The predominantly white high school basketball team chanted, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “Build a wall! Build a wall!” at their rivals, a predominantly Latino team.
That happened in Indiana last week.
And also Iowa.
Apparently, this is now a thing. Dan Good of the NY Daily News writes, “Donald Trump’s name is the new slur.”
That is actually incorrect. To clarify, a slur is a derogatory word or expression for someone. The white students were not calling the Latino athletes “Trumps”. The white students were using “Trump” as a threat: the threat of deportation, the threat of exclusion, the threat of xenophobia, the threat of racism and the threat of physical violence that hatred on the basis of identity justifies.
And that’s where we are in our current racial political discourse: “Trump” and even “USA” are being used as “code-phrase for derogatory, racist statements,” according to Joe Enriquez Henry, National Vice President of the Midwest Region for the League of United Latin American Citizens.
In swift response to the Indiana incident, the diocese that oversees both of the Catholic schools involved issued the following statement:
Any actions or words that can be perceived as racist or derogatory to others are antithetical to the Christian faith and will not be tolerated in any of our institutions. It was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind that such actions would be happening at a gathering of two of our Catholic high schools. This is not what we teach our students.
… which leaves me unsurprised, and angry.
Unsurprised: This is a boilerplate what-to-say-when-something-racist happens.
- Racism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. We have to stop using identities like “Christian,” “ally” and “nice person” to deny the possibility that Christians, allies and nice people can say or do racist things. In fact, a lot of racist acts and speech are perpetrated by nice, good people. It’s a red herring to claim that racism is “antithetical” to the Christian faith. The more honest and more useful question is: how may Christianity, ally-ship and other constructs of aspirational identity elide over, resonate with or even cultivate racist attitudes–all while aspiring ?
- “It was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind that such actions would be happening.” Really? Athletics are steeped in a tradition of trash-talk that has long tolerated, if not encouraged, homophobic, misogynist, racist and other slurs. While I don’t know what this diocese has implemented in terms of training and rules around player, coach and fan conduct, it’s naïve and–more to the point–irresponsible to be shocked that name-calling and threats could possibly happen in the context of an athletic competition. I understand being surprised that a student would be wielding a giant Trump head on the sidelines. But it’s our professional responsibility as educators on and off the court, in and out of the classroom, to recognize normative cultural scripts that may be compelling to our students in their identity development. And to be prepared to respond.
- “This is not what we teach our students.” I believe this. My question is: what do you teach your students? Do you teach them how to talk about race? Do you teach them how to know and integrate their own racial identities? Do you teach them how to have difficult conversations about race? Do you teach them to recognize their own perspectives, biases, systemically-activated privileges and disadvantages? Do you teach them about the intersection of race, socioeconomics, gender, sexuality–and faith and politics? Because if you don’t, then you’re letting someone else teach them and acting surprised when the students don’t meet your expectations. And if you don’t, you’re still teaching your students something: that this is how adults handle race.
I hesitated over leaving the word “angry” in this post. I considered “frustrated” or even “frustrated but hopeful.” I am both frustrated and hopeful. But I’m leaving “angry” in because that’s how I feel whenever I think about a child or youth who is trying–trying in school, trying on the basketball court, trying in their free time to engage in the political process–and once again, they don’t get to be just a student, an athlete or a citizen: they have to be a skin color, or a sexual orientation, or a gender that is the object of a system of discrimination and oppression that everyone else gets to pretend is the exception, not the everyday rule. And after we gasp and shake our heads, we assure ourselves that the problem is not us, and we go back to, consciously or not, sowing the seeds for next time.