During my youth, most of the black people I knew called me an “Oreo.” Not because I liked the cookies. Apparently, I was black on the outside (obviously), but “white on the inside.” It took me a while to figure out why, since politically I don’t think I’ve ever shared a majoritarian view of things. But it turns out that simply by “speaking well,” getting good grades, and insisting on keeping my pants high enough to fully cover my ass, I was “acting white” to certain black kids. The fact that I dance for s**t, can’t hit a jump shot to save my life, and have two parents who spent more time in college than prison surely didn’t help my “street cred.”
Of course, age has taught me that I grew up around a lot of low-expectation-having black kids. Black people with self respect wouldn’t consider childhood-Elie an Oreo. A big freaking dork who should never be invited to a party, perhaps, but not an Oreo.
Now, most black people have had similar upbringings to my own (though, sadly, I’m still the most rhythmically challenged black person I know). Nowadays, my black friends say things like, “Elie, you are the only black person I know who could write a post about the Wire and see yourself as the only white guy on the show.” See, that’s not racist. That’s just funny. That black friend (oh, F-U [Redacted], by the way) wasn’t suggesting that I was an Oreo because of how I acted; he was suggesting it because of who I identified with. That’s fair game.
I bring all of this up because that crucial distinction was totally lost on a Minnesota high school. The school allowed “Wigger Day” to happen on campus, and now it is getting sued.
Yeah, apparently turning a blind eye while your students make fun of an entire culture is something that can get you sued….
Yes, you are reading this right. This is a post talking about Wigger Day. From the Huffington Post:
A Minnesota school district allowed a homecoming event called “Wigger Day,” during which students wore clothes and behaved in a manner that “from their perspective, mimicked black culture,” according to a federal a class action lawsuit filed against the district on Friday.
The suit alleges that despite student council voting on a “tropical theme” for homecoming in 2009, a group of approximately 60 students from the predominantly white school instead attended the event dressed for “Wigger Wednesday” in “oversized sports jerseys, low-slung pants, baseball hats cocked to the side and ‘doo rags.’”
In fairness, if that’s how the people at this school think, I’m pretty sure “tropical theme” day would have turned into a horribly racist affair as well.
The problem starts with the word itself:
“Wigger is a pejorative slang term for a white person who emulates the mannerisms, language and fashions associated with African-American culture,” the complaint explains.
See, making a distinction between the kind of “culture” so-called wiggers are emulating versus African-American culture would be helpful. But the main problem is that if you are doing something to mock somebody’s culture, that is facially offensive.
Real “wiggers” are not offensive. Real broke-ass white people living a ghetto life could probably benefit from a textbook or a recording contract just like broke black people, but they’re not offensive. Middle class white kids in Minnesota mocking that life is offensive. And for what it’s worth, if I rolled in here with a gold tooth and a freaking FUBU sweatshirt looking like I was parodying a bouncer at the 40/40 Club, it’d be pretty offensive too. (Do the kids even wear FUBU anymore? Meh, I don’t care.)
Evidently, school officials didn’t see it that way:
The plaintiff, former Red Wing High School student Quera Pruitt, an African American, claims that the school’s lack of intervention caused her “severe emotional distress including depression, loss of sleep, stress, crying, humiliation, anxiety, and shame.” Pruitt filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on behalf of an unnamed class of “all students who experienced discrimination as a result of Wigger Day.” The complaint states the class could include more than 40 people.
Pruitt’s attorney, Joshua Williams, says her family hoped the incident would be addressed following “Wigger Day” 2008. While it was never an officially-sanctioned school event, the family discovered “Wigger Wednesday” was something of a tradition…
According to a 2009 article on KARE-11, students participating in “Wigger Day” that year were immediately sent to change their clothes, but no additional punishment followed.
See, here’s where the school officials in Minnesota appear to be in error: you don’t send people home for wearing baggy jeans, you send people home for mocking their African-American classmates. If you are treating the former offense, you can make them change their clothes; if you’re concerned about the latter offense, you have a much bigger problem on your hands. A problem it seems the school did not address.
Maybe the courts will act where the school officials failed. I might be biased, but I totally buy Pruitt’s claims of emotional distress. It is disturbing, to say the least, when somebody tells you that your “culture” can be reduced to complicated handshakes, non-professional attire, and bling.
And it really doesn’t matter what the race is of the people trying to put your culture into that box.
Minnesota School Faces Lawsuit Over Racist ‘Wigger Day’ [Huffington Post]