“Race Forward” is an activity in Portland’s Grant High School that includes a presentation about racism and has now become the target of unflattering criticism from a national organization. It's student-led technically, but also encouraged by teachers and staff. This activity, along with the presentation, is intended to open a dialogue about racism through lessons that can be considered uncomfortable.
“Race Forward” is an activity in Portland’s Grant High School that includes a presentation about racism and has now become the target of unflattering criticism from a national organization. It’s student-led technically, but also encouraged by teachers and staff. This activity, along with the presentation, is intended to open a dialogue about racism through lessons that can be considered uncomfortable. This program is not new to Grant High School and those who continue to back the almost ten-year program say Race Forward is an effort to bridge the ever-widening racial divide.
The presentation begins by breaking down and defining “whiteness.” Their “working definition” of the word is: “Whiteness is defined by characteristics and experiences associated with being white, and it is connected to the belief that white people are the standard in society.” Yikes. This is Race Forward’s attempt at bridging the racial divide?
Calliope Ruskin is the 10th-grade student at Grant High School who created this Race Forward presentation. The effort is presented to the entire student body and faculty a few times a year, this last time in December 2021, and was created in a class called Students for Equity. “This presentation isn’t meant to be provocative,” Ruskin said via KATU. “I think the way society is built makes it provocative.”
If you found what Ruskin just said a bit confusing, it’s because it is. To break it down in essence what he’s saying is that the presentation wouldn’t be provocative if there weren’t something wrong with the entire world. Therefore, if you think it’s something provocative, there’s something wrong with you and proof that the entire world is wrong.
In a way, Ruskin admits what he’s doing is controversial, but is signaling that he doesn’t care. It’s a lot like answering the question by saying “I know you are, but what am I.”
“Conversations about race, obviously, can make people uncomfortable. And I think that’s something that is normal. And it’s totally okay to feel uncomfortable,” Ruskin said. Ruskin’s mother, Marnie Glickman, is a longtime activist and is squarely in her son’s corner. She not only supports her son, but she also supports the goals of his fellow classmates, Grant High School, and the school district. Glickman feels open conversations about racism are very important.
“I know it can be really uncomfortable to think about what it means to be a white person, and uncomfortable to think about white privilege,” said Glickman. “The only way, though, that we can dismantle racism is to talk about these really difficult concepts.”
You can see that tactic being used in the following slides from their presentation…
According to those at the school, it was a racial incident at Grant that happened in 2016 that spawned the very first Race Forward. It all started on the boys’ soccer team when some individuals began to direct racial slurs and taunts at a teammate. This individual also began to get racist posts from other classmates on social media. But instead of handing out discipline, the students asked if the school could get students together to have a productive and lengthy discussion about racism. Race Forward was born.
Many parents feel that the Race Forward presentation is taking things way too far. Nicole Neily, Parents Defending Education founder, is one who sees Ruskin and Grant High School as pushing an agenda over the line, calling out the critical race theory tone their presentation preaches. Parents Defending Education is a national organization whose mission is to “reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas.”
“We let people make up their minds for themselves, but lessons involved in this are deeply questionable, and reasonable people could differ. Some people might not want kids to be exposed to lessons like this,” said Neily. It isn’t that Neily disagrees that history should be taught in school, on the contrary. She, like many others, has an issue with the way Grant High School is allowing this material to be presented…
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“The ‘Race Forward’ presentation talks about whiteness, white fragility, white tears, white saviorism. These are really derogatory messages,” Neily continued. “Our country is very afraid right now people are pitted against each other. So, is this the type of lesson plan that will teach our children to heal and move forward and create a more unified nation? Honestly, I don’t think so.”
The school district does not agree with Neily’s assessment of Race Forward. In their statement they said: The 60 – 90-minute presentation started about 8 to 9 years ago following a specific racial incident. At the time, several students believed the entire student body needed to have intentional conversations about race.
The Grant High School website, in backing Race Forward, has two YouTube videos linked to their Race Forward page. They can be seen below.
So, where do you come down on these matters? Legislators in a number of states feel material such as this is dividing more than it is bringing together. In that respect, a number of state governors are taking the fight to their respective legislation to have this sort of material removed from schools? Should they remove it or should t be allowed to stay in school? Let us know what you think.