When I’m out of town and people ask me what Sacramento is like, I usually tell them that it’s a very open-minded and culturally-inclusive city. So diverse, in fact, that it was named America’s most diverse city. You can imagine my surprise when I opened The Sacramento Bee the other day to find a story about how a Sacramento-area student’s senior quote has come under fire for its perceived racism.
The issue came to light in the days leading up to Folsom High School’s graduation last week. The quote in question – “going to this school has helped me to discover my cracker allergy” – received a polarizing response from the community. Some criticized it as immature, while others called it harmless. Others say the quote is blatantly racist.
The brother of the student to whom the quote was attributed, said it was meant as a joke, and that his sister did not expect it to survive the editorial process. He and his sister also claimed to have encountered racism at their high school, which is 62 percent white and only three percent black.
The student and her family are not being named because she’s underage, and also because of concerns for the family’s safety, according to a story by Sacramento Bee reporter Sawsan Morrar.
Frankly, I think the student does little to help her own cause and actually works to undermine it. The supposed racist incidents the student has allegedly endured do not justify her making a racist statement of her own. And make no mistake: What the student wrote was indeed racist.
Consider the implications of what would have happened if a student had used the same phrasing, but replaced the word “cracker” with a racial slur aimed at any ethnicity other than white. Even if it was meant as a joke, the incident would be treated in a very different manner than the way in which this one has been handled. That student would have been universally condemned and would have received the strictest disciplinary action available, and rightfully so. I see little difference between the slurs beyond the target of their intended insult.
And while I agree that the word “cracker” does not have the same painful past as ones associated with other slurs, it is still meant in a derogatory fashion. If I walked up to any white person on the street and said something racist, I would not be surprised if I received a punch in the face. Does it really matter who is saying what to whom if it is still meant to belittle the other person?
The student’s brother describes her as being intelligent, as well as “very tongue-in-cheek.” It seems that only she would have been witty and daring enough to speak about such an important topic with such dry humor. Unfortunately, humor is not always the most appropriate way to deal with everything.
If this was meant as a joke without malicious intent, that does not translate to the audience because the student and the audience exist in two entirely different worlds. In the student’s world, she experiences incidents such as people petting her hair, or being told to her face that slavery should not have been abolished, both of which she says have happened to her. In the audience’s world, these are not concerns they have to worry about.
The student’s attempt to address the situation had good intentions, but it was misguided. By using a racial slur, her credibility as a victim of racism has been damaged. How can anyone hope to take her claims of discrimination seriously with this incident hanging over her head? Now she is no different than the people she claims have discriminated against her.