Posted on October 28, 2004

Exaggerated Claims Of Racism

Tom Mountain, Newton TAB (Mass.), Oct. 27

Newton educators who claim they want an honest dialogue on racism really want neither. They pretend they do, when in reality what they strive for is a chorus of yes men (and women) parroting that our community is saturated with racism, and it’s their self-anointed role to re-educate the students to combat this social evil. One can only marvel at the odd spectacle of guilt-ridden, white male educators whose ambition to appear as super anti-racists takes precedence over any semblance of logic or common sense.

I once observed a fifth-grade white male teacher reward his students with five consecutive year-end field trips—to the Black Freedom Trail; to a Boston homeless shelter for mostly black families; to the Museum of Afro-American Artists; and of course, to the Underground Railroad exhibit of the Jackson Homestead. To add some token variety, he included the New England Aquarium. The teacher clearly went to an extreme, but the parents remained silent for fear of being labeled insensitive, or worse.

Since they believe that the righteousness of their mission insulates them from public scrutiny, anti-racist educators are rarely inclined to justify their peculiar fascination with racism. Besides, who but a biased racist mongrel would dare to question their virtuous cause? But it inevitably becomes a bit tedious and unconvincing when, after years of saturating the students with tales of the inherent racism of white society, there are very few real-life, close-to-home examples of racism to parade before them.

This paradox was conveniently rectified with the discovery of overtly racist graffiti painted on the exterior walls of Bowen Elementary School.

Specifically, the graffiti read “KKK, White Power, Kill N———,” along with a derogatory term for lesbians. On an outside school mural, the vandals blotted out the face of the principal, who is black, with white paint and drew the letter X through the eyes. Also written, but not mentioned in the press reports, were the phrases “Do Drugs, Crack is Good, Drop Out of School.”

The derelicts who committed this have not yet been apprehended. The assumption is that they’re former students, since they were apparently very familiar with the principal. Related acts of vandalism have occurred before at Bowen, again mostly targeted towards the principal. Racial slurs against the principal were found at the school three times in the past 10 years, and on two other occasions her likeness on the mural was scratched out.

These acts of vandalism have been unique to Bowen, meaning they have rarely—if ever -occurred at other schools in the district. Cabot and Oak Hill both have black principals, yet such targeted racist vandalism has not occurred there. Both high schools have black headmasters, yet aside from the occasional epithet scrawled in the bathrooms, these schools have been devoid of the type of racial vandalism which has beset Bowen.

Suffice it to say, that Bowen School has experienced an unusual trend of racist vandalism, mostly directed towards the principal.

But what has occurred at this school is an aberration. It does not typify the Newton Public Schools. The statement by Superintendent Young, “Somehow, there’s something happening in Newton that must be corrected,” is both misleading and borderline paranoid. This is neither 1962 Selma, Ala., nor 1974 South Boston. There is nothing that “must be corrected” in Newton other than finding the thugs who vandalized Bowen. Indicting the whole school system because of the actions of a few is indicative of a hysterical mindset.

Besides, if there really is a simmering racial problem in Newton, as the superintendent strongly suggests, why haven’t those other schools with black principals been targeted with racist vandalism? This leads to the unpopular suggestion that perhaps the Bowen principal was the real target, indeed the only target, of the vandals.

There have been other simmering problems at Bowen which the school department has tried to put a lid on. Last year all of the fifth-grade teachers transferred out; the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year (who is black) abruptly quit the school and went to Sudbury; nearly 100 parents showed up at a School Committee meeting to air complaints about the school’s internal strife (and were rudely dismissed by Committee Chairwoman Anne Larner); parents and teachers have squared off into squabbling factions. The superintendent even hired expensive outside consultants to deal with all the problems.

As the appointed chief administrator of the school, the principal ultimately bears responsibility for all of this internal strife.

Consider that a principal in any generation is often the target of scorn and ridicule by students. Any principal, as head administrator and chief disciplinarian, is bound to have some resentful former students. And it’s conceivable that the vandals harbored a strong personal animosity towards the Bowen principal. This does not justify the use of racist vandalism to publicly scorn this primary school authority figure, but it does present the logical scenario that this principal was likely targeted because of her position, not because of her race. If this principal were short, obese, nerdy . . . and Irish, the vandals probably would have highlighted those characteristics instead.

It may have also been the case that these apparent juvenile hooligans knew precisely which buttons to press to exact the predictable backlash from city leaders. Several hundred residents attended a “No Place for Hate” rally at City Hall, led by anguished city officials and dignitaries. It’s plausible to picture some loser punks extracting a fiendish delight from all the publicity they instigated.

But in the end, this act of racist vandalism will serve as a validation for the superintendent’s “Respect for Human Differences” campaign. With a well-publicized precedent (mostly publicized by himself, and of course, the mayor), he can now adopt a “See I told you so” posture, and proceed to expand the school curriculum and programming with another overdose of anti-racism. This will have little effect on any present or future hooligans, but, if nothing else, it will cause to make these anti-racist educators feel good about themselves. And feeling good about their anti-racist mission is a crucial part of their makeup. Last week, nearly every class in every school dwelt on the racist graffiti at Bowen, while conveniently ignoring the other messages—”Do Drugs . . . Crack is Good” scrawled next to it.

But these educators are obsessed with claims of grossly exaggerated racism in the school system, rather than the very real, and all too common, problem of illicit drug use in the high schools, as advertised by the presumed juvenile vandals who targeted Bowen.