Thursday, January 10, 2013

Racist ass-hole or stupid kid, the jury's still out...

Sometimes when I'm scouring the news sites, as is my wont, I'll come across a story that I can't quite make up my mind about.  I tend to aim my rapier like wit and keen intellect (stop laughing!) at the stories that range from the ridiculous to the sublime, but sometimes I'll find one that's not funny, not ridiculous, and leaves me feeling conflicted and a little uncomfortable.

Take this story for example, about a Wisconsin student who put some horrendously racist, and quite frankly threatening, items on the desk of another student who happened to be black.  This is a perfect example of a situation where I can't quite decide where I sit.

For those whose link clicking finger is broken (or who can't be assed), a 15 year old student in Baldwin thought it would be funny to put a hand made noose and a KKK symbol on the desk of one of the only three black students in the school.

Sometimes I can't help but weep for the future.

The student was originally given a one day in-school suspension, which has since been upped to a longer out of school suspension, but there are people who think that he should have been expelled and had criminal charges brought against him.  I can see their point.  Just because he's a kid doesn't mean he shouldn't be accountable for what he does.

But on the other hand, this is a 15 year old kid we're talking about.  A stupid, immature kid who probably wasn't thinking of the consequences of his actions.  A kid who, in a few years time, is probably going to really regret having done it.

There's one thing I'm not conflicted about though.  What he did was NOT okay. I was involved in a discussion on Boxing Day where we were talking about how the fight against homophobia was our generation's battle, like the fights against sexism and racism were fought by previous generations.  But of course it's easy to forget that just because most people have woken up to the fact that a person's race doesn't define their significance, doesn't mean that there aren't still some real ass-holes out there.

So what are your opinions?  Do you think he got off too lightly, or do you think that you have to cut stupid teenagers a bit of slack?  Personally, I'm still torn.

53 comments:

  1. Hello Kellie:
    We completely understand what you are saying here and, indeed, why you should be somewhat undecided in your view of this particular incident.

    However, living in a country where the most dreadful atrocities of a racist nature against the Romai population are currently being committed and 'overlooked' by the government of the day, we perhaps have reason for taking a harder line. And yes, the fight against homophobia is one in which we should all take a part.

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    1. Well we can only hope that his parents decided to educate him about racism, seeing as the school didn't seem inclined to.

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    1. Panda's are, by far, the coolest of the bearesque animals.

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  3. Look, do not weep for the future. We have made great strides, in my opinion, when it comes to addressing racism, homophobia, sexism, bullying, etc. These stories, however, are a reminder that our work is far from over.

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    1. True, I suppose these stories are the exceptions, not the rule, and they're becoming rarer and rarer.

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  4. I think an out-of-school suspension is appropriate. But I hope there is some pointed education undertaken with this kid about why what he did was wrong. Maybe he should have to research and write an essay about black oppression. If it happens again, harsher penalties should be imposed, in a graduated kind of way.

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    1. One can only hope they do that, otherwise it's really just a holiday for him.

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  5. I think the kid just made a stupid teenage mistake. You're right that he will regret it one day and therein lies the lesson.

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  6. As I am the most conflicted person on the planet...no contest...I agree that this is a real fence straddler. Yes, given the kids age and total lack of common sense it would be a shame to expel him BUT what a fu**** moron. What kind of idiot doesn't get that this was so over the line. I do think that someone needs to figure out some type of community service project that deals with some diversity. It would be valuable tool to make this little shit more tolerant of others.

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    1. Hopefully his parents will do something about it. Doesn't look like the school is interested.

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  7. I would like to believe that some day he will regret the action. But that doesn't always happen. I like to see the best in people but not at the exclusion of seeing reality, either. I'm not a cynic, but I live in the South. There is still some fairly rampant racism in my part of the country, racism that people often choose to turn a blind eye to. It's not as overt as physical violence. It's more insidious than that, more subtle, more easily written off as "Oh, he probably didn't mean it that way." But the problem is this: he most likely did mean it that way. I don't know about other 15 year olds, but when I was 15 I knew right from wrong. This isn't a subtle issue. A young man put symbols of a hate group onto the desk of a person whom that very group finds to be abominable and "lesser." That is not ok. I'm a little appalled at the fact that the initial punishment was a one day in-school suspension. But here is, perhaps, the real crux of the issue: the punishment doesn't fit the crime. I've long believed that suspension, be it in school or out, doesn't really solve anything. First of all, out of school suspension is only punishment if the child has parents willing to make it so. Perhaps the young man should have been forced to do community service or to interact with history in a manner that teaches him the meaning of such symbols, if he, in fact, did not "fully understand" what he had done. He is 15. Criminal charges are too much for a first-time offense, I think. But there is a real opportunity to educate, not just this young man but an entire school. These are the tiny battlegrounds for racial equality. And in our modern society, plugged into all manner of technology and social media, it seems that it's the small battlegrounds that count the most.

