Students at Highland Park High School dressed as gang members, rap stars, maids and yard workers this month during homecoming week—a tradition one Dallas civil-rights leader says is racially insensitive.
On senior Thug Day, students wore Afro wigs, fake gold teeth and baggy jeans. On Fiesta Day, which was to honor Hispanic heritage, one student brought a leaf blower to school.
“The scary part of something like this is you have to wonder how long these kids will continue to think this way,” said Bob Lydia, president of the Dallas chapter of the NAACP.
“These kids will be leaders of this country one day.”
No students were punished, according to Highland Park High principal Patrick Cates. Fewer than a dozen students were asked to remove some of the clothing—bandannas and gold necklaces. The student with the leaf blower was asked to put the tool in his car.
Senior Katie Braden, who said she wore a LeBron James jersey that day, said she had heard that other high schools have a “Highland Park Day,” when students dress up to make fun of Highland Park students. She considers it all in good fun. “It’s not like we called it ‘South Dallas Day’ or anything,” she said.
Lauren Perella said she wore a “wife-beater” tanktop and tennis shoes with only one sock. “We’re just having fun,” she said.
Katie said the theme days had been a subject of conversation among students recently, and that she’d heard that some teachers were offended. She said the student who showed up with a leaf blower crossed a line.
“I thought it was funny, but that’s probably offensive,” she said.
Elizabeth Carlock, the senior class president, said there’s nothing racist about Thug Day.
“We had a ‘Country Club Day’ last year, and I don’t see any difference between dressing up in country-club style and dressing up thug,” she said. “We weren’t being racist. It’s Highland Park tradition.”
“The reality is that they’re ignorant of the lives of nonwhites—it’s like a parallel universe,” said Charles Gallagher, a sociology professor at Georgia State University who studies white perceptions of race. He has tracked the recent rise of racially themed events, such as so-called “ghetto parties,” on university campuses.
“You have a community of adolescents who live in a complete white bubble,” Dr. Gallagher said. Many Park Cities residents refer to their community as “The Bubble.”
“If they have interactions with blacks or Hispanics, it’s typically someone serving them a soft drink or the Mexican who cuts their lawn.” Highland Park High’s student body is about 94 percent white. The school has six black, 65 Hispanic and 32 Asian students.