Fourteen cadets at The Citadel, South Carolina’s military college, were disciplined after photographs circulated of them wearing Ku Klux Klan-style hoods.
At a Phoenix, Arizona, high school, six students have sparked outrage with a photograph of the girls wearing gold letters on their shirts spelling out a racial slur.
In both cases, the young people protested no offense was intended. It’s hard to imagine that well-educated near-adults could be ignorant of how their actions would be perceived. But even taking them at their word, these 20 students represent the desperate need for comprehensive Black history education – and not just during Black History Month.
The president of the Phoenix school’s Black Student Union said, “Something that used to stop my grandparents in their tracks is now being used in regular conversation. Someone needs to put their foot down and say it’s not OK to say that.”
Would a white student who was fully cognizant of the nation’s history of oppression against African Americans, of Jim Crow and institutionalized humiliation, casually toss around a racial slur for her own amusement, or wear a costume resembling the uniform of the nation’s most vicious and deadly terrorist organization? Possibly, but it’s far less likely.
Students who grow up with a clear understanding of American history – all of American history – are less likely to perpetuate the sins of the past and more likely to participate in building a better future.
By Marc Morial
President, National Urban League