as Blacks it can be irritating.” The student references specific terminology used when having conversations regarding the history and stance of Black people in America. As teachers and staff, it is important to recognize that there is some terminology that may be offensive to some and some terminology that may be acceptable to others. The most you can do is talk to students and have an open and vocal conversation about what they feel are appropriate terms to say when having conversations like this, and terms that may not be the most politically accurate in their use.  The student goes on to say “I also feel like I never really know how the adults around feel about me just because of my skin color.” This is a common concern of Black students, as it’s hard to tell if there are adults and even peers who have grown up with a prejudice towards Black people that then alters how they interact with us. When discussing if Hamden High accommodates Black students well, they say “I do think so because of the clubs/activities the high school offers to make our voices heard and make current situations talked about.” The final question, being “What does it mean to be Black and in High School for you”, they say “What it means for me is that I’m going to face more challenges than a White person in high school would.” To be able to speak with fellow Black students about how they view being Black in high school is an enlightening experience. Being able to see how others view their time here in Hamden High as Black students helps to create a more vocal and open minded conversation.  

To say that we have a long way to go in terms of paving the way to make Black citizens and more disadvantaged groups in America feel safe would be an understatement. We have long seen people protest for simple human rights that were, and still are, being stripped away from people. Starting small in your community and having a conversation about what it means to be a disadvantaged student and citizen, and if you are not, how you can help those who are, can go a long way. Most people have opinions learned from older generations that grew up in a time of extreme racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, and more. If we can start to break down those barriers and uplift those who are consistently looked down upon, we are starting a new wave of people who will not tolerate any kind of hatred towards groups of people who, in reality, just want to be able to go out into the world, and live the same life that others are living.

Black Lives Matter

Stop AAPI Hate

Immigrant Rights

LGBTQ+ Rights

Women’s Rights