Voices of Our Youth

A student’s perspective on anti-Blackness in a PCS school

Kaitlyn McKay-Cohen

By Yamira Patterson, St. Petersburg High School student

Kaitlyn McKay-Cohen is a senior at St. Petersburg High School. She sat down with me to give her views on being a Black student in a majority white school.

Yamira: What are some of your experiences with racism and anti-Blackness in your school or past schools? How have your experiences affected your mental health?

Kaitlyn McKay-Cohen: I have had multiple experiences with racism at St. Petersburg High School. One that especially sticks out to me is an incident that happened during my junior year when a lynching rope was draped across the back of my chair in English class. The school conducted a short two-day investigation, and nothing was done. They asked me not to speak about it. I felt alienated and alone.

Yamira: What are some examples of microaggressions that you have experienced form teachers or peers? How have these microaggressions influenced your relationships with them?

Kaitlyn McKay-Cohen: I often have to deal with people touching my hair as if I’m some kind of animal at the zoo. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable, and I am less outgoing because of it. I try to keep to myself.

Yamira: What are your thoughts on “controversial” language like the term “minorities” and “illegals?” How has this language affected your experience in your school?

Kaitlyn McKay-Cohen: Personally, I do not have an issue with the term “minorities.” However, “illegals” does make me extremely uncomfortable. Even though I am not an immigrant myself, the idea that someone could be “illegal” on stolen land is ridiculous. And to label someone simply as an “illegal” completely diminishes their identity as a human being.

Yamira: How has your relationship with BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) teachers affected your experience in the classroom?

Kaitlyn McKay-Cohen: Unfortunately, I haven’t had any BIPOC teachers.

Yamira Patterson

Yamira Patterson is a junior at St. Petersburg High School in the International Baccalaureate Program. She is a student activist coordinator with Amnesty International USA and involved in various youth-led advocacy organizations. She is also the SPHS Black Students Association’s co-president and the SPHS Amnesty International Club president.

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