'You Failed Us': High school senior's book examines the pain of racism in Seattle schools | KNKX

'You Failed Us': High school senior's book examines the pain of racism in Seattle schools

Sep 19, 2019

UPDATE, 10:55 am: Adds demographic data on enrollment in the highly capable program in Seattle Public Schools.

Schools are increasingly vowing to root out racism in the education system. But people of color say much more needs to be done.

A new book by a high school senior in the Seattle school district offers a candid account of how it felt to be on the receiving end of that racism.

Azure Savage, 17, is the author of "You Failed Us: Students of Color Talk Seattle Schools." Savage is a transgender guy who uses he/him pronouns. He has a black father and a white mother and entered the district’s gifted program, known as the Highly Capable Cohort (HCC), in first grade.

Savage sat down with KNKX youth and education reporter Ashley Gross to discuss his book and what it was like to be one of the only black students in the HCC program, which has long been criticized for its lack of racial diversity.

Black and Latino students are underrepresented in the program, and white students are overrepresented.

In the 2018-2019 school year, black students made up just one percent of the highly capable cohort enrollment, even though black students made up about 15 percent of the overall student population. Latino students made up 4 percent of the highly capable program, versus 12 percent of the overall student enrollment. Fifty-nine percent of students in the program were white compared with 48 percent districtwide.

Savage is hosting a book launch party at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Prudential Building, Studio 504, 114 Alaskan Way South in Seattle.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On entering the HCC program: “I was not happy about the transfer. I made friends – I’ve always been a social person. I feel like people have the misconception that I’m writing this because I had no friends and I was really lonely. That wasn’t my case, honestly. I had no black friends." (Except for one in first and second grades, Savage added, then another in fifth.) 

On how his identity was affected by a segregated program: “I would say that it made me hate who I was for many, many years. It made me question my worth as a person. It made me believe I didn’t have worth as a person if I wasn’t accepted by white people. I never felt fully set anywhere because I was always fighting to be accepted.”

On how hard it was to make black friends: “I saw all these black students at my school (in general education programs), and I didn’t know how to reach them. Maybe if I was less introverted, I could have gone up and talked to them and initiated a conversation, but again that fear of rejection came up then, too. Not just with the white students but being scared of being rejected by the black students for being with the white students.”

On why he says the HCC program should be dismantled: “HCC students (have) a sense of entitlement and a sense of superiority, and the general (education) students I’ve talked to have shared feeling dumb their whole lives. … And I don’t think either of those are OK. … I’m genuinely confused how someone could look at the racial makeup of each of them and say this isn’t racist. I honestly think it would have been better for me to not have been in that program.”

On how schools can help students feel proud of their identities and prepare them for white-dominated workplaces: “I would say one of the biggest ways to prepare students for that is to have discussions about it in classes… to be transparent with the students that the society in the U.S. has a lot of racism. … Building skills on how to confront people when they’re being racist, how to advocate for yourself … The only time we ever talked about race was in history classes when we were talking about slavery or the indigenous people’s genocide. And I think that those two events are the backbone for a lot of the racism within the society, however it’s not enough to just talk about those events. … I feel like schools can move toward being institutions that prepare students not just to move into that society but prepare them to know how to change it.”