Racist video from Olympia’s Capital High School basketball game sparks outrage
Racism was on blatant display with teenagers at a high school basketball game in Olympia last Friday night — and parents are saying that it is only the tip of the iceberg.
Capital High School students made a video for social media in which they can be heard making ape noises and calling a Black player on the rival team — Lacey’s River Ridge High School — a “gorilla.”
Qayi Steplight said the River Ridge player they were referring to was his son, Ahmari.
“You try to shield your kids from these things,” Steplight said. “Even though they’re going to experience it as adults, you try to make sure that they don’t have to worry about this part of it right now.”
The “gorilla” slur is one that Steplight knows all too well; the term hearkens back to a time in U.S. history when slaveowners and white supremacists associated Black people with apes.
“When I was young, I’d walk downtown Olympia with friends, and we were called gorillas all the time,” Steplight said. “You know that it’s a remark made specifically toward Black people.”
But three decades later, it’s still going on.
“When I look at the community, there’s this sense of acceptance — like we’ve just accepted that these are the names we are called, this is the way that they look at us,” Steplight said.
And Steplight says the basketball game was not an isolated incident.
“There’s this line drawn in the sand where it’s like, as soon as you walk into the Olympia School District, specifically at these sporting events, they have these fans and they get very ugly with their words, very racially driven,” Steplight said.
He says his entire life, he has noticed that he is treated differently in Olympia. One of Steplight’s Black neighbors in Lacey doesn’t like to drive into Olympia, and he said he knows others in the Olympia School District who drive their kids to other schools across district lines every day to escape the racism.
“Some of the friends who are my age who went to that high school, a lot of them are saying, ‘Well, I left the high school because of this stuff, I didn’t do sports because of this,'” he said. “So there’s a long history.”
After he posted the video from the recent basketball game on social media, he got an overwhelming response from local parents.
“It’s not even just the basketball game,” Steplight said. “People are telling me stories from the football games — people seem like they’re ready to speak out.”
KIRO Newsradio got a bevy of emails from parents with stories from high school sporting events in Olympia. Parents of athletes of color reported similar incidents to last week’s game, with fans at Olympia School District high schools regularly yelling racist insults to members of rival teams. One mom said that when she tried to alert adults at the school during the game, she was brushed off.
Others reported videos circulating with racist slurs, a student driving around with a Confederate flag hanging out of his car, and even a situation where Capital High School students chased down and ran a car of Black students from another school off the road after a game.
The Olympia School District declined an interview due to technical difficulties, but told KIRO Newsradio in a statement that it “has no tolerance for racism,” and that the Capital High School students involved in the video were being disciplined. For privacy, the district did not disclose the students’ identities, how many were involved, or what their punishment would be.
“We have restorative practices inside and outside of school, and interventions and supports in place, that wrap around all students impacted, especially students who identify as BIPOC,” the district said. “We want to ensure safe spaces for students, staff and families.”
But Steplight and other parents feel that not enough is being done. Steplight said that whether it is through large school assemblies or small advisory groups, the schools need to be better about addressing racism — so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“There needs to be a conscious effort at education in these schools to talk about these issues,” he said.
After all, he says, it comes down to compassion — treat others how you’d want to be treated.
“Have the kids get a better understanding of how it makes us feel,” he said.