Thursday, August 15, 2019

Calling it Out

It wasn’t hard to find the racist social media post. Hurt and angry students pointed the way. And their words show that they are more than outraged. There’s a sense of weariness, that these acts of blatant racism will never cease. I get the feeling that they wonder how this can continue if it isn’t somehow condoned. They feel let down by the system.

The poster is your typical “nice” white kid with good grades and admirable extracurriculars. Her apology (once caught) is an exercise in what happens when the bright light of truth shines on white privilege.

It was just a joke.
My dad does it.
I thought it was okay if I didn’t really mean it.
Now everyone will think I’m racist.

So we all know by now that teens apply dark colored facial masks, and feel inexplicably drawn to sharing this “look” on social media. But when one takes the extra step of adding a joke about the Jim Crow South it is not an accident. It is deliberate. Let’s face it, you think the experience of blacks during Jim Crow is joke-worthy.

If you don’t understand how loathsome this is, please stop right now and do some research.

Now imagine you are a student of color in Howard County. You go to school every day knowing there are people around you who may act “nice” to your face, but their pleasant facade may mask a person who is not to be trusted. Imagine trying to get an education under those circumstances. Sure, there are always those overt acts of racism that you feel deeply and others don’t even see. But then there are the days when you wonder about your friends. What do they really think about you? Would they stick up for you? What do they say behind your back?

That is a huge weight for young people to carry and it actively interferes with the educational process. It makes it harder to pay attention, to participate in class, to take academic risks. Something precious is taken away. White students swim in the waters of white privilege. Students of color navigate far more treacherous waters.

All of this is to say these occurrences aren’t jokes or pranks. They aren’t harmless. They wound. And the damage is cumulative. It adds up.

I haven’t shared the evidence I have about this incident because the students are minors. Yes, it’s all out there on social media. It’s fair game. But I have a natural reticence to expose it just “for the clicks.” I want to leave you with this thought, though. The victims of such racist acts are also minors.

Yes, these incidents have victims and they are the ones we should be thinking of first. Every single time. Not whether it was a “nice” kid. With a bright future. Who didn’t really mean it.

Our responsibility, whether we are parents, or teachers, or administrators, is to work actively to make our community as safe for those who have traditionally been on the receiving end of such mockery as it is for the ones who find it so easy to perpetrate it.

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