Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor
On the latest episode of “how to oppress the black youth,” Hanover County is the star. Let’s take a little imagination trip, this one is sure to make your blood boil.
Imagine this: you’re getting ready for this week’s Friday night football game. You and your friends are excited to cheer your team on, to sing the school’s chant, to hype up your student section. You get there, your team — the “Confederates” — are about to take the field. The Confederates. You try to ignore the pang of discomfort that name causes you.
It’s halftime. The students from the neighboring middle school wander through the crowd — the “Rebels” from Stonewall Jackson Middle. Again, you find yourself trying to get over this growing discomfort. It’s okay, the mascot is about to rush the field, carrying the school’s flag. A white student rides atop a horse, waving a flag marked with the letters “L” and “D,” referencing Confederate leaders, the school’s namesake. This time, the discomfort subsides. It’s replaced with anger and isolation. You’re overtaken by feelings of disrespect, oppression and sadness.
No way something like this actually happens — no way a school system would allow such blatant disrespect. Drive 20 minutes from VCU and take a long look at Lee-Davis High school. That’s right, exposure to Confederate symbols at high school football games is just a normal Friday night for black Lee-Davis students. I cannot even begin to fathom the pain black students at this school must feel. Writing this today has already angered me beyond belief.
This scenario has angered the Hanover County chapter of the NAACP, too. The NAACP publicly states that its mission is to secure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons. Which is why the group has come forward with a lawsuit against Hanover County and the Hanover County School Board. The suit argues that using Confederate names forces students of color to “champion a legacy of segregation and oppression,” violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech and equal protection.
“Argues.” I still cannot believe we are having conversations like this. What are we arguing about? Enough of this idea that racial discrimination and oppression needs to be “argued.” Here’s my argument: This is blatant racism. As a black student, if I went to a school that honored horrific men whose entire purpose as generals and soldiers was to oppress black people and treat them as property, I would feel utterly hated in my own space.
I’m sorry, but didn’t we all agree that schools are meant to be a safe space for all students – or do black students not count? To make matters worse, in December 2017, Hanover County residents petitioned to change the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School, but on April 10, 2018, the Hanover County School Board voted 5-2 to retain the names.
So, let me get this straight: Residents — parents of these black students and then some — explicitly stated these names were inappropriate for a school, and the majority of the Hanover school board decided they just did not care.
Yet again, the white community just doesn’t care about black children. I mean, black students make up about 10% of the high school’s population, and almost all of the remaining students are white. We do not harm women and children — that is the universal law. Except when it comes to black children, right?
I can still hear my freshman orientation class learning the chant, “V-C-U R-A-M-S. This is what we do the best.” Just thinking of having to spell out “C-O-N-F-E-D-E-R-A-T-E” for a school chant is making me sick. Stop subjecting black kids to a different childhood just because it doesn’t affect everyone else. NAACP members with students at Lee-Davis High and Jackson Middle are refraining from allowing their children to participate in school events, rightfully so. Due to this easily preventable racial harassment, black students are being forced to sit out of fundamental high school experiences.
Supporters of the name preach, “Protect the history,” invoking the phrase as part of debates on the presence of Confederate monuments and the flag. The history they’re trying to protect includes the civil disobedience that stemmed from the overwhelming hate portions of the population had for black people.
That’s not a history I’m itching to honor. Especially not at the cost of the black youth. Historians don’t need to omit the Confederacy and the Civil War from history textbooks, but officials, schools and community members must stop rubbing the intolerance of the era in black people’s faces.
Using Confederate names and symbols as school names and mascots isn’t “protecting history.” Simply say you want to protect the racism deeply rooted in our country.
The NAACP is just trying to resolve the obvious racial tension caused by these schools’ names. In return for that, the group has received violent voicemail threats. So, it’s not enough to racially harass and attack black children, no, it’s necessary also to threaten violence on those trying to protect them.
All this, and some people will still claim racism doesn’t exist in this country. Like I said before, hating black people is as American as apple pie.
Hanover County needs to change the names of Lee-Davis High and Stonewall Jackson Middle. Fairfax County needs to change the name of Robert E. Lee High. Bristol City needs to change the name of Jackson Elementary. Stop paying homage to these men and glorifying their deadly racism.
If Americans aren’t so afraid of black excellence, prove it. Stop systematically oppressing and restricting black people and see how high they will soar. We just might impress you.