Appropriate graduation conduct: a cultural thing

6 Jun

In the spirit of this season of graduation, here are two stories about commencements gone wrong, at least for two families. The headlines speak for themselves:

“Student Denied Diploma Because Family Cheered Too Loudly at Graduation Ceremony” (http://gawker.com/5916037/student-denied-diploma-because-family-cheered-too-loudly-at-graduation-ceremony) describes how senior Anthony Cornist was denied the high school diploma he earned because of “excessive cheering” by his guests during the commencement ceremony.

Just one day earlier, “Mom Locked up for Cheering at Child’s Graduation” (http://www.carolinalive.com/news/story.aspx?id=761693#.T86KbEXa7Ss) reports that while Iesha Cooper got to graduate from high school, her mother was arrested during the ceremony for “disorderly conduct.”

Iesha’s mother sums up the question I’m left with after reading these stories: “Disorderly conduct? What’s the disorderly conduct? How [were they] so disorderly… any different from just [any other happy family members]?”

While neither article mentioned racial or ethnic identity, both included photos of the students whose families were at the center of the controversies. It’s worth noting that the mothers who were “too loud” are both brown-skinned.

Here is Anthony and his mother:

And here are Iesha and her mom:

Lacking video footage of the allegedly “disorderly” behavior at either graduation, let’s just assume that Iesha’s mom and Anthony’s family were loud. Isn’t it likely, as Iesha notes, that “other people [were] cheering and [the police] didn’t lock them up”?

I think it’s worth considering not if but how race influenced perception and action in both of these instances. How does race shape our perception of someone who is excited? Of that person being a threat, versus a happy (and harmless) reveler? And whose racial culture gets to define what behavior is appropriate for a graduation?

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