Breaking Through


A woman yells during the Youth Climate Strike protesting climate change in San Francisco, Friday, March 15, 2019. Thousands of students around the world protested the perceived inaction from their lawmakers in regards to climate change.

By Ian Duncanson

This is a public service announcement, made for you; the reader, the student, the teacher, the staff member, the parent. On May 22nd, 2019, Tam High will be having it’s “52nd” anniversary of Breakthrough day. The purpose is to spend two hours breaking past racial barriers and to come together as a school community, but also learn about the historical background around racism, white privilege, and other related topics at Tam. It’s a time for intellectual conversations and developing a deep understanding of struggles shared by the students and adults of color at Tam. I would like to start by citing a few dates: February 27th, 1967; the first ever Breakthrough Day, led by students of color at Tam to unite with their peers and push past the difficult racial walls that were up during that time. February 27th, 2017; the “50th” anniversary of that day, where the Tam population had an assembly in Gus Gym, commemorating the event and celebrating with a guest speaker/rapper, as well as performances from students. The idea of Breakthrough Day is beautiful, which is why Tam’s Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) program is bringing it back this year. However, before we as a school enter into this day of unity and progression, there are certain things that need to be addressed among the school population of Tam, as well as the Tam community, that have been silenced. The objective of this is to provide reflection so that we can all go into this experience on the same page.

The first thing I’d like to address is that this will not be the 52nd anniversary of Breakthrough Day like it is being proposed, just as 2017 wasn’t the 50th anniversary of it either. The term “anniversary” applies to an event that took place in a previous year, but is normally followed by an acknowledgement, or even celebration, of the event in question. An anniversary has been referred to in the context of something consistent or consecutive; something that happens yearly, perhaps. Think of a wedding anniversary, or a birthday, or even a holiday like the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. The point of an anniversary is that it is remembered in some shape or form. For Breakthrough Day, there was no celebration or even reference to it for 50 years. That’s 50 years of Tam following along an idea that we as a school are exempt from racism because of this event. This isn’t the only occasion where we as a school have been ignorant to the fact that racism does indeed play a role in our lives as students, no matter what an electoral map or liberal Marinite may suggest.

Recognize it or not, Tam benefits off of a racist system, and just because we don’t see it clearly on a daily basis like in the Jim Crow era, it’s still prevalent in the way we live. The United States has been supporting a society that inherently provides an advantage to white people since long after the Civil Rights Act ended. Of the US’s 11% poverty rate, 20% is Black, 16% is Hispanic/Latino, and 8% is white. In 2010, the estimated ratio of incarcerated people of color (black & latino) to incarcerated whites was 8:1. At Tam, we live under the veil that we as a school are all-inclusive, but our AP classes say otherwise. The graffiti of the n-word on our campus targeting our principal says otherwise. Of course, these acts don’t sum up our community as a whole, but it’s more than that.

When people say “Oh, there’s no racism here, we live in Mill Valley,” or “Marin is so liberal that we’re beyond racism or racist ideals,” all that does is reinforce the ignorance towards an idea refuted only by demographics supporting a liberalist section of our society, and prevents any hope of working to change the system. What SOAR and Breakthrough Day are trying to accomplish is to open people’s eyes toward breaking the stereotypes of how we view students and staff of color at our school. The facade that the racial activism put on at Tam is overkill, or a joke, is an example of the unconscious resistance we as a student population must continue to address in hard conversations. We have to be engaging in civil arguments on whether we really believe the white supremacist heteropatriarchy shows itself, or if it doesn’t. That discomfort supplied by those ideas is the same discomfort that is felt by many students of color at Tam. Our students of color simply don’t have the collective power to voice their undertaking because of those unspoken boundaries, and white fragility. This is not to say that Breakthrough Day is a time-out for white people at Tam, or even in the community. Rather, it’s a benchmark; a time to look outside of oneself, and let go of any preconceived notions of race and racial issues. The goal is simply to finally provide a platform where students of all colors, ethnicities, and backgrounds can share amongst a safe environment. We’re not going to solve racism in one day, not by a long shot. Racism is like a game of chess, it takes time and small moves to make a difference on the board.