No more confidentiality for users of the N-word
News item 1: In the wake of another rendition of "So who said the N-word today?" North Stonington Superintendent Peter Nero said the Board of Education is going to be looking at the policy that the state has on racism and inequity.
News item II: According to Sten Spinella's story in Thursday's Day, school officials declined to divulge punishment for the Wheeler High School senior baseball player who spewed the N-word to a freshman teammate recently "due to confidentiality."
News item III: Spinella later reported that the N-word utterer was subjected to a "progressive disciplinary model," otherwise known as restorative justice, generally defined as a practice of facilitated meetings between victims, offenders, and other interested parties.
Three words to encapsulate how North Stonington has handled this situation thus far: wrong, wrong, wrong.
We begin here: It's just swell that Nero says the Board of Education will look at the policy the state has on racism and inequality. A more cynical fellow might ask why this hasn't happened already, given the nation's upheaval since George Floyd's death — and frankly from many years and instances before.
And this idea that somebody — high school kid or not — gets to use hate speech in public and hide behind confidentiality needs to stop. You want to start rewriting policies? Start here. It's time we began to publicly identify the miscreants who choose to use such words when the English language affords so many other options to convey criticism.
Save me the sob stories from aggrieved parents and other gullible saps about how they're just kids and don't know any better. Of course they do. They learned it somewhere. The aforementioned more cynical fellow might also conclude that parents are far more worried about their own reputations for what's taught in their homes than some public shaming for their children.
It's also time punishment became more transparent. I've witnessed a few sessions of restorative justice. Not a fan. Mostly because it requires a degree of sincerity from all parties. And if one party has been conditioned that using the N-word is permissible, how can we trust with a straight face that this process will be "restorative?" Perhaps restorative justice can be used as a tool in the process. Just not in lieu of more substantive consequences.
Ah yes. There's that word: Consequences. At some point, we need to start teaching kids about consequences, accountability, responsibility and the fallout for abdicating personal decency. The young man in question needed to be kicked off the team permanently. We should know his name. I would find that a greater deterrent to using abhorrent language in the future than a toothless meeting or the cloak of confidentiality. Then perhaps offending households might be inclined to watch their mouths.
It's time we stopped protecting purveyors of hate. Why does their behavior enable protection? What are we "protecting" them from? From whom? If you are brazen enough to use the N-word in the direction of another human being — and use it in the context of hate and belittlement — then you ought to be able to accept all the consequences, too.
If you haven't noticed, race relations in this country aren't getting better. Know why? For the same reason Norman Lear recently told Life Magazine as to why the revolutionary show he created, "All In The Family," still resonates in its 50th anniversary year:
"If bigotry and intolerance didn't exist in the hearts and minds of the good people, the average people," Lear said, "it would not be the endemic problem it is in our society."
This is why Lear was a charter member of Television Academy Hall of Fame. He said it better than anyone ever has. Bigotry and intolerance are in the hearts and minds of "average people." It is truly endemic. But because it is both natural and beneficial to at least appear fair-minded in public, few households will ever admit to permitting racial slurs as they would use of the words "and" and "the."
This is why Boards of Education in suburbia are slow to react. Because they — and an alarming number of residents in their respective towns — honestly don't think there's a problem. It's why Lear uses the word "endemic."
Remember the words from the song in South Pacific: "You've got to be taught to hate and fear. You've got to be taught from year to year. It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You've got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made and people whose skin is a different shade."
And to those who act upon what they've been taught: I hope the day comes when we all know your name. This is not to be dismissed as a kid simply making a mistake, like popping a wheelie on the neighbor's lawn. This is hate speech. Far more dangerous. And should be treated as such.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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