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Float Reveals Bigger Issues Across Sacramento Area Schools

A float featuring Black students dressed as prisoners sparked larger discussions.

California teachers will now be required to complete a mandatory training program after parents and community members complained about a photo of a float depicting Black students in orange jumpsuits and black and white prison attire circulated online. Sacramento’s Bella Vista High School students told Capital Public Radio their feelings about the photo.

Dominique Edwards, a member of the school’s Black Student Union, said, “I felt a little bit stunned because you’re seeing a Black male in an orange suit, also handcuffed,” Edwards, who stood behind the float in question, continued, “Whose idea was this?” before saying, “all the cops were white students and all the robbers were students of color.” 

It took the school district about a month to investigate the incident. Once their investigation had been completed, they sent an email, which reads in part, “Appropriate actions are being taken as a result of the investigation,” the district wrote. “We are working with our Black Student Union and several community partners, engaging in additional professional learning, and we’ve asked that all of our schools districtwide ask themselves critical questions before deciding themes for future events and spirit days.”

Student leaders like Jayha Buhs-Jackson, who leads the Black Student Union at the school, say they have not been informed about the district’s investigation. Buhs-Jackson told Capital Public Radio, “I have not heard anything,”  Buhs-Jackson said. “That’s why I’m concerned that the resolutions are empty words, empty promises.” 

Buhs-Jackson also shed light on the school’s diversity problem, revealing that the school is only 2% Black, which means there aren’t many students in leadership positions that reflect herself or Edwards, who are both Black students. Furthermore, Buhs-Jackson has been taking the lead on campus, helping to draft a list of potential resolutions the group sent to the school’s principal.

Edwards, a cheerleader at the school, has noticed how she is treated at the school, telling Capital Public Radio that she feels the daggers of microaggressions. “They cannot see how [their actions] affect people of color and Black people. They tend to keep us on the side and put the white people or people that are just lighter in the center,” Edwards said. “Some people will say stuff [around me], and it’s like, ‘You realize I’m standing right here, right?’”

Other Sacramento area students say the problem is not confined to Bella Vista High School. Arianne McCullough, who attends another Sacramento area high school, C.K. McClatchy High School, said, “There have been other racist incidents in and around Sacramento,” she said. “I was more stunned that it could be so blatantly racist and also saddened for the Black boy who was inside the jail cell.” McCullough continued, giving details about a meeting members of the Zero Tolerance Youth Leadership team had. “One of the things that was brought up was this idea of race laundering,” McCullough explained. “Race laundering is the use of Black faces to peddle white supremacist ideas and causes, but because a black person is doing it, all of a sudden it’s not racist.”

Kristian Schnepp, the assistant superintendent of the San Juan Unified School District, told Capital Public Radio, “I am going to be honest with you, this was the worst-case scenario,” Schnepp said. “For us to perpetuate bias and stereotypes is the thing that I was afraid of. It is an opportunity for us to lean in and start having the conversations that needed to happen at all of our high schools.”

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