Feeling the heat yet? The glare of the national regional media’s spotlight has heightened tension in Saline.
Is there a way out of rancor without sweeping Saline’s issues under the rug? I'll get to that.
There is racism in Saline. There is racism in every community in which I’ve ever lived or worked, in Canada or the United States. I’ve seen racism at work in multicultural communities and homogenous communities. The dynamic changes from place to place, but fear of the other exists everywhere.
Somehow, we have to separate our local dialogue about racism from the hyperpartisan insanity of the national dialogue. If you’re saying all Republicans are white supremacists or all Democrats are leftist snowflakes - kindly take your dialogue to the next exit.
Let’s start with the obvious. People of color should be able to walk through the halls of Saline schools without feeling they’re “not one of us.” The lawsuit filed by the families of four students disciplined by Saline Area Schools for the racist Snapchat language calls into question the events at the origin of the controversy. But it doesn’t change what black kids feel.
Immediately after the story went national, people of color who graduated from Saline High School took to social media, confirming what Karamba Kaba said about the racism he’s experienced in Saline. It should be a source of disappointment for our community that these students - including some of the best and brightest students I've observed in Saline - feel this way. That they felt this way when they were here and felt they couldn't tell us then.
Other people of color in the school immediately joined Kaba.
The response to this issue has given Saline - a very white community - a window into the experiences of people of color. It’s a window seldom open. Minorities, understandably, don’t want to be defined by their minority status. Like all of us, they just want to be.
Events over the last three weeks have compelled them speak. They are brave enough to stand up at the podium and in front of TV cameras to tell us how this community makes them feel. I say brave - because they know how it will be received by some people. They know there are racists in the community - and yet they are rising to speak anyway. Extra courage in a town with a culture of staying silent.
We cannot ignore their public testimony.
It’s not enough, as many have said, to be not racist. We have to be anti-racist.
This doesn’t mean we scorch the community to get there.
Is calling for the expulsion of children from school and the community really the answer? This is not to attack the apparent recommendation by Saline Area Schools administration - who have more facts than any of us.
But I do question the overall thirst for vengeance. What does it accomplish? I’ve seen people I respect publicly call for these kids to pay a very high price. They want these kids booted from their community (the school district IS the community). They want future colleges and workplaces to know they did.
What are we doing? Cancel culture against 16 and 17-year-olds? Without hearing more than one side of the story, no less.
Is there a way out of rancor without sweeping Saline’s issues under the rug.
Yes, there is. Part of that involves the board looking seriously at a plan of action demanded by the students. (See the plan here). I'm not suggesting it should all be adopted, nor are the timelines reasonable. There are several starting points here.
But the big challenge is you and me.
That part of your heart that hurts for people who face racism and homophobia - the best part of your heart - is the same part of your heart that should demand this community find a way not to ostracize and eject the kids facing discipline.
That part of your heart that feels the disciplined kids are being marginalized and paying too high a price - that’s the best part of your heart. And if you let it, it will care about the discrimination and bullying faced by people of color and LGBTQ kids in our hearts.