Statistically Insignificant

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Photo by Sarah Chen

        Stuy is a numbers game. We’re 3300 of the million high school students in the city. We all took a test, got an ID number, and go about our 10-floor, 300-classroom school every day thinking about the tests and homework that constrain our academic lives. We’re 74 percent Asian, 20 percent white, 3 percent Latino, and 1 percent black.

        We all know this, but for some perspective, here are some comparisons from the Class of 2016: there were six times as many students that only came to school 90 percent of the time than there were black students, and there were more students in the Class of 2016 who never passed their Physics Regents than there were black students. Currently, there are barely enough black students to fill a single classroom, and that has been true for the entirety of my time at Stuy.

        As a black kid, my experiences over the past three years regarding race at Stuy haven’t been great. In freshman year, it started with the classics like, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be good at basketball?” and “Who’s your favorite rapper?” to which my respective answers are “No,” and “Probably Kanye, he’s a genius.” These jokes are certainly a little off-color, but the really annoying part is that they’re constant and not very good.

        If you’ve just met me and want to make a joke, please come up with something less casually racist and more original than those mentioned above. We’re all smart kids; just put in a little more effort for a first impression.

        As I got older, however, it became harder and harder to brush off these comments. I started having more and more serious conversations around the dinner table about proper etiquette when with police and how to dress and where not to run after the sun went down. My parents were laying down these rules not just because I was getting older, but because of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. The resounding message was that it didn’t matter whether you were right or wrong, because if you weren’t twice as careful as everyone else, you might be dead.

        So, when I got to school and heard, on multiple occasions, kids laughing in the hallways or bathroom about saying “Nigger-ia” instead of Nigeria, or when I was called “black enough to get into college but not black enough to get shot by the cops,” it became harder and harder to just brush it off. These are some of the worst examples, but slightly racist offhand comments are frequent and constant in my time at Stuy. But they aren’t the things that bother me most.

        What truly worries me about Stuy is the widespread tendency to use statistics and big data and impersonal measurements to back up racist comments. If I’m having a semi-serious discussion about race in the halls or on the bridge or in class, laying out how my own personal thoughts and experiences have shaped my opinion, one of the most common responses I’ve gotten is “[insert racist comment here], just look at the data: [insert probably true but not helpful and very vague statistics here].” In discussions about affirmative action, it’s usually, “Black people aren’t as smart, just look at the data. They have low average SAT scores.” In discussions about police brutality, it’s usually, “Black people are more likely to be criminals, just look at the data. There is a disproportionate number of black people in jail.”

        This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the value of statistics. They can be extremely helpful when the sample sizes are large enough. But at Stuy, statistics from other sources aren’t very helpful for day-to-day discussions.

        As The Spectator found in their freshman surveys, there simply aren’t enough minority students for it to be “statistically significant” data, or for the statistics collected on a national level to be more valid when applied to Stuyvesant than an individual’s anecdote. Statistics offer an enticingly easy way to justify not thinking that hard about other people’s experiences, and they provide an easy but faulty alternative than simply having a conversation.

        What I would encourage everyone to do is take a moment, slow down, and think about the words that are about to come out of your mouth. I am in no way advocating for policing your speech, but I would like to see a little more thought go into the things we say and do at Stuy and in the wider world. It isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about showing some thought and respect for the feelings of others. Because, no matter how you justify it or how much you think it’s a joke, racist generalizations or stereotyping or prejudice can at best be an annoying joke to put up with, and at worst a constant reminder that racism is still alive and well, even at a place like Stuyvesant.

        Perhaps if we put as much effort into thinking about what we say as we put into studying for biology tests, we could make Stuy a more welcoming place for everyone.

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