We’re halfway through the school year, and there is no indication that hate incidents at school are slowing down. We tracked 65 news reports of hate incidents in January 2019—on par with the 64 we saw in January 2018.
Here are some takeaways from this month’s tracking:
- Hate incidents made news in at least 27 states, including eight in New York, six in California and five each in Massachusetts and Maryland.
- Forty-one of these incidents targeted students based on their race or ethnicity. As we’ve seen in the past, the majority of these incidents were anti-black, but three targeted Native students.
- Eleven incidents were anti-Semitic, four were anti-LGBTQ, two anti-immigrant and one Islamophobic.
- While many incidents happened inside classrooms (12), plenty happened away from class. The remaining incidents were reported elsewhere in a school building, outside of a building on school grounds, on social media, online or other places.
Anti-Black Racism Is Always A Problem
Keeping with a trend we’ve observed since we began tracking in late 2017, racism was the most prevalent type of hate reported in January. We’re still seeing widespread use of the n-word and the mocking of people of color.
In Shaker Heights, Ohio, a school district announced that they’d left the Greater Cleveland Conference because athletes experienced multiple instances of “racial slurs on the athletic playing fields.” A basketball coach told reporters that fans and even players have called black members of his team “porch monkey” and the “n-word.”
“I had kids in the locker room this year crying because they were called those names,” the coach said.
Another January report also included a student athlete. Stories broke of a former student who filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against a Kansas City, Missouri school district. According to the lawsuit, in 2017 a coach and choreographer in a text exchange said that a black student making the dance team “doesn’t make sense” because she’s “[expletive] black.” “I hate that,” the coach added. The choreographer also said the student’s dark skin would distract the audience from looking at other dancers and clash with the costumes.
News reports showed adults perpetrating racism inside of school, too. In at least three separate incidents, teachers used racial slurs in the classroom. In one incident in Springfield, Missouri, a substitute teacher went so far as to threaten middle school students. One student’s mother told reporters that the substitute said, “I was told to shoot you black boys. You black boys are nothing but trouble … I’ve been told to shoot you.”
And in the same month that politicians made news when photos of them in blackface surfaced, a principal in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, made news by dressing up as Steve Harvey to lead a game during a staff meeting. Local news published photographs of the elementary educator in a costume that included blackface.
Finally, in a New York incident that attracted national attention, four 12-year-old girls were strip-searched and interrogated by the school nurse and assistant principal because they were perceived to be overexcited; staff assumed they had drugs. One student who refused to remove her clothes received in-school suspension. A letter by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund responding to the incident cites research stating that “stereotypes lead adults to perceive Black and Latina girls as less innocent than white girls, and needing less nurturing, protection, and support.”
Black Students Aren't the Only Targets
Anti-Asian emails were sent to staff members at a New York city school. Reporters noted that some warned that the anonymous sender planned to attack their building with gunfire and a bomb. An employee at the school received an email asking whether her eyes were closed or open and telling her to go back to Hong Kong.
Of the 11 reported anti-Semitic incidents, four involved swastikas. News reports in January included accounts of a Nazi salute, three cases of anti-Semitic statements found in school bathrooms, anti-Semitic messages placed in staff mailboxes and one occurrence of a Nazi flag being hung in class during a unit on the Holocaust.
The danger of trivializing these symbols was made clear when local news republished photographs circulated online of Minnesota students’ “proposal poster” for their school’s “Sweetheart Dance.”
“Sweethearts would be a Hit(ler) w/you, and I could Nazi myself going w/anybody else,” the poster read. “Be Mein? Yes or Nein.” Two students in the photo holding the poster gave a Nazi salute. The caption read, “Also I would like to state I am not anti-Semitic in any way, I hate all races equally.”
And in two separate incidents in Canoga Park and Encino, California, a masked person was caught on camera hanging Turkish flags outside two private Armenian schools, a reference to the 1915 Armenian genocide in which 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were systematically murdered—and which Turkey refuses to recognize as a genocide to this day.
News-Reported Anti-LGBTQ Incidents Were Few But Severe
LGBTQ students continue to assert their humanity at school when others deny it. For example, things got so bad at an Ames, Iowa, middle school that a transgender student circulated an online petition calling for improved safety for LGBTQ students. Local news reported on the petition after the district suspended the school’s principal. The petition notes, “People scream homophobic comments in the hallways. People bully other peers for who they are. I want this to stop before something serious happens.”
Homophobic harassment again made local news when a transgender student in Memphis, Tennessee, was bullied, called homophobic slurs and threatened with physical violence. She told reporters that a group of boys threatened her. One spit on her. What started with two bullies became at least 15 students all threatening to fight the girl. She told reporters what they said: “We ready to fight you. We ready to beat you, we are going to shoot you, we going to kill you.”
When Politics and Hate Collide
While incidents related to political discourse aren’t classified as hate, they can—and do— become hateful if political rhetoric or actions target a person or group of people because of their identity. We’re seeing more reports of polarization, in which current political rhetoric is mimicked in classrooms and at school-sponsored events to target specific groups of people.
In Los Angeles, a school employee made news after she was caught on video making racist remarks to teachers on strike. As she tried to leave the middle school, striking teachers shut the gate. The employee yelled, “Build the wall! All you guys wouldn’t be here!”
And in Minneapolis, Minnesota, news outlets published photos of fans on the opposing side of a predominately black high school basketball team holding a “Trump 2020” flag draped over their laps while sitting in the front row watching the game. The team was known for protesting police brutality by skipping the national anthem before tip-off. After the game, their coach wrote about the flag on Facebook: “I coach a predominantly black inner-city high school team. We go out to a rural area in Jordan, MN and this is there. Please explain how and why this is appropriate at a high school basketball game?”
This month saw some egregious examples of hate in the news, with a few incidents sparking national conversations about the culture of our schools. As we continue to prepare our students to take their place as active participants in a diverse democracy, we must be ready to recognize hate, naming it when it happens and working to address—even if we can't fully repair—the harm it's caused.
We know we are not seeing every incident of hate and bias in U.S. schools, as many students with marginalized identities see their bullying or harassment go unreported or unrepresented. When we receive reports of hate, we immediately reach out to the school involved and offer our resources. If you know of an incident in your school, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dillard is a staff writer for Teaching Tolerance.