Hate at School: November 2017

Last month, we tracked 50 school-based episodes of hate in 22 states.

In November, news media reported 50 school-based episodes of hate, mostly racist, in 22 states. 

That’s less than we found the month before, when we counted nearly 90 incidents. With football, “spirit” days, fine weather and Halloween, October might have offered more opportunities than November, when Americans take a little time to be thankful. 

But 50 incidents are still too many, especially when one considers that those that find their way into the news are the exception, not the rule. 

Here’s a snapshot of what hate in school looked like in November:

  • Over half took place in high schools.
  • Two-thirds involved racial epithets, usually the n-word
  • One-quarter were aimed at Jews, usually featuring swastikas. 
  • One-quarter involved social media.
  • California had the most, followed by Massachusetts, with New Jersey coming in third. 

Teens with poor impulse control weren’t the only perpetrators. Sadly, seven of the incidents we tracked involved adults. In Missouri, the father of a fourth-grader reported that a school employee had yelled, “Give me the ball, you [effing n-word]” during recess. In Indiana, another school employee was caught on video (by a student) playing a game of hangman featuring the n-word. And in Iowa, two adults live-streaming commentary during a high school basketball game made racist comments about Hispanic players. “As Trump would say,” one of them stated, “go back where they came from.” The other adult answered, “Some days I feel like that, too.” When she’s not offering biased commentary, she’s a teacher at a local school. 

Farther south, in Georgia, a white teacher admonished a black student, “Don’t smile at me, man, OK? That’s how people like you get shot.” He added, “I got a bet. I bet by the time you’re 21, somebody’s gonna put a bullet right through your head. And it might be me—the one that does it.” Don’t take my word for it; another student pulled out a phone to record the scene. 

Any racial slur or anti-Semitic graffiti will upset and unsettle students who are simply members of the targeted group. Horribly, some of the incidents took aim at specific students. In Massachusetts, a white middle schooler shouted racial slurs at a group of black students while waving a plastic knife. Students in Maryland targeted a transgender classmate with obscene and violent messages on Snapchat. Two black sisters attending a Nevada high school were terrified when classmates took to Snapchat: Their peers began forwarding Snapchat photos of a local deputy sheriff’s son armed with both a gun and knives alongside the words, “The red neck god of all gods … we bout to go [n-word] huntin.”

The girls, who say they regularly hear racial slurs, can’t have felt any safer when the town’s mayor, according to the local news, “dismissed [the posts] as the act of teenagers who meant no harm and were ignorantly unaware of what they were doing.”

And so it goes. The stories—and photos—are depressing. Kids in places like California and New Jersey wearing and waving Confederate flags. White girls in blackface. Dancing black students described by a classmate as “apes.” Bathroom graffiti in a Minnesota school that says, “I hate black people. They are stupid. They disgust me.” A black boy from Colorado whose face was affixed atop a widely shared racist image with the caption, “Around Blacks, Never Relax.”

And then there are the swastikas: On walls. On desks. On playground equipment. On parking lots. On a classroom heating unit. On too many boys’ bathrooms to count. 

Teaching Tolerance is tracking hate incidents at schools on a monthly basis, and we continue our work to help schools counter hate and bias every day. 

Costello is the director of Teaching Tolerance.