It’s a nice thought—the idea that racism in America will die out with older generations of racist white people. It’s the kind of optimism that might legitimize the belief that the nation is at least headed toward a post-racial era. Unfortunately, these racist kids keep getting in the way of the narrative.
All one needs to do is Google the words “racist Snapchat” or “racist promposal” to know that the current crop of high school-age teens in America are far from immune to the influence of bigotry and anti-Blackness.
On Monday, at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Villiage, Kansas, dozens of students walked off of campus during school hours in protest of an incident involving a Black female student and a white male student who was caught on video charging towards and attacking the Black teen after calling her the n-word twice.
From the Kansas City Star:
At 11 a.m. Monday, a mass of students walked out of class and marched outside of Shawnee Mission East, chanting “We want change,” “Have our backs” and “How many more times.”
The walkout was sparked by the recent altercation that students characterized as a hate crime and said sent the girl to the hospital. But several of the high schoolers argued it was only the latest in a series of racist incidents they feel have happened without school leaders taking appropriate action.
Students held signs that read, “We demand action! Protect students of color,” “We don’t feel safe,” and “Take action now.” They called on school leaders to take stronger steps to eradicate racism and issue more serious discipline for discrimination and hate speech.
It’s a story we’ve seen play out over and over again: A viral incident involving racist bullying at a school becomes a trending news story, which inevitably opens the floodgates for students at that school to testify about how they have also been affected by the longstanding racist behavior by white students or staff that the say routinely gets ignored or shrugged off by school officials.
“This has been an ongoing issue with racism at East. There are multiple situations that have happened over and over again,” said senior Charlize Littlejohn, who was in the hallway when the fight between the two students broke out. “I think we’re all just really tired of trying to get change and it just not happening. We’re just exhausted. Trying to go to class, it really affects us.”
According to the Kansas City Defender, the episode began when the Black student confronted a white female student about her use of racial slurs. That confrontation reportedly didn’t result in any physical violence. What the video shows is the Black teen saying, “Don’t say nothing unless you’re gonna come say it to my face,” to which the white male student, who didn’t appear to be part of the initial confrontation, responded by shouting at the Black student yo “shut the f**k up!” The Black student then turned around to ask who said it, and that’s when the white student identified himself, charged towards her while shouting racial slurs, then pushed her, which resulted in the two students exchanging blows.
“We were all there. We all watched it. It was emotional and it was traumatizing,” Littlejohn said. “I want things to change. Everybody who was there watching it, they’re not going to feel safe. I’m not going to feel safe in class. Because that could have been anybody. He could have done it to anybody. And I think that’s just scary something like that can happen inside of a school.”
The Defender reported that both students were suspended, but that wasn’t confirmed by school officials. District spokeswoman Kristin Babcock told the Star “she could not comment on the incident due to student privacy issues,” but she did give the standard speel about how racism is unacceptable that is often given by school administrators at schools and districts where students claim racism is extremely acceptable.
“We take incidents of racism and physical violence very seriously,” Babcock said. “We do have a code of conduct in place, and we follow our policies and procedures.”
What ever those procedures are, students at Shawnee say it’s not nearly enough.
More from the Kansas City Star:
It is unclear how the school may have punished the white student, but students at the protest claimed he received a suspension they felt was not a strong enough punishment.
Littlejohn said she’s frustrated, claiming students were not offered any support or explanation after the fight. “There was no follow-up, no email sent, no announcement. It wasn’t recognized,” she said.
Students who witnessed or heard about the fight helped organize Monday’s protest.