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Gee: Use education for ignorance, confrontation for hate

(KIRO 7, MyNorthwest)

By now, maybe you’ve heard about the teenagers from Issaquah High School whose inappropriate “promposal” Tolo invite made the rounds on social media.

We have even heard some familiar names such as Doug Baldwin of the Seahawks step up and share how he felt about this.

If you aren’t familiar with the story — the Issaquah School District is investigating after a racist post went viral, involving two of its students. To put it simply, it’s a picture of two teenagers holding a sign that reads: “If I were black, I’d be picking cotton. But Instead, I pick you. Tolo?”

I am sure there are plenty out there who will say “Aw, Gee, they’re just kids.” You’re right. They are kids. Kids that various people in their lives have obviously failed to teach them what is right and what is wrong. So I am not going to hammer on the kids. We can still teach them the difference between ignorance (which can be cured by education) and being hateful and hurtful (which takes a different approach).

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Some might also say “this stuff happens all the time.” I can remember back in 2014, some Issaquah basketball players sent racist tweets to players at Garfield High School in Seattle ahead of a tournament between the two schools. The tweets included statements such as “the mistake was when Abraham Lincoln freed you guys.”

The fact that “this stuff happens all the time” is kind of my point here. Why does this stuff happen all the time — in 2019?  And when it does happen, what are we doing about it?

Blame

I cannot help but wonder that if this type of thing was more shunned in society, would this Tolo invite have happened? At least, maybe it wouldn’t have happened with such cavalier confidence as the two kids exhibited in their photo. They thought it was “funny.” A “joke.”

Here’s what stands out to me — not one, but two teenagers thought this was OK to share. There are some who have this kind of talk happen inside of their homes, yet they wouldn’t go as far to post to social media.

So the question is: Why did this happen?

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It happened because despite cries to the contrary, racism is still very alive and well, and it continues to be taught, and it continues to be tolerated. It continues to happen and exist without any shame or consequence.

The blame should not be solely placed on these young teenagers. Not at all. It takes a village to condition kids to say or do such a thing without fear of any consequences.

I blame the president. I blame talk show hosts and TV stations that consistently say “racism doesn’t exist.” I blame mom and dad (or the lack thereof). And I blame that one uncle or grandparent who everyone laughs off because “that’s just PawPaw, he’s set in his ways.”

I blame schools that continue to have these issues year-after-year, but never do anything about it. And I blame parents that teach hate in their homes, or casually allow it to happen. I blame people who make excuses for this behavior instead of just admitting it is wrong.

Lastly, I blame society for continuing to allow it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Ignorance and education, hate and confrontation

If you think racism doesn’t exist, I invite you to take a ride with me some day and I will show you the world through my experience and we can even talk to a few of my friends and colleagues. I know millionaires and common folks, and a bunch of amazing people in between these benchmarks. One thing that they share in common is that they have experienced racism in its raw and unfiltered ugly, nasty, pure form.

As I said earlier — borrowing a line from a friend who says this all the time — ignorance can be cured with education. But hate can only be cured with confrontation.

As long as I have a voice, a mind, and the ability, I will teach people that these words are not OK and they hurt people. And as long as I have the ability to tell one person, or one thousand people how I feel about something, I will confront those who do things like this, and expect to get away with it. I challenge all of you to do the same.

Say something. Do something. Talk about this when it happens. Call out people who don’t get it. And leave no doubt in any minds that you are not OK with this sort of thing. If there is any doubt in anyone’s mind — then maybe you have a little work to do, too.

To the young teenagers in that picture, as a black man, I forgive you. I have to. But I want to see you use this moment and help to teach others why this behavior is wrong. You see, it won’t do me, nor you, any good to spew back hate towards hate. I have faith that you will be able to take this moment, learn from it, and help our world continue to strive to be better. Prove me right.

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