Perhaps the most disheartening narrative that has emerged over the removal of Coach Bud Walpole is the repeated assertion that the football players at Academic Magnet couldn’t possibly be racist, as if somehow racist impulses are absent from the DNA of AMHS attendees. It’s a blanket assertion that many students, and far too many parents, have made.
And while there’s no arguing that racial attitudes have changed since the members of the Tea Party Nation began carrying pictures of Obama eating fried chicken so many many years ago, I remain highly skeptical that we truly live in a post-racial society.
So much of how you perceive this story is based on what you bring to it. You can either believe we’ve turned a bold new corner in American history and that racism among the younger generation is more or less nonexistent or you just look at the news every day and just hang your head and sigh because so much hasn’t changed.
For Elizabeth Moffly and the majority of Charleston County School District Board of Trustees, they appear to adhere to the former.
I spoke with Moffly this afternoon and we talked about reports that Nancy McGinley was set to reinstate Coach Walpole. According to Moffly, at least seven board members were not happy with CCSD’s handling of this matter. When asked if this majority-minority pairing broke down across racial lines, she said no, it did not.
Moffly also clarified that the board did not vote to reinstate Walpole, something she says they can do, but strongly believes McGinley will kowtow to their wishes out of fear that the board will overturn her decision.
As for the charge that some parents have made that the school district somehow violated policy by interviewing AMHS students without their parents present, Moffly says that’s not the case. In fact, the school district is allowed to interview students alone.
Moffly believes that at least in part the school district is hyper-sensitive to charges of racism because it has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The reason: Allegations that CCSD suspends and expels African-American students at a disproportionate rate.
As for allegations that the students knowingly engaged in a racially insensitive ritual, Moffly dismisses the charges outright, claiming that the students at Academic Magnet not only don’t know about the connection between black people and watermelons, as well as other various matters, they aren’t taught about these sorts of things in school.
I don’t know about you, but I find that to be troubling.
If what Moffly is saying is true — and what many of the AMHS students who’ve corresponded with me indicate — then Academic Magnet students know little to nothing about this depressingly bleak chapter in American history.
For them, I would imagine, Martin Luther King Jr. exists in some sort of preternatural void where the tragedies that led this preacher to fight for justice for his people never occurred. And anything that might make them feel shame about America’s missteps and, subsequently, joy when she triumphed over her wicked ways have been erased. Instead, American history is a flat line that has led them to this moment, this time, and right here, right now, racism has been vanquished. I’m not so sure about that. In fact, I think we still have a ways to go.
When I asked Moffly about the allegations that students were making monkey sounds as they destroyed the watermelon, she said, “[When] I think of football players, I think of King Kong. You beat your chest. I’m not thinking anything racist.”