On September 29th, during a varsity football game in West Texas between Lamesa High School and Greenwood High School, one player verbally abused another player with a slew of racial slurs. In response to the disgraceful name-calling, 16-year-old Lamesa High student O’Sean Williams struck the offending Greenwood player. Both student-athletes were subsequently ejected from the game.
Sadly, racist slurs and taunting are common occurrences at every level of competition, on any continent in the world. On January 3rd, AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng responded to racist chants from the crowd at a friendly match against Lega Pro 2 side Pro Patria (who play in the fourth highest professional division in Italy) by kicking a ball into the stands and vacating the field with his teammates.
Following the walk-out, AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said that he would do the same thing again if one of his players was racially abused, regardless if it was during a friendly or an official Serie A match. The club’s director, Umberto Gandini, concurred, applauding his team’s actions via Twitter.
Very proud of the Milan players who decided to walk off the pitch today for racist abuse from a few idiots! No racism, no stupidity!
Unfortunately, Williams had no such support from the coaching staff or administration at Lamesa High. In fact, three days after his ejection from the game, a teacher at his school who also works as the team’s athletic trainer published a blog post on My Big Campus, a site that offers schools something similar to a corporate intranet, disparaging the student for reacting to a spiteful pejorative in such a violent manner.
Ray McCall, citing his own experience as a white man growing up in the South during school desegregation, accused Williams of reverse racism.
One the sideline, I approached our player and asked him why he took such great offense to being called an [racially insensitive term] when our black students, this boy included, called each other [racially insensitive term] all the time when they addressed each other.
That kid deserved to be kicked out of the game. It is the reason why he should be ashamed to even be a black.
McCall followed his incendiary statement with a condescending history lesson in which he claimed that African Americans died so that they might not have such a term used against them, and that this past should be better respected.
The student’s mother, Vickie Williams, learned of the blog post and requested that a) it be taken down; b) McCall apologize to her son; and c) McCall’s employment with the school be terminated. In response to a grievance filed by Williams, trustees of the Lamesa Independent School District voted to suspend McCall with pay for five days.
Interim Superintendent Cliff Stephens defended the decision by suggesting that McCall did not commit a terminating offense.
It wasn’t about racism. It was about whether he used the school blog appropriately, and he didn’t. We’ve had discussions with him and he understands he was out of line.
Ray McCall has an unblemished record of 30 years of being an athletic trainer and teacher here. The consequences that were handed out by the board were appropriate for the situation.
Unsurprisingly, the punishment didn’t satisfy Williams, who has contacted civil rights organizations in an attempt to find the justice that she seeks for her son.
There is a bit of humor (admittedly not of the laugh aloud variety) to be found in the coincidence of a reaction to a racist slur eliciting a negative stereotype, which in turn elicits another negative stereotype in the person learning about the story. Just as McCall felt the urge to express his opinion on an African American retaliating against a non-African American for using a slur against him that other African Americans use, I, too, feel the urge to express my opinion on a West Texas teacher/trainer who dares to suggest that a student “should be ashamed to even be a black.”
However, mine is likely an unqualified opinion, and to accuse McCall of the same thing would be hypocritical. So, I contacted Luvell Anderson, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Memphis, who has written extensively on racist language and racial humor.
Professor Anderson dismisses the crux of McCall’s argument, suggesting that within American English there exists an African American English (AAE) sociolect, and within the context of AAE, the N-word could have multiple uses, some positive and some negative.
By and large, white people … lack the authentic experience [with] AAE to use the word. Incidentally, there are isolated cases of white persons who have grown up in a context of AAE and have been licensed to use the N-word. The moral of the story is that white use of the word generally comes off as mockery at best, racist at worst.
However, Professor Anderson doesn’t go so far as to classify McCall’s comments as being racist.
They definitely demonstrate ignorance and can be construed as insensitive because of it, but probably not racist.
What’s bothersome to me about McCall’s blog post is how far out of his element he is in chastising an African American for reacting to a situation that is unique to someone of his race. Instead of recognizing his own perspective, the trainer felt the need to express his uneducated opinion. In the process of this expression, he makes it sound as though his freedoms are being unfairly restricted by not being allowed to use the same language as others, even though such language is obvious hurtful in one context and not hurtful in another.
Making this all together more maddening is that the source of this ignorance is an educator, a role on which we depend for some guidance for the youngest elements of a community. I don’t know that his termination is a fitting punishment for ignorance and his oblivious expression of it, but personally, I wouldn’t want someone with an inability to comprehend the importance of context teaching any child. Perhaps a better resolution to the problem is insisting upon sensitivity training or a that McCall take up a course on racist language. Almost anything would seem better that what essentially amounts to an impromptu week of added vacation.
Professor Anderson sums up the most distasteful element of the affair rather succinctly:
Outsiders shouldn’t tell victims of racial slurs how to feel about being targeted by it.