Call it racism

It’s 2019 and if high school students in Chaska are still dabbling in blackface, Chaska has some racist students.

The Star Tribune reports that the high school yearbooks are already printed at the high school but someone somehow slipped in a blackface picture. So distribution is being delayed while they pull the page out.

The paper, though, pulled its punches on what this constitutes by referring to the situation as “a racially charged incident.”

It’s not. It’s a racist incident.

One of the reasons we have racist children — and educators — is that our institutions are so reluctant to call racism what it is.

In a letter, the high school’s assistant principal said the photo came from a football game last year at which one student was wearing blackface. The theme of the game was “black.”

“During final review of the yearbook we discovered a small picture taken of the student cheer section during that game that included one student in blackface,” assistant principal Jim Swearingen wrote. “As a school community, we have talked about that incident, as well as the racist history behind wearing blackface,” the letter said.

Last fall, administrators suggested the blackface students didn’t know what they were doing.

“It’s not racist at all,” one of the blackface kids told KSTP after the game.

Again, it’s 2019. Racism still gets the benefit of the doubt.

The assistant principal said the picture “was discovered” after the yearbooks were printed. Whoops.

Someone wore blackface. Someone took a picture. Someone put it in the yearbook. Someone didn’t remove it on the final edit.

It’s 2019. We’re well past the time where blackface just happens.

There are racists in Chaska’s schools.

Why can’t journalists say the word, NPR’s Code Switch writer Gene Denby asked in a post in January, citing numerous instances where racially charged and racially tinged were substituted in news stories.

These impulses are rooted in cherished journalistic notions like objectivity and verifiability.

If the inner workings of people’s souls are necessarily unknowable — and given what we now know about implicit bias, often unknowable even to the very people who are actively doing the discriminating — how could a reporter ever muster enough evidence to characterize a person’s behavior? (The same reasoning is why so many newsrooms refrain from characterizing President Trump’s many documented falsehoods as lies.)

If Steve King’s history of arguing that white people are superior is racially tinged, then what might ever meet the threshold for racist? It’s no surprise that racism in the news has been defined into abstraction, as these are conventions that center the feelings of white people — as story subjects, as readers and viewers, as editors and reporters — for whom the lived experience of racism is necessarily the most abstract.

But if you’re a person who understands racism primarily as unjust arrangements of power and their consequences, then never reading racism when reporting on a country that’s built and defined by white supremacy can feel like an abdication of journalistic responsibility, even a kind of gaslighting.

“At no time do we condone the ridicule or demeaning of other human beings, particularly our own students,” the assistant principal’s letter. “I apologize that this happened and for the delay in our yearbook distribution.”

Because of racists.

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