‘Racism is my high school experience’

Update: The Bangor School Department will order an outside investigation into Bangor High School’s handling of racism that Black students have experienced at the predominantly white school. Read more here.

In Ijeoma Obi’s first gym class in her freshman year at Bangor High School, she saw a white student wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle glaring at her. In her second gym class, he called her the N-word as she was in the middle of a ball game. Obi stepped back in shock, and pretended to be out of the game.

Whenever Obi ran into him after that throughout the school year — in health class, during gym and in the hallway — he pointed to his belt buckle and called her the N-word.

Obi dreaded running into him. She changed her routes to classes, avoiding hallways where she might find him. She sometimes skipped lunch.

“He never left me alone,” she said. “Freshman year was one of the worst years for me because of that kid.”

Obi reported the student four times, she said — twice to a gym teacher, once to a hall monitor and once to someone in the assistant principal’s office.

She was told to simply ignore him, and that it was “just in his nature” to behave that way and wear his Confederate flag belt buckle. The harassment only stopped when the student left Bangor High at the end of Obi’s freshman year.

That’s one of many stories five Black students shared with the Bangor Daily News about their time at the predominantly white Bangor High School, where Black students make up less than 3 percent of the student body. They have regularly heard white students toss around the N-word in hallways, bathrooms and school buses. White students have sometimes directed the slur at them. They’ve heard peers in class defend white supremacy and slavery. And they’ve walked out of class, changed schedules or quit extracurricular activities out of frustration and fear. Close friends and family members verified the details they shared.

Three of the five students graduated from the school earlier this month, ending their high school careers following weeks of protests in Maine and across the country that have drawn attention to racism in many areas of life in the U.S., including education, and prompted institutions to confront their own biases and say how they plan to tackle racial injustice.

“Racism is my high school experience,” said Kosi Ifeji, 15, who will be a junior in the fall. “I know it sounds bad, but it really is.”

By Eesha Pendharkar, Bangor Daily News

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