All the White Responses (and the Game Is Rigged)

When a black female high school student was wrestled violently from her desk and slammed to the floor by a police officer in Columbia, SC, many responded with outrage across the nation, confronting the mounting evidence that black lives do not matter—even in the supposed sanctuary of a public school.

Many also raised voices once again about the significant negative impact that zero tolerance policies and police in the hallways have on black and brown students, both male and female. As Kathleen Nolan has documented, zero tolerance policies and police in the hallways often criminalize children, a dynamic almost exclusively impacting black, brown, and impoverished children.

Assistant professor of Communication Studies at Clemson University, Chenjerai Kumanyika added yet another in-state moment of violence between police officers and youths to his advocacy for social justice and equity. In fact, Kumanyika represents the power of highlighting that #BlackLivesMatter is a necessary mantra that both targets and transcends race since he has stood beside the parents and supporters of a white teen shot and killed by a police officer and raised his voice against the excessive police violence experienced by a black girl in her desk and apparently endorsed by the school leadership.

However, among the outrage and calls for both racial equity and justice for all, we have the white responses of “yes, but”—such as this letter to the editor in The State:

It seems unbelievable that a school resource officer would respond in a physical manner because the student was disrespectful. We would expect the teacher to be in charge, and we would certainly expect any student to respond to the direct commands of a teacher or an assistant principal, but both of these school officials relied on the school resource officer to comply with their request to remove the student from the classroom.

Now we have lots of folks who were not present in the classroom, and have no direct knowledge of the student’s actions, providing guidance in how to handle an unresponsive student.

At some point we have to recognize authority will be obeyed and that enforcement consequences may be ugly beyond our expectations. I don’t have to agree with legal commands, but I do have to obey them.

“If they just did what they were told” is the coded racist response to the outrage; it is a comment heard and read about the black girl being slammed to the ground, but not echoing against the growing skepticism about a police officer shooting and killing a white male teen.

The “yes, but” responses among white and privileged commentary on police in the hallways represent the larger white denial about racism and white privilege.

The U.S. was founded (by white privileged men) through widespread refusal to obey the law. Women’s rights were gained through widespread refusal to obey the law. Civil rights were demanded through widespread refusal to obey the law.

And in 2015, ample evidence shows that neither the criminal justice system nor school disciplinary policies are equitable in terms of who is targeted and the severity of the punishments.

In a society or a school where laws and rules are themselves practiced along racial lines, as Martin Luther King Jr. implored, the right thing to do will be not to do as we are told.

But that is not a mandate for children or youth—although they too must be supported when they do take those stances. That mandate is for all adults of conscience, especially adults of conscience and privilege, and our voices must not waver when the people charged to protect and serve us take the lives and dignity of our children—because any child is everyone’s child, or we are a people without any moral authority to demand that anyone obey the laws and rules.

There is no excuse for “yes, but” from the lips or keyboards of white privilege.

These are times for listening, for having our own zero tolerance policies for abuses of power and the remaining cancer of racism among our society.

We are well past the time, also, to admit that the winners always love the rules of the game and to confront as well that this game is rigged [1].

First, then, we must demand a level playing field, one upon which every child is sacred, every person is judged on the content of their character.

Otherwise, “This rigid refusal to look at ourselves may well destroy us,” James Baldwin argued; “particularly now since if we cannot understand ourselves we will not be able to understand anything” (Baldwin, 1998, p. 593).

And the most tragic among that destruction will continue to be children and youth—too often “other people’s children.”

Baldwin, J. (1998). James Baldwin: Collected essays. New York, NY: The Library of America.

See Also

What happened in South Carolina is a daily risk for black children, Stacey Patton

Dear Black Children: Everyone Can Beat You!, Stacey Patton

She was guilty of being a black girl: The mundane terror of police violence in American schools, Brittney Cooper

Where Are Black Children Safe? Roxane Gay

[1] See Why are working class kids less likely to get elite jobs? They study too hard at college, Henry Farrell:

rules of the game


2 thoughts on “All the White Responses (and the Game Is Rigged)

  1. The public school district where I taught for 30 years was literally split by a freeway and railroad and it sprawled over four towns: La Puente, Rowland Heights, the City of Industry and West Covina. There were three high schools in this district: an alternative HS close to the railroad tracks in the City of Industry, a high school in the barrio where the poverty rate was more than 90% and most of the population was Latino, black and Asian (and 8% white at the time). The high school on the west side of the freeway and railroad that was in a middle class white and Asian community. There were violent street gangs on both sides of the freeway.

    On the east side there were the Latino and black gangs and on the west side there was the affluent Asian street gang that was more violent than the Latino and black gangs.

    The district had CPOs at all three of the high schools even the one on the west side that was middle class and affluent and mostly white and affluent Asian. At the affluent high school, the campus CPOs caught members of the Asian gang selling AK assault rifles out of the trunk of their fathers new Buick sedan. Their father was a doctor and they were all honors and AP students with high GPAs.

    On the east side of the freeway and railroad where I taught, a week didn’t go by that one of our students or a family member wasn’t shot and wounded or killed.

    Removing the CPOs from any schools is not going to end the street gang violence. What I think is needed is better training for the CPOs. In the thirty years I taught in that district, none of the CPOs that I knew every resorted to the tactics of the one CPO who slammed the girl to the ground, and I never heard of an incident like that. The CPOs I knew were not all white. We had Latino, black, white and female CPOs. They were almost always soft spoken and polite to the students but didn’t back down when confronted.

    What that one CPO did slamming that girl to the ground was wrong. It should have been handled differently but that one CPOs actions should not be used to condemn all CPOs.

    The US is one of the most violenct countries in the world with the largest prison population on the planet. Violent street gangs are on the rise and their numbers are growing. Just check the FBI reports on this topic. Street gang recruiters are students in our public schools. These gangs sell drugs, are into prostitution (the slavery of children), gambling, protection rackets, etc.

    Poverty is one of the breeding grounds of gangs and the violence and crimes that come with them.

  2. Pingback: All the White Responses (and the Game Is Rigged) | moxie

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