We spoke with a number of day school principals this week who are acting to nip racism in the bud. A number of local students – a small number, we’ve been assured – had been heard using racist language about the election of a black man, Barack Obama, to the presidency. The language is shocking, particularly coming from our gently reared young, whose teachers are rabbinically and professionally mandated to try to instill Jewish values in them.
We commend these administrators for their prompt responses (see page 6) and also for their openness in discussing the situation. There must have been a certain uneasiness in their willingness to “go public” with this sensitive issue, but you cannot confront a problem if you do not acknowledge it.
It’s likely that most of the children who used hate speech merely copied it from someone or somewhere else – a parent or neighbor or older sibling, a television or movie character, a slew of nasty messages on the Internet. They may not have even understood what they were saying, or why it was offensive. But now, perhaps, now that their principals have spoken against it in an assembly or in messages to their parents, now that their teachers have given lessons on the evils of prejudice, now they may begin to understand.
It is an unfortunate situation, but its appearance around the time of Kristallnacht has led, in the words of one principal, to “an educational moment,” a moment to drive home how the seeds of hatred can grow into a vile swamp. The election of a black president, as well, leads to lessons on American slavery, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. It’s a rich time to be a teacher, and our schools are taking advantage of it.
But while handing out kudos we also must mete out blame.
We blame the politicians who sought to raise hatred rather than consciousness, all for the sake of winning, without a thought as to what damage they might have done.
We blame the talk-show hosts who never considered the fallout from their all-out attacks.
We blame the adults in our community and across America who sent vicious messages across the Internet with the flick of a careless and callous finger.
It is a wonder that more children did not catch this disease.