The San Francisco Unified School District Arts Department has decided to abandon its acronym, apparently in a bid to end racism – but many Twitter users have failed to appreciate this historic step forward for equality.
Formerly known as ‘VAPA’, short for ‘Visual and Performing Arts’, the department announced that going forward it would be referred to as the SFUSD Arts Department because “acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture,” a local ABC affiliate reported.
The name change is a “simple step” that can be taken to ensure families from all backgrounds “better understand who we are,” explained the department’s director, Sam Bass. He said the move, which comes at a time when San Francisco schools remain shuttered due to Covid-19 restrictions, was part of a policy aimed at “prioritizing antiracist arts instruction in our work.”
Elaborating on the new name, which also uses an acronym, Bass stressed that he didn’t want to “alienate” those who may not speak English and therefore are unable to understand what ‘VAPA’ stands for. He did not explain how the same individuals could comprehend the meaning of ‘SFUSD Arts Department’.
But the re-brand has apparently already sparked confusion. When San Francisco Mayor London Breed was pressed to comment on the name change by the media, she reportedly was initially unaware of the move and didn’t understand the question.
Social media users were similarly perplexed.
“At some point this becomes absurd. Or scary if you work at a public school,” noted one commenter.
“We are prioritizing antiracist arts instruction in our work…. Acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture.” Best part? Now “they’ll simply be called SFUSD Arts Dept.”At some point this becomes absurd. Or scary if you work at a public school. https://t.co/z5avgBvKYR
— Peter Moskos (@PeterMoskos) February 2, 2021
Another observer described the name change as a perfect example of San Francisco, known for its free-wheeling progressivism, engaging in unintentional self-parody.
Ah, San Francisco. Land of the ‘Parody of Itself’.NORMAL HUMANS:”We’re trying to reduce the use of acronyms because they’re often confusing, especially for non-native speakers.”SF PEOPLE:”Acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture” https://t.co/m1xZAUSFx6
— Adam Lasnik (@thatadamguy) February 2, 2021
Congressman Ted Lieu (D-California) was similarly peeved, noting that acronyms serve a useful purpose and that labeling them as tools of white supremacy was “stupid.”
This is stupid. Acronyms are not a symptom of white supremacy culture. They are shorthand to make communicating more efficient. For example, CAPAC stands for Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Much easier to say CAPAC. Or ACLU. Or NAACP. Or NASA.https://t.co/tniNa6oB0I
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) February 2, 2021
Few seemed supportive of the idea, although several Twitter pundits, including author Jill Filipovic, argued that there was no harm in dropping the acronym if it was deemed needlessly confusing.
Is the quote “acronyms are a symptom of white supremacy culture” a dumb thing to say, at once totally imprecise and guaranteed to gin up outrage? Yes. Does it make sense for the school to change the acronyms because they don’t anyone, especially not a diverse school? Also yes.
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) February 2, 2021
The San Francisco Unified School District has been busy in recent weeks, even while its facilities remain closed to students. At the end of January it voted to rename 44 schools named after public figures accused of engaging in “the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions led to genocide; or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Some of the schools slated for a re-brand were named after former presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and current Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California).
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