Embarrassment and outrage in Haddonfield (Opinion)
We've been talking about the alleged racist remark made by a member of Haddonfield High School for a few days now with many strong opinions being expressed. What we learned yesterday is that the lacrosse team players were given an ultimatum from the school to identify the alleged perpetrator or face the canceling of the remainder of their season. They stood strong and refused to snitch and the season got canceled. On one side, I believe it's a good thing that the kids didn't sell out their team mate. On the other side, people need to own up to their actions, especially if it's hurting others.
But speaking of the team punishment, shame on the administration and coaches for putting the pressure on the kids instead of dealing with the accusation as adults. Now I've taught my kids that being a "snitch" or a "rat" is unacceptable, unless of course you are a witness to a crime. That leaves the question of whether the young man who allegedly said the "N" word to the female student should step up and admit what he did. Most of our callers today agreed that the best thing to do if you make a mistake or insult or hurt someone with your words is to own up and take responsibility. The challenge is that in this current climate, using that word can get you expelled or worse as the complain has been made to the NJ Attorney General's office. How is it possible that we have so lost our way as a society that a school yard remark, as vile as the word is, can immediately rise to the level of a legal discussion? Have we lost the opportunity to take advantage of teachable moments to guide our kids to behave better? How about the opportunity to learn and grow from adverse situations?
Perhaps the best thing that happened was the civil discourse that we had all morning long with a very diverse list of listeners weighing in on a subject that could easily be hurtful to discuss. Thanks to everyone who called in to join the conversation. One listener today explained that he knew that his kids would actually toughen up from being called the "N" word. Others callers agreed with me that the word alone should not rise to the level of prosecution.
One major thing that came through for me from the conversation today is the conclusion that the word itself isn't the issue. It's all about context and usage. Who am I to say that rappers shouldn't use it in songs? Who am I to judge young black students calling each other the name that one caller described as a "term of endearment." That said, the word should be included in the list of other unacceptable words on school grounds and in other public places, regardless of the race of the person saying it. It's OK to have some rules and standards after all.
It's up to each of us to protect our own space, teach our kids appropriate behavior and respect for other people. But this is a conversation between kids and parents and teachers and students. A vile, racist slur, regardless of how offensive, simply shouldn't rise to the level of a legal prosecution nor should it be the end of an academic career. Learn from it. Apologize. Endure the punishment that fits the "crime" and grow up.
On another related and somewhat troubling note, one caller suggested that the young girl who was the alleged target of the slur may need therapy. That is a clear sign of the times we live in now. How about teaching kids to toughen up and stand up for themselves? People will say nasty, negative things throughout your life and career. They'll act inappropriately and they will sometimes try to hurt your feelings. Don't let 'em. Stand up, push back and let the hate and criticism make you stronger. Hopefully the kid who did it also learns from this. He should understand that if what was reported happened it was wrong on several levels. Not the least of which was verbally abusing a young girl, then the racism and, of course, taking the team down with him. The student on the receiving end will have hopefully gained some internal strength from the verbal attack and maybe will be able to ignore this kind of arrogant ignorance in the future.
Bill Spadea is on the air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., talkin’ Jersey, taking your calls at 1-800-283-1015. Tweet him @NJ1015 or @BillSpadea. The opinions expressed here are solely those of Bill Spadea.
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