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    1. Good points all Kate...well stated.

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    2. I could not agree with you more!!!

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    3. I certainly hope the school does something about educating them, otherwise it could be seen as a tacit approval.

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  8. As a mother of teen-agers I KNOW that they sometimes do and say the most thoughtless things. Their brains aren't fully formed. But I also know that this boy didn't come up with this idea all by himself. Did he get these racist ideas at home? Probably. I think he should be suspended but not prosecuted and schoolofficials should find out where he is getting these racist ideas and intervene. When kids are young and aware is the best time for them to start to become good responsible adults.

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  9. Racist-asshole and stupid are kind of one and the same. However 15 year olds can be enlightened so I would not punish him too severly this time.

    As for the future you worry about, based on what I've observed with my kids and their peers, racism is on the way out and we are turning the corner on Homophobia.

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    1. That's true. It's the exception now rather than the rule so that's progress.

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  10. I would like the teenager to really have to spend some quality time with the student he offended so he realizes that black and white families are all the same. This is learned behavior at home and he needs to see beyond the racist behavior he is learning at his house.

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    1. I could not agree more. As a mother of three biracial sons, I feel like most ignorant comments and situations come from just that-- a place of ignorance, lack of experience and understanding. I feel like punishments should have meaning and lessons learned.

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    2. Kellie! I agree with these two wise ladies. I am in a biracial marriage and I get offended, too, at times. My husband is from Mexico but has lived in Utah for many years. (he always says "I'm almost from Utah".) People just need to be smarter, kinder and if it takes a lesson to get that behavior manifested then all the better.

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    3. I super agree with the sentiment, but I feel like the victimized student would be punished by requiring him to hang out with the student who made these threatening remarks to him.

      There needs to be an educational component to this student's punishment, but maybe one where he is taken out of a situation to continue doing harm while he learns.

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    4. That's a really good point! Racism is usually the result of ignorance and lack of empathy.

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  11. This kid needs sensitivity training but shouldn't be treated like a criminal. It would be interesting to know this person's mind set--why they did this. Maybe it was just a terrible joke gone bad. I'm sure that over the years I've been guilty of this.

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    1. It's possible he learned it from home or school, or even that he was a stupid kid who didn't think it through and just did it.

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  12. I just wonder what this kids parents have done and said to influence this kids beuaviour to the extent that this kid feels comfortable doing something like this. Perhaps the parents should be held accountable as well. I don't believe this kids learns this sort of behaviour from school.

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    1. It's hard to tell. If it was learned, even just as a result of no one ever actually talking about it, then hopefully they'll do something to sort it out.

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  13. I'm torn too. I think the punishment should depend on the kid. If he's been pretty much a good kid and this is obviously a one time grossly misguided mistake then lessen the punishment but if this kid is a troublemaker and has a history of this kind of behavior then much harsher punishment.

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    1. Either way, someone needs to make sure he's educated about things like that.

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  14. It seems like expelling him is just passing the buck. If he's a teenager, he still has a chance to learn. I would love it if schools took it as a learning opportunity. Instead of suspension, give him two hours detention every day for a year. During that detention, he has to take diversity courses, listen to stories of discrimination, and actually LEARN why he's a complete dumb ass.

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    1. That would be the good option, but for some reason a lot of schools don't choose to do that. They're so afraid of offending someone that they won't make a stand on any issue.

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  15. I second the comment made by 'The Six-Fingered Monkey.' Sure feel for those three black students in that school.

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    1. It must be quite uncomfortable for them right now.

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  16. Having lived in Wisconsin almost my entire life, and having worked with students for a great part of my career, I am as equally torn as you, Kellie. I guess my question isn't the severity as much as it is why THIS punishment as a consequence? What is being done to educate the kid that what he did was unacceptable behavior? 15 year olds have a long way to go in gaining proper logic and reasoning skills for problem solving, but this would have been an apt opportunity to give the kid a kick in the right direction. A guided reflection and some education to drive the point home.

    Culturally, I would guess the school board is just out of their league. Wisconsin is one of the least diverse states, especially in regard to black populations, and it's likely they had no idea where to even start (not an excuse, but an explanation).

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    1. That's a good point, but if it is the truth then hopefully it will make the school look into getting the resources they need to deal with things like this.

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  17. I don't quite understand how at home suspension is seen as "punishment",I would love a day at home, reading, creating art, playing with the dog. Where is the lesson learnt in that?

