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To see my alma matter trending on social media through the hashtag #BlackInBrooklynTech because of race related issues is disappointing but absolutely not one bit surprising. For those of you who are not familiar with Brooklyn Technical High School, let me get you a little more acquainted. The school is 1 of 9 “specialized” high schools in NYC (1 of the first 3); these specialized high schools are highly competitive and students must pass the SHSAT (specialized high school admissions test) to get into any of the 9 schools. The exam is very much similar to the SAT’s that you take to get into college (from what I remember at least). It’s an opportunity that is open to everyone (in regards to taking the actual exam) but not properly introduced to everyone; particularly black and hispanic students.
I knew from the moment that I received the letter saying that I passed the SHSAT my life was going to change. I just wasn’t sure if it would be for the better or worst. I definitely had my inhibitions about going to Tech. I was just a little girl from Harlem that wasn’t too open to getting out of her comfort zone and being around literally thousands of kids everyday that had almost nothing in common with me (or wanted to even try to). Of course I had to suck it up for the sake of my future, I guess. At one point I had to tell myself that there was nothing wrong with change.
My 4 years of being at Tech in one word was awkward. I went from being in a middle school where everyone accepted me with open arms, to being in an environment where people kind of gave me the side eye for being there. I did get my own little taste of the racism while in Tech. From people obviously talking about you in their foreign languages and laughing right at you to looking around the classroom uncomfortably when your teacher lets you pick your own group for an assignment. I honestly would rather be assigned than receiving a pity group invite.
You know how people make racist “jokes” but it’s just suppose to be a “joke”? That happened a lot too. According to my non black peers I lived in the projects (I actually grew up in a brownstone), I probably witnessed a drive by (I lived in Harlem, yes, but it wasn’t the set of a late 80’s West Coast Gangster movie) oh and me affording Juicy Couture, and other brands that were popular during my high school year’s, was just so unbelievable that my parents must have been drug dealers. That was the kind of ignorance that I dealt with on a day to day basis. But me being me, I brushed it off and went about my day the best way that I knew how. Unbothered.
After many failed attempts at trying to connect to other students especially non black, I threw in the towel. I wasn’t going to force people to like me. That’s fine.The issues didn’t stop at the students though; there were definitely some administrators and teachers that were not discreet in showing their racial preferences. I remember crying to my parents my sophomore year, wanting desperately to transfer schools because I felt like such an outcast. During my time being #BlackinBrooklynTech wasn’t a day jam packed with blatant racial slurs but more so a feeling of extreme awkwardness and feeling outcasted. I’m actually happy now that I made it through because it made me a stronger person. Whether or not people of other races and cultures decided to even look my way, it at least exposed me to something different.
Fast forward to senior year, during college application season, I remember the snickers and giggles I would get when telling peers that I was applying to Howard University while everyone else was aiming for the Ivy Leagues. Harvard? No, Howard. Yes, a black school. And I absolutely do not regret that decision either.
Tech Students have been sharing their run ins with racism on social media; I want to say I can’t believe it but I can. These are things that are now being said to their faces but I’m sure these thoughts have been around for years. Brooklyn Tech’s troubles with racism being publicly discussed now makes me feel kind of foolish for just brushing off the things that bothered me during my years at Tech. I commend these students for taking a stand and making a change instead of standing around and letting the issues with race spiral even further out of control. The decrease in the number of black students enrolled over the years seems to correlate with the increase of blatant racism experienced as a black student in Brooklyn Tech.
I pray that my alma mater does get this under control, for it does have many great opportunities to offer to students. I encourage students to keep pushing to be heard and unlike myself and my peers to not let their voices go unnoticed. Tech finally being confronted about it’s struggles with racism has been a long time coming but I believe that these students coming out and publicly speaking against it is a great start. There is no reason why ANY student should walk the halls of a 10 story school building for 4 years and feel alone, unwanted and victimized.
Check out NBC’s article about what Brooklyn Tech students have been saying in reference to the school’s continuous struggles with race related issues.