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Hopkins High Isn’t the Poster School for Racial Equity

Guest Column: Hopkins High Isn’t the Poster School for Racial Equity

Ryan Williams-Verdin, Guest Columnist

Ryan Williams-Verdin, Guest Columnist

In February, white students at Hopkins High School, members of the ski team, held what they called “Rappers Day,” which became known as “Ghetto Spirit Day,” in celebration of an upcoming trip. It consisted of students dressing up as “gangstas”: wearing do-rags, gold chains, sagging pants, etc.

This has garnered attention because two students are facing legal trouble due to a heated conversation in an assistant principal’s office. In this conversation, one of them allegedly
Listen: People’s culture, race and ethnicity are off limits. It should be a fairly simple lesson to learn. Sadly, many do not pick up on this. Instead, they find their amusement in mockery and get let off the hook by the convoluted idea we are somehow post-racial. Nothing can be further from the truth. This incident at Hopkins High offers the opportunity to illustrate just that.put his hands on a police officer’s chest, trying to clear a path for leaving the office, after attempting to retrieve posters which had been confiscated, made in protest of the event. These students are black. This is where most of the analysis will end. That is a shame.

First, this type of event, whether it was actually “Ghetto Spirit Day” or “Rappers Day”

black_face

doesn’t matter because the racial nature of hip-hop stems from the ugly history of minstrel (blackface) in this country. The students who protested this event clearly picked up on this, as one told MPR: “They dressed up like gangsters basically. There were sagging chinchilla coats with the chains, joint in the ear just mocking our culture. Really, how we reacted, we felt it was modern-day ‘blackfacing.’”

That’s all it should have taken for the administration to step in and do some meaningful intervention, including disciplining the students who planned the event. Sadly, this is not what happened. The students responsible went on their ski trip. When they returned, they had a conversation where they got to say sorry and reassert they are not racist. No, you, and Hopkins High, are racist, period.

This is because racism is not about intent–it’s about impact, and the elevating of whites over people of color, which is what mocking a distinctly black culture amounts to. By failing to react appropriately to the concerns of the black students who were protesting, the school sent the message that their concerns were not legitimate, that they were not worthy of consideration. The school essentially gave the ski team the benefit of the doubt and dismissed the black students. This was reinforced with the removal of the protest posters for a technicality: not having them stamped.

When something like this happens, there is often no time to go through the “appropriate channels.” Instead of punishing these students, Hopkins should have recognized the circumstances and stamped the posters as they were hanging. This would have shown support for the students and demonstrated a commitment to racial justice and equity. Instead, the school chose to be sticklers for “the process” and demonstrated their commitment to a racist status quo.

As bad as that is, the racial implications of this matter do not end there. The students were suspended and are now facing criminal charges due to the confrontation in the assistant principal’s office. This is not insignificant. The school-to-prison pipeline is well-documented, and this is yet another example of it. Sure, making contact with a police officer is never a good idea. However, these are teenagers in an emotionally charged situation. I don’t think a “push” warrants charges. No physical injuries have been reported by the officer (to my knowledge). I am sure some discretion could have been applied and the charges dropped or never even pursued.

The students were already suspended, which is a part of your permanent school transcript. Why compound the punishment? Predictably, charges were filed, and now these students, who were simply trying to get some justice and respect, are faced with a criminal record. Again, not insignificant. This is all to say nothing of why a police officer was called to the office in the first place? Were the students violent? Threatening? Or, were they simply black men and, as such, seen as a threat? What are police doing in our schools, anyway? The conflation of our criminal “justice” system and education is a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed immediately.

It is not too late to get some form of justice. Demand that the charges be dropped and that Hopkins High School address the  concerns of its 30 percent non-white population. Here is a free hint, Hopkins: A good first step would be listening to those concerns in the first place.

***

Ryan Williams-Virden is an artist, educator, and community member from Minneapolis. He writes, speaks and performs mostly around issues of justice and equality. He was a founding member of Poetic Assassins, a spoken word duo that toured the country performing and facilitating shows and discussions. He recently has moved on and is pursuing solo endeavors. He can be reached at rwvbooking@gmail.com.

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