I wasn’t surprised to learn that some high school boys had been making racist, sexist, and homophobic statements on social media.
I was surprised, though, to learn that they were freshman and sophomore males attending Julia R. Masterman and Central High Schools.
These schools represent the best not just in Philadelphia, but in the entire state. An estimated 98% of grads from Masterman go on to college, as do 97% of Central grads.
These elite schools are breeding grounds for future leaders. So to learn that teens attending them were caught engaging in racist, homophobic, and sexist chatter online was deeply disturbing.
“They complain so much I [might] actual[ly] rape one of them to give them something to complain about,” one student wrote in a since-leaked Instagram chat, in an apparent reference to Black women.
Hold on, because it gets worse.
According to the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, the boys also used homophobic slurs and the N-word, and spoke in derogatory terms about women.
“Woman think they some sort of gods walking around with scum,” another message reads. “Like hello who do you think gave you your rights?”
I didn’t see the actual conversation that took place, but the Notebook provided a couple of pretty disgusting screen grabs.
More than 1,500 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for the Central participants to be expelled.
The offending texters have not been publicly identified, and the School District hasn’t taken any action against them — yet. But in a letter Wednesday night to parents, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. wrote: “I want to be crystal clear that this type of harassment and discriminatory behavior is unacceptable by students and staff. We have a zero tolerance policy for harassment or hate speech of any kind.”
Hite said the district would investigate.
Too bad school officials can’t also investigate what’s going on in some students’ homes — because that’s where a lot of this bad behavior begins.
We teach our children by our actions and the choices we make about where we live, the people with whom we socialize, the movies we select, the books on shelves, and where we send our kids to school. It’s not as simple as Mommy said the N-word and now Junior thinks it’s OK to disparage African Americans.
“What I find in my research is that children are actually learning a lot based upon things that they observe in their day-to-day life regardless of whether their parents are talking to them about these things,” said Margaret Hagerman, author of White Kids: Growing Up With Privilege in a Racially Divided America. “What I try to document is the ways that parents’ decisions about things like neighborhoods, where to live and where to send their kids to school and how to navigate the community, what kind of activities that they are involved with. That sets up a social environment for kids that kids then live in and draw messages from.”
“Those kids are learning how to navigate the world as a person in a position of privilege,” added Hagerman, an assistant professor of sociology at Mississippi State University. “These are the messages they are learning from the environment that they are put in.”
It’s not enough to just talk with your kids about race.
“The biggest thing is doing the work yourself as a parent and modeling that, and also have your kids join you,” said Melissa Depino, cofounder of Privilege to Progress. “Do you sit down as a family and watch 13th? Do you watch Selma? Do you watch films that teach you the history and that teach you how racism is embedded in our system today? Do you watch shows like Blackish? I would integrate that into your family entertainment and make sure you’re talking about those things afterwards.”
As political activist Angela Davis famously said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be nonracist, we must be antiracist.”
I’ll take that a step further and add that we should also strive to be anti-homophobic and anti-sexist.