Racist memes must teach lessons in hate, love

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - JAMES RAGLAND jragland@dal­las­news.com

Look, if we want a more just and civil so­ci­ety, we’ve got to work for it. Some­times, that means we should give peo­ple — in­sti­tu­tions even — the ben­e­fit of the doubt be­fore leap­ing to con­clu­sions and hurl­ing in­sults.

Case in point: As a par­ent of two kids who at­tend Richard­son grade schools, I was taken aback by the racist memes that, ac­cord­ing to RISD of­fi­cials, were crafted and cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia by two stu­dents from J.J. Pearce High School.

The graphic and of­fen­sive im­ages tar­geted stu­dents at Richard­son High, which boasts about three times as many black stu­dents as Pearce and stands about 2 miles away.

The memes, which sur­faced in the days lead­ing up to a Thurs­day night foot­ball game be­tween the ri­vals, de­picted im­ages of a burn­ing cross with Richard­son High’s em­blem in flames and hooded KKK ter­ror­ists parad­ing Pearce’s Mus­tang logo.

Oh, it gets worse. There’s an­other pic­ture of a whip-wield­ing over­lord (with the Pearce logo) whip­ping a slave (his face covered with a Richard­son High ban­ner).

And an­other one — good grief — dredges up pho­tos of Fer­gu­son, Mo., teen Michael Brown and Dar­ren Wil­son, the of­fi­cer who fa­tally shot him in 2014, an in­ci­dent that led to ri­ot­ing there and un­rest across the coun­try.

Brown sports an RHS head­dress, while Wil­son’s fore­head is stamped with a Pearce pen­nant.

Talk about tacky and taste­less.

Even if you don’t have a kid

in ei­ther school, it’s enough to make your blood boil.

Fine, go ahead and get it out of your sys­tem.

But here’s the deal: All of us must be care­ful in how we re­spond pub­licly to this in­ci­dent.

Yes, it is a crude re­minder that ha­tred and in­tol­er­ance still ex­ist at ev­ery level of our so­ci­ety.

I say this not be­cause I am un­able to con­sider that this may have been no more than a cou­ple of naïve or warped teenagers tak­ing a ri­valry too far.

I say it be­cause black and His­panic stu­dents who’ve at­tended Pearce say they’ve en­coun­tered big­otry be­fore.

And you have to ask: What would make any­one think for one sec­ond that any of those memes are the least bit funny or ap­pro­pri­ate?

No fin­ger-point­ing

This was not the work of ge­niuses.

It also wasn’t the work of the en­tire stu­dent body, or the folks in charge — which is why we shouldn’t be too quick to paint Pearce or the dis­trict with a broad brush.

In fact, the dis­trict, thus far, has said and done all the right things since the memes came to light.

“No doubt it’s ap­palling,” Richard­son ISD spokesman Chris Moore said Thurs­day night.

“It’s hate­ful, it’s re­pul­sive.” Pearce’s prin­ci­pal, Mike Evans, sent a let­ter home to par­ents de­nounc­ing the memes and promis­ing ac­count­abil­ity.

Plenty of Pearce par­ents also took to so­cial me­dia to dis­tance them­selves from the of­fen­sive im­ages.

The peo­ple I’m most in­ter­ested in hear­ing from now are the par­ents of the stu­dents who dis­trict of­fi­cials say caused this ruckus, not to men­tion the two cul­prits them­selves.

What they say could go a long way to­ward mend­ing fences — or, make clear just how deeply rooted the prob­lem is at Pearce and be­yond.

Hon­estly, as fool­ish and of­fen­sive as it was, what they did is hardly shock­ing given where we are as a coun­try: di­vided by race, di­vided by pol­i­tics, di­vided by re­li­gion.

Not a soul in Amer­ica should be sur­prised to hear that the hate and in­tol­er­ance that have come to mark pub­lic dis­course is trick­ling down to the schools — and to our chil­dren, who can’t es­cape it if they tried.

Trolling and cy­ber­bul­ly­ing are com­mon these days.

A quick morn­ing stroll through the in­ter­net jun­gle — Twit­ter or Face­book, pick your poi­son — is enough to make you want to get back in bed.

While the in­stant con­nec­tiv­ity may give many of us a sense of com­mu­nity, the plat­form also pro­vides a stage for bo­zos and big­ots.

Un­pleas­ant re­minder

Let’s be clear, though: What hap­pened in Richard­son isn’t so­cial me­dia’s fault, ei­ther.

This was gross hu­man er­ror. The in­ter­net was just a con­ve­nient means to a cruel end. We’ve seen sim­i­lar things done by kids post­ing racist fliers on cam­puses or hold­ing up of­fen­sive plac­ards at high school games.

What hap­pened in Richard­son is merely an un­pleas­ant re­minder that ha­tred, in­tol­er­ance and stu­pid­ity know no bound­aries.

But how we choose to look at what hap­pened — and re­spond — are just as im­por­tant as the of­fense.

We shouldn’t over­re­act or lose per­spec­tive: A cou­ple of stu­dents do not a whole school or school sys­tem make.

I see a dis­trict and many par­ents ea­ger to nip this in the bud. Which sug­gests to me this is as good a chance as any for all of us to start try­ing to see the good in other peo­ple, no mat­ter our dif­fer­ences, and to give those who had no hand in hurt­ing us the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

We might also keep in mind that the cul­prits are still wet be­hind the ears and, hope­fully, wor­thy of our grace and for­give­ness. It’s up to us to show them a bet­ter ex­am­ple, to show them how to love one an­other.

That is what I hope to teach my chil­dren — who, one day soon, may find them­selves walk­ing the halls of J.J. Pearce.

“No doubt it’s ap­palling. It’s hate­ful, it’s re­pul­sive.” Chris Moore Richard­son ISD spokesman

One of the memes cir­cu­lated in the days be­fore this week’s J.J. Pearce-Richard­son High game de­picted a slave be­ing whipped.

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