An elite Brooklyn private school is under fire for fostering a “trend of hatred,” after a video circulated online showed two female students wearing blackface, while grunting and making ape gestures.
The two-year-old video, which first started making the rounds a few weeks ago, has rocked the posh Poly Prep High School in Dyker Heights. Students walked out of class on Friday, alleging that administrators have not adequately addressed the racist incident. None of the participants have faced discipline for the video, which was reportedly recorded during a sleepover party when they were in sixth grade.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Jeovanna deShong-Connor, a senior and co-president of a students of color group called Umoja, wrote in a letter to the school. “In my time at Poly, not one year has gone by without an event rooted in racial intolerance and prejudice.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed the concern, noting in a tweet on Sunday that “Poly Prep has some real explaining to do. And what’s absolutely clear is that a conversation about racism at the school is long overdue.” The school has 1,083 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and charges around $50,000 a year in tuition. Thirty-nine percent of Poly Prep students identify as “people of color,” according to data obtained by the New York Times.
In a statement, City Council Member Jumaane Williams called the video a “disgusting display of blatant racism,” adding that it was an “indictment not only of the actions of specific students, but of the conduct and attitudes condoned, learned and overlooked among young people, and a society that creates those attitudes.”
Poly Prep has some real explaining to do. And what’s absolutely clear is that a conversation about racism at the school is long overdue. https://t.co/lcpBNHoMwN
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) January 20, 2019
A spokesperson for the school said that one of the girls seen wearing blackface has since transferred, while the other girl, as well as the person who filmed the video, are currently enrolled as freshman at Poly Prep.
“We do not tolerate racism or prejudice in our school or in our communities,” the school said in a statement posted to Facebook on Sunday. “We took immediate action as soon as we learned of a highly offensive video, taken years ago, being circulated on our campus. It was an egregious violation of our community values and code of conduct.” The statement did not specify what action had been taken; the school has since updated its cover image to a photo depicting a more diverse group of students.
The video was first posted on a student website by a freshman on January 11th, and soon began spreading among upperclassmen until it was eventually picked up by news outlets last week. The administration initially responded to the video by noting that its distribution was in violation of the school’s code of conduct.
“It seemed like they were more concerned and angry about people sharing the video than they were about the contents,” senior Talisha Ward told the Post.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the mother of the student who initially posted the video told the Times that her son has not yet received his paperwork for next year’s registration, as other students have. “He just wanted to speak up. Now, he’s the bad guy,” the woman reportedly said. “I’m just worried for his future.”
Meanwhile, the mother of one of the girls in the video says the footage was not meant to be offensive, and that the young girls were just “playing with makeup.” The parent said they were unaware that the video existed until January 11th, and were also disappointed with how the school has handled the incident.
Prior to Friday’s walk-out, headmaster Audrius Barzdukas said in a letter that he wanted to engage the protesting students in a dialogue, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Polygon.
The protest’s organizers have responded by demanding a public apology from the girls and for the school to acknowledge that it has failed to protect students of color on multiple occasions. They added that they wanted the administration to “view the situation as what it is: the most recent in a series of racist and intolerable acts that have alienated a large portion of Poly’s community rather than as an isolated event.”