A Response to Black at Milton
by The Milton Measure on Friday, September 16th, 2011
As I read “Black at Milton,” published in February 1971, I was saddened by the student’s utter disillusionment with Milton Academy.
Some of Richard Rush’s realities still resonate with my experience as a black Milton student in the 21st century; yet, many aspects of the black experience at Milton, and in American society in general, have changed for the better. To put it in perspective, at the time the original article came out, Deval Patrick was a freshman at Milton, and now he is the first African American governor of Massachusetts. Despite this progress, black students here continue to face challenges that are uniquely ours.
On the whole, my years at Milton have been some of most formative and memorable of my life. Nevertheless, I am very aware of my being a racial minority. When I was younger, race didn’t seem to matter. I had a pretty diverse group of friends, and racial diversity was never a topic of discussion. This slowly started to change, however, when I came to Milton Academy.
In some way, I am reminded that I am a black girl at this school nearly every day. When I walk into a classroom of only white students and when someone confuses me with another black student because we have a similar skin tone, I know I am black.
One of the greatest problems I see is a lack of empathy among my non-black peers for what it means to be black in a primarily white school. My white friends question the need for groups like Sister Bonding, but I see these organizations as vital parts of my life here; I love having a time to connect with and have fun with other girls facing the same challenges as I am. Instead of seeing Transition as a great way for students of color to connect, white students often view it as “unfair” and “outdated,” even though race continues to be a relevant subject and does present significant challenges for our community.
As I work on the college application process, I suspect that some people—even those I consider to be friends—will say that I got into certain schools “only because I’m black.” That’s really disappointing. Not only does this discredit my intelligence and the academic work I’ve done, but it also fractures our class along racial lines.
I will always be grateful for the outstanding education I have recieved. I have never felt inferior or inadequate in the classroom because I’m black. When we sit around the Harkness table, any notion of race seems to go away, and I really appreciate that.
However, socializing seems to be inevitably linked to racial identity. The Student Center, the hub of social life, is a clear testament to this observation. Do you hang out in The Block? If you’re black, you probably do, and if you’re not, you probably don’t.
That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but it explicitly shows that the black kids, for the most part, stick together. We, as a school community, have created a social structure that has somehow communicated that we prefer to stick with our own racial groups when it comes to social life.
That being said, it has certainly gotten a lot better since 1971. I’ve felt that faculty members, black and white, listen to my ideas and are supportive of me.
My friends love me for who I am and accept me regardless of race. I feel as though I hold an important place in this community and I have gained the self-confidence and self-awareness I need to succeed in the future. I have come into my own here, and I am proud of the person and leader Milton has helped me to become. Milton is moving toward being more inclusive, and I hope that we stay committed to being open-minded and accepting.
I have grown up in a predominately white school setting for most of my life; some would say that I have become assimilated to “white culture” over time, but I take great pride in my black heritage, culture, and identity. Consequently, I am equally comfortable hanging out in The Block as well as with the rest of the seniors on the top floor of the Stu. Herein lies the problem we still face: I am a black girl who seems to connect well with both white and black culture. Why can’t there be one Milton culture? We allow race to define us and separate our community, and I think we need to move past that.
As I reflect on my Milton experience I realize how far we have come since “Black at Milton” was published, but it makes me wonder how much we can progress in the next forty years. I believe that we will continue to move toward being a school in which race is a part of our identities, but it does not define who we are.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=1454