Thursday, October 7, 2010

Institutionalized racism on the court and in the classroom at Mullen High School

Last February, spectators chanted racist slurs at black players in a game between home team Mullen High School and opponents Overland. These slurs were not isolated and they were not stopped; officials allowed this harassment to continue throughout the game. No disciplinary action was taken against the students and parents who participated in this hateful cheering.

Why am I writing about this, a year and a half later? This is, to be sure, an awful act motivated by discrimination and hate. But such instances are infinite - why report on it now?

The admission of this action endorsed and grew an environment in which acts of systematic and individual racism are permitted and encouraged by race-privileged figures of authority. Recently, one of Mullen's most popular teachers, Timothy Thornton, was fired for a persistent pattern of racism after student Tyler Brown reported him to officials. According to students and confirmed by his own admission, he:
  • told racist jokes
  • used the n word as a slur, without critical context
  • broadcast his obsession with the KKK to his students
  • and just in case you thought that it was just talk, he bragged about giving students of color lower grades
He, of course, insists that he meant no harm by using his position of authority. He was just having fun. He is sure that it all would have been okay if he would have clarified that "he meant no harm by saying the things he said." Because intent makes everything okay! Because he's not racist, really! Because it's just a "stupid mistake"!

And of course, many students and parents have swelled up beneath him to clamor for his reinstatement:
Thornton's termination has fueled impassioned responses from the school and community at large, with a majority expressing outrage that a veteran and well-liked teacher should be fired for "a silly mistake," as one person suggested on a local news website. Students protested the decision by marching outside the school, while a number of alumni are said to have written letters to school administrators challenging the firing.
While Thornton enjoys this groundswell of support, the student who reported his egregious conduct is being vilified. He and his family are accused of playing the race card and of conspiring with black community activists to get the teacher fired. No one has bothered to speculate what possible gain Brown would realize by sharing the details of his teacher's racially motivated conduct.
Tyler Brown's reward for his bravery is harassment and suspicion. His treatment represents the other half of the creation and perpetuation of toxic racist environments: the silencing, second-guessing, and harassment of the people who actually receive racism. Brown is being punished for protecting himself in a real way. Instead of doing their job and protecting students from this kind of discrimination, school officials have left it up to their charges to do their jobs and call shitty teachers out.

This is how institutional racism is nurtured and weaponized in individual situations. Let one incident of racism go past without controversy or comment, and the school administrators feel like they've dodged a mine. But once that act of blatant hatred is past, another one trespasses...and another, and another. With every subsequent incident, white folks inclined towards active oppression realize that they're not going to see consequences - after all, no one else has - and so they push their oppression just a little bit further and a little bit further, and get a little more popular for it. With every subsequent incident, these people grow the power already granted them by the kyriarchy into something even more monstrous.  And of course, the school administrator wants to remain neutral. And so, they get away with it and get away with it, and the environment gets more and more toxic, and the racism gets more and more acceptable.

This is how kyriarchy silences students and encourages racism through education. These little things don't just add up, they multiply. Thornton's racist offenses towards his students got worse and worse, and Brown's attempts to counter his discriminatory acts only amplified the hate he received.

My major source for this post is Rhonda Hackett. A couple of the details I found in her opinion piece (specifically, that Thornton gave students of color lower grades) could not be found in my other sources for this article.


  1. I can't even fathom how none of these people who view Thornton's firing as an injustice cannot even remotely understand how disgusting it is to even joke about giving students of color lower grades for absolutely no reason. I've had racist teachers who continuously demeaned my work and gave me lower grades in my classes (especially my middle school science classes) just because I was black. It isn't funny. It hurts, it sucks, and its enraging because you know its not you who's the problem but you can't do a damn thing about it other than switch classes, and thats if your lucky.

    I'm not even going to start on the school admin being "neutral". Thats just going to make me go into full rage mode. Anyways, thanks for the excellent write-up.

  2. Miasma, thanks so much for talking about your experiences. It sucks that this is far from an isolated incident and probably goes on at many schools.


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