What led to ‘If I was Black I would be picking cotton’ Olathe homecoming proposal?

·3 min read

It’s exhausting that this just keeps happening. And since it’s so trendyoh, and lucrative — for our GOP “leaders” to claim that no history lessons that touch on race are needed, we needn’t be surprised that it does keep happening.

Just the latest unlovely incident requiring no moral or educational or cultural correction, because that would mean we’re weak, or something: A young man at Olathe South High School asked a young woman at St. James Academy to his homecoming dance with a sign that said, “If I was Black I would be picking cotton but I’m white so I’m picking you for HOCO.” She said yes, and somewhere, Bull Connor smiled.

Kids can be stupid; that’s practically their job. So to only (or indelibly) blame these two idiots would be wrong.

But if we in our homes and schools and offices and public discourse don’t start doing a better job of teaching that nothing about the rancid, painful, ongoing disaster of the part of our history that involved people owning other people is remotely risible, then when will this end?

As Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted on Tuesday morning, “With another racism scandal at an area school each week, it is abundantly clear that rather than removing race from education and marginalizing the history of all people in our region, we need critically to empower our students to fight and call out racism.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted about education about racism after an Olathe South High School student made a racist sign about “picking cotton” while inviting his date to homecoming.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted about education about racism after an Olathe South High School student made a racist sign about “picking cotton” while inviting his date to homecoming.

Doing otherwise is like pretending that back-to-back extreme weather events have nothing to do with the climate change that became a climate crisis while we were still denying it.

This latest racism scandal has humiliated the schools that the happily white supremacist homecoming couple attend.

“Racism in any form is an assault on human dignity,” an administrator at St. James Academy, a Catholic high school in Lenexa, wrote in a message to parents. St. James held an all-school assembly Monday to address the racist homecoming invite that went viral over the weekend.

The gathering was supposed to start the reconciliation and healing process, school Principal Shane Rapp said. The invitation on social media was “horrible,” he said.

In a message to parents of Olathe South High students, Principal Dale Longenecker said, “The type of behavior displayed in the social media post does not meet the expectations of our core values. Any behavior like this will be immediately addressed in accordance with our Student Code of Conduct.”

Both schools are investigating, Rapp said. “Posting something this racially charged on social media could have some very serious consequences. We’re trying to sort through and understand what her involvement was before we decide. It’s a difficult thing to work through. It’s horrible.”

It is, but it’s not out of nowhere. Why should the students know better when just two years ago, teachers and school officials at Underwood Elementary School in Lee’s Summit saw nothing wrong with requiring African American students (and others) to sing, “Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton” at a school concert?

(The original lyrics from that folk song glorifying slavery: “Dat n----- from Shiloh / Kin pick a bale o’ cotton / Dat n----- from Shiloh / Kin pick a bale a day.”)

We’re never for canceling kids, but adults who keep arguing that their education on race is perfect as it is should not be surprised when kids who don’t know any better do get canceled.

And those most to blame are those who are still pretending that no remedial work is required.

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