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    1. I agree, without the incentive of a salary to take away, sending the kid home and telling him to stay there is about the least effective deterrent I've ever heard of.

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  18. I don't know what precise punishment I think he deserves truthfully but a suspension isn't it. In an age where we are becoming ever more conscious of bullying and the effects of overt and covert behavior we can't ignore this and just say it's a kid doing something stupid. Kids doing something stupid over the last few years have caused a rash of suicides, depression, victims dropping out of school or underperforming because of the harassment. I'm sure this wasn't the first incident the Black students have experienced it was just the most overt and impossible to ignore. Schools like to ignore bullying as kids being kids until something explodes like this. We have to do better and be better examples for our kids on all levels. And I could be biased but I don't believe Black and White families are the same. I think we share some similarities but there are lots of things that happened at my house growing up and happen at my house now that certainly do not and did not happen at my White friends houses. From food to traditions there ARE differences but those things don't mean we can't interact and like each other.

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    1. That's the problem, isn't it. If the schools condone the behaviour, even passively, it just breeds yet another generation of morons who can't think for themselves. Well if this incident makes the school sit up and take notice, at least something good will have come from it.

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  19. I think that the kids parents should have been brought into the school to have a meeting with headmaster and parents of the black kid who had been offended, so that they could discuss why such a prank happened and the consequences of his actions. Any issues on either side can then be talked about at that meeting.

    Should he be suspended? Yes, for a short while, for him to truly think about what he had done, with some history lessons too. This punishment would also serve as a deterrent to the other children who are old enough to know better.

    I say all of this because of the dark history behind what the KKK did to black people, and it should not in any way, shape, or form be allowed to be used as a joke. If this kid had done this to a jewish person, there would have been uproar. So the same principals apply.

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    1. I'd feel better about it if I thought suspension was actually an effective punishment. Even when I was at school, it really didn't mean anything unless your parents made it.

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  20. I think that even at fifteen, most kids have nearly their entire personality already formed, and this one's is truly disturbing. My guess is that his family of origin is likely just as off kilter. The parents need to be required to attend some counseling WITH this kid.

    I think a one day suspension was too little, but there ought to be a more involved way to address this, such as mandated attendance at supervised meetings with those of other races. Of course, the "others" would have to be there voluntarily, but if this young person actually became acquainted with a few folks different from himself, he might learn that we are all human, with hopes, fears, talents and challenges.

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    1. We can only hope his parents and the school use it as an opportunity to teach him and the other kids.

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  21. I agree with "Six Fingered Monkey" & "Debra She Who Seeks."

    In reading the article, it says the Parents of the boy were "shocked." Maybe that's true, maybe not. Who knows. Did he actually learn this type of behavior at home???

    Or, did he see something of the "likes" in a new movie that was just released???

    Peer Pressure???

    In the end, you hope that he learns from his "mistake(s)."

    Take care, Slu

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    1. I suppose it's possible that he didn't even realise the significance of what he was doing. If he didn't know about the history of the KKK, and you'd have to hope he didn't given what he did, then perhaps he didn't realise how serious the issue was ... although how anyone could think a noose wasn't serious is beyond me.

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  22. I think a 15 years is old enough to know right from wrong. And though he may not have thought about the consequences of his actions, there should still be some strong ones. The kids that were hurt because of his actions won't easily move on and I am sure there will be some deep seeded anguish that will linger for quite some time.

    I, too, weep for the future of the world.

    Hugs!

    Valerie

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    1. The article said his parents were shocked, so I just hope that's true. If they really were, then they'll make his suspension a real punishment rather than a holiday.

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  23. I want to say that Hate is learned in the home. But then that isn't always the case. I want to say the kid should get an awfully long sentence, but then I'm not sure.

    I am torn, but not torn. Stuff like this makes me literally weep for the future as well. We sit back and watch stuff go on and we sometimes don't have anything else to do but to scratch our heads and wonder 'why?'

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  24. I think that rather than expel the kid, he should be educated about what he did and have to make amends. We are always so focused on being punitive, but that doesn't necessarily help the problem. I'm glad he got suspended, that seems appropriate, but why not then make him undergo sensitivity training, and maybe do further research and come up with some sort of presentation for the school that would help educate other students? That would seem more beneficial than kicking him out and sending him to jail.

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    1. It's hard to educate a boy raised on 15 years of believing that type of behavior is okay.

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  25. I live in Baldwin and know the boy who did this unacceptable thing. The sad thing is that this whole town, schools, churches etc. are full of very racially biased people. A few years ago we had a huge fight between some Hmong kids and white because of racial tension that was neglected and had built its way up. The school needs to expel the boy. There needs to be a no tolerance attitude for a town built on the 96% white pop.

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