Middle school name debate exposes Concord’s unconscious racial bias  

April 13, 2024

During the February 6 School Committee discussion of the middle school’s name, I was struck by certain unspoken assumptions. The main contender for the name — proposed 10 months ago by community members — was the Ellen Garrison Middle School, which would honor an educator, abolitionist, and civil rights activist born and raised in Concord in the 1800s. Ms. Garrison was also a Black woman. 

Those opposed to the name repeatedly spoke of a fear of division and marginalization. But who would this name divide and marginalize? The main worry seems to be that white students would not feel they belonged in a school named after someone of a different race. 

This fear is a hallmark of white fragility; the defensiveness that comes when white people’s racial worldviews or privilege are challenged. In contrast to these unwarranted fears, I have heard many stories first-hand from people of color who have been followed around Concord stores or asked why they are walking in a Concord neighborhood, and from Concord students of color who have been called racial slurs by classmates or been told “their kind” are too loud. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. 

My main question for my fellow residents, for the two School Committee members who voted against the name, and for the one who voted “present” is this: who would be harmed if the school was named for Garrison? 

A school name won’t solve racism in our town. But this discussion has exposed the unconscious racial bias that exists beneath the veneer of our progressive, liberal town. The first steps to changing this bias are acknowledging it (as I have done in myself) and learning more about the experiences of people of color in our town. Let’s work together to become a truly welcoming community. 

Elizabeth Frank 
Elm Street