A Response to Racism

Akunnia Akubuilo, Guest Writer

Senior Class President Akunnia Akubuilo pens an open letter about her experience as an African-American student at PVHS.

To Whom It May Concern,

As a Black student within a predominantly White school district, a large part of my career has been characterized by my interactions with my White peers. 

As a second-grader, my braids were called “weird.” In fourth grade, a girl I’d thought of as my friend said I sounded like a man. 

Eighth grade was the year I was told that my nose gave me a “bulldog-like appearance.” I was told in my sophomore year of high school that I was lucky to be Black because I would “get into any college I wanted.” 

Experiences like these have colored my education for as long as I can remember. 

It is these experiences that I remember as I speak up about a recent occurrence involving two students who attend my high school. 

The most important information: A post has circulated containing two students, smiling and laughing, as they hold a poster that highlights letters in certain words, so that the highlighted words spell out the n-word when put together. 

Others were involved, but were not pictured.

The speed of which this story spread is no small feat. When I first saw the post, it was around 12 noon. By 5 p.m., the news had spread thoroughly throughout my community. At 9:45 p.m., the story was up on the LA Times website.

 It was a surreal feeling, seeing individuals from all over the country comment on my high school. 

I’ve seen things like this reach the news about other high schools, but never thought it would reach mine. 

Or maybe I did, because at the very moment I saw that post, I was not even mildly shocked.

According to US News, the total number of students that attend Palos Verdes High School is 1,689. They have estimated White students to make up 65% of the total population, while Black students to make up 2%, approximately 34 students. 

The US Census Bureau estimates the Black population of Palos Verdes Estates to be 0.7%. 

To live in a predominantly white community, to attend a predominantly white school is to live with the inescapable notion of Different attached to us. 

Even as we constitute many different parts of our school community such as Basketball, Associated Student Body, and Science Research, we are constantly reminded that we are not equal. 

The danger of underrepresentation is that it dismisses the individual experiences of minorities as they are drowned out by the roar of the majority. 

Show me a Black student, and I will bet every single cent I have that they have experienced racism in some form within a learning institution. 

Whether it is student who must have his dreadlocks publicly cut because it does not meet the “regulations,” a Yale graduate student who had the police called on her for falling asleep in a student lounge, or a student being singled out for dress code violations while none of her other classmates were reprimanded. 

Actions like these have happened to people like us and around us for centuries. I know what this is. 

I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. Every Black student in America has lived it at some point. 

The surprise that some members of the Palos Verdes community express makes me question whether or not this surprise is a result of willful ignorance.

The n-word is a severe racial slur that is heavy with the weight of the blood and bones of those who were sold to a fate worse than death. Heavy with the weight of Jim Crow and segregation. 

I could use many words to describe the community of Palos Verdes. One word I could never, ever use is stupid. 

The people of Palos Verdes are extremely well-educated, and I have no doubt that my peers are at least somewhat versed in the history of the word. 

To be knowledgeable of the connotations surrounding the n-word, and choose to use it anyway shows a complete disregard for the lives of Black students and members of the community, as well as true disrespect for us as people.

The only difference between this event and the others that my peers and I have experienced is the highly public nature. 

The actions of these students are not isolated. 

This is not the first instance of something like this occurring, and it surely won’t be the last. 

This is our lives. 

Many of my peers have chimed in on social media to condemn the actions of the offending students. 

While these words are heartwarming, I, and other Black students, know to take many of these words of condemnation with a grain of salt. 

I can’t help but to review the words and actions of some of my classmates with slight skepticism. 

“Are they condemning the actions and words of these students, or do they just want to be seen condemning them?” 

I can’t help but lean towards the latter option. 

Classmates who deem the actions of these students as “unacceptable” are the same classmates I’ve seen sing the n-word hundreds of times, say it to their black friends, say it to their non-black friends. 

This leads me to believe that their words of criticism are for the purpose of keeping up appearances, rather than for the creation of change. For some of my classmates, this easily could have been them. 

Except this time it wasn’t. And to them, I urge them to review their behavior and do better, as this time they have been given another chance to change.

I do not believe that Palos Verdes High School is racist. To utilize this one public occurrence to qualify it as such would be to employ the same hasty generalizations that racists themselves are guilty of. 

However, we must learn from our mistakes. My community and others like it can no longer afford to dismiss the experiences of Black students, past, present, and future. 

I have three weeks left of high school, and yet I continue to fight because I know that many others like me will walk this campus. 

I deeply desire that they feel safe and supported whenever they are at school. 

In order for to reach an understanding, I simply ask for my community to listen. 

Every single one of us has room to grow and be better. 

In order to make progress, we must review our problematic behavior, no matter how painful the memory may be.


Akunnia Mirabelle Akubuilo