Beacon High School, one of the top-quality public schools in New York City, has been in turmoil since the start of the month with students protesting what they see as pervasive racism. It’s the latest manifestation of the “social justice” fervor sweeping America’s younger generation. And while the protesters may mean well, these events suggest that their idealism has a troubling streak of coercive zealotry.
In the initial protest on Dec. 2, more than one-fifth of Beacon’s 1,400 students staged a walkout to protest racial disparities at the school. African-Americans make up a quarter of the city’s population but only 13% of Beacon students; Hispanics are also underrepresented, while 47% percent of the student body (compared to 30% in the New York public school system overall) is white.
Beacon’s demographics are far closer to those of the city than at other selective public schools. Nonetheless, the protesters insist that the school’s admission process, which relies on grades, test scores, a portfolio of middle-school work and an essay, is biased and steeped in “privilege.”
Unfortunately, unequal resources based on socioeconomic status — which often correlates with race — are a reality. But lowering or dropping admissions standards seems like a self-defeating strategy since that’s also likely to lower the quality of schooling at Beacon. The high-achieving students concerned with their unearned advantage could do much better by — for instance — starting a program to tutor younger kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Instead, the activists, from a group called Teens Take Charge, have moved on to a more explosive issue and upped their demands. And their crusade now targets an individual student and two staffers.
The latest firestorm was sparked by a report that a white female student made a racist comment in a private conversation with two white guidance counselors, overheard by a black student. The girl, who had been put on a university waitlist, voiced frustration that some less qualified students had been accepted because of athletics or affirmative action; a counselor also mentioned two scholarship programs serving disadvantaged and nonwhite students.
The student has told the New York Post that her words were distorted by an internet-amplified rumor mill; she has been accused of saying that “minorities stole her spot” and calling black and brown students “retarded.”
The protesters, egged on by a teacher, claim the incident is a symptom of pervasive racism allowed to “fester” at the school. They want an apology from the administration, an investigation of the two counselors, de facto racial/ethnic quotas in faculty hiring, and mandatory “implicit bias” training for students and staff. (Growing evidence suggests such training is based on junk science).
According to the Post, Beacon Principal Ruth Lacey has emailed the students to say she was “moved by [their] passion.” The school has agreed to hold joint student, parent and staff meetings, and the students say that their demands will be met in some way.
Apparently lost in the shuffle: the cyberbullying and threats directed at the girl accused of racism, as well as the girl’s allegation in the Post that a teacher who chided her for unacknowledged “privilege” also warned, “People are going to hate you because you’re Jewish.” It is worth noting that three years ago, another Jewish student left Beacon (according to a Daily News op-ed by her father) due to blatant anti-Semitic harassment — shrugged off by the administration — after she was accused of racism for criticizing radical Islam.
Compared to such crude bigotry, the student activists’ examples of racism against “kids of color” — supposedly insensitive language in discussions of slavery, white counselors steering minority students to state universities — seem remarkably vague. During the earlier walkout, an Asian-American activist quoted in the New York Times mentioned being “asked where she was from and whether she spoke Chinese” as examples of hidden racism. It sounds more like examples of indoctrination into a victimhood cult.
Does this mean racism isn’t an issue at Beacon High? Of course not. But “antiracism” that promotes witch-hunts, bullying, thought policing and racial labeling can only make the problem worse.