It was likely just another day for a Santa Monica High (CA) student when he headed to wrestling practice. Entering the locker room, things were anything but “normal.” A noose was inside the room nearby a wrestling practice dummy (the specifics are unclear based on current reporting). When an African American wrestler entered the room, he was then accosted by two teammates. According to a report from the Santa Monica Daily Press, “One grabbed him in what” was “described as a ‘bear hug,’ while the other slipped a lock through his belt loop and connected it to a nearby locker.” As they left the room, with the boy still attached to the locker, they shouted, “slave for sale.”
The noose, the reference to the boy as a “slave for sale” and the attack on the African American student did little to set off alarm bells from the school administration beyond damage control. According to the above newspaper account, they failed to notify the boy’s mother even while they contacted other parents connected to the wrestling team. Seemingly unconcerned about the impact of this attack on the boy, his family and the larger community of students of color at Santa Monica High School, their efforts appeared to be directed at helping (rather than punishing) and protecting the students who perpetrated these shameful acts. Some reported that at the request from school officials, pictures of the noose, for example, were erased from several student cell phones.
Disgusting, shameful, and yet another reminder of the illusion of a post-racial America, this instance is a telling reminder of the continuity of racism within twenty-first century America. The history of slavery, lynching, and racial violence stares us in the face. Yet, for some this instance tells us little about current racism. Despite the seriousness of the situation, it has received next to no media attention. In a city (Santa Monica and Los Angeles) where media has almost fixated on black-Latino tensions amongst students, it is revealing how small the media spotlight has been. Moreover, in wake of the tensions, communal problems, and the injustice directed at the Jena 6, it is troubling, to say the least, to see a school district take such a blaze approach to this hate crime (only after heightened pressure did the school district expand its response). Instead, there seems to be an attitude of confinement, an effort to isolate this incident as an aberration. Whether blaming it on athlete culture, male horseplay, or simply depicting the kids as “bad apples” who made a mistake, a portion of the reaction leaves one believing that this an isolated problem rather than symptomatic of a larger climate problem.