Backlash at Gilman and Bryn Mawr: Anonymous letter calls anti-racism efforts at Baltimore private schools ‘cancerous’ | COMMENTARY

Backlash at Gilman and Bryn Mawr: Anonymous letter calls anti-racism efforts at Baltimore private schools ‘cancerous’ | COMMENTARY
·5 min read

I guess this is what white conservative backlash looks like — an anonymous, racist letter complaining hysterically about the effort to address racism in two private schools in Baltimore.

Bryn Mawr School and Gilman School are “brainwashing our beautiful, colorblind children”!

They’re trying to appease an “anti-intellectual, illiberal mob”!

This “obsession with race” must stop!

Besides, the letter adds, there’s no need for it: “We have not had systemic racism against Blacks in this country since the civil rights reforms of the 1960s.”

Wow. My fellow white people really get the vapors at the prospect of their “beautiful, colorblind children” being made aware of racism in our midst and in our history.

The letter I’m referencing could have been written by Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ prime time racist. But it was actually taken from a rant written by the parent of a girl at an elite prep school in New York City. In fact, a lot of the prose is the same as the New York dad’s, but customized for Gilman and Bryn Mawr.

The letter has been in circulation since late April, and the heads of both schools have addressed it in messages to parents.

The letter, claiming to represent the views of parents, offers dire warnings about the quality of education at Bryn Mawr and Gilman if the schools persist with incorporating, in teaching and class discussions, the nation’s history of racism and struggles with racial equality.

Since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last year, some public and private schools have stepped up efforts to address racism. It’s part of a much-needed national reckoning.

But there’s been increasing backlash. Some of my fellow white people just hate this subject, and hate even more that their kids’ class time might be taken up with it — especially at the expensive private schools.

An “enough is enough” letter written by Andrew Gutmann, the father of a student at the all-girls Brearley School in Manhattan, went viral last month. Within a week or so, someone — we don’t know who yet — took Gutmann’s 1,700-word harangue and adapted it to Bryn Mawr and Gilman.

In a cover note, the anonymous composer suggests that parents send a copy of the letter “anonymously or personalized” to their child’s school administration or trustees.

Here are some of the letters’ key points and choice quotes:

  • “Bryn Mawr and Gilman have completely lost their way.”

  • Addressing race at the schools “desecrates” the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Systemic racism is the stuff of a distant time — segregated schools and lunch counters, the internment of Japanese-Americans and the murder of millions of Jews during World War II. It is not “a small number of isolated incidences [sic] over a period of time,” and it is not “microaggressions” that might occur within the student body today.

  • The letter claims that parents object to the “fanatical use of words such as ‘equity,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness.’ ”

  • The letter asserts that admissions and academic standards at both schools are falling because of efforts at diversity.

  • In an expression of woe for the privileged who might of late feel shunned by the schools, the letter calls for a discussion of “the cessation of admissions preferences for legacies, siblings and those families with deep pockets.” In other words, bring back white privilege in force!

  • The letter decries what it claims to be the schools’ support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and it calls BLM “a Marxist, anti-family, heterophobic, anti-Asian and anti-Semitic organization,” a characterization straight out of the Trumposphere.

  • The letter demands a stop to Being Black at The Trischools. That’s an Instagram account founded after Floyd’s death as a forum for students and alumni of Bryn Mawr, Gilman and Roland Park Country School. The letter calls the account racist and divisive and says “the website should be taken down.”

  • Students are being taught to “hate their country and despise its history,” the letter declares.

  • Discussions of race and efforts at diversity and inclusion amount to “anti intellectual claptrap.”

  • Gilman’s and Bryn Mawr’s anti-racism policies are “cancerous.”

So that’s a taste of this screed.

A person formerly associated with Gilman sent it to me, appalled at its content.

Administrators at both schools received the letter and were aware that it had been circulating since shortly after an April walkout of about 100 students in support of a popular Black teacher who said she resigned from her Bryn Mawr position after an incident involving a disrespectful white student.

In a May 3 message to the Gilman community, Henry P.A. Smyth, headmaster, and Johnnie L. Foreman Jr., the director of community, inclusion and equity, acknowledged the anonymous letter and noted its origin in New York.

“We want to take this opportunity to affirm our commitment to community, inclusion, and equity work at Gilman,” Smyth and Foreman wrote. “This work includes ensuring that everyone in our school community feels a sense of belonging.”

At Bryn Mawr, Sue Sadler, the head of school, received three copies of the letter, according to Deborah Baum, the school’s director of communications.

In an April 29 message to Bryn Mawr parents, Sadler called the unsigned letter “hurtful,” “harmful” and counter to the school’s mission.

“We know how painful it is to have this letter being shared in our community and regret the hurt that it is causing our students, employees and families,” Sadler wrote.

She restated the school’s commitment to its plan for diversity, equity and inclusion and called for an open dialogue about it with those who might disagree.

Yes, open dialogue. It’s a great concept — except that, even today, when racists are supposedly more brazen, more open about their prejudices, most of them still prefer anonymity. They might harbor ugly views, but they wouldn’t want their “beautiful, colorblind children” to know that.

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