I received a call yesterday urging me to tune into KBBF at 7pm, to listen to some students, and their parents, from Maria Carrillo High School complain about a recent rally. I listened to the girls and their parents, speaking both Spanish and English, talk about what transpired at their school.
The leadership class presented a short skit that apparently showed undocumented workers being harassed and arrested by border patrol agents. At some point a green card is offered to the agent, which he rips to shreds. After the skit, a few girls dressed as maids come and sweep up the pieces of paper. The skit was either named or performed by “The Refried Beans.”
I was outraged.
But wait. There’s more.
A group of students asked to speak to the principal about their concerns. According to them, he was dismissive, and said he wasn’t responsible for what happened, and that it was “freedom of speech.” A mother (a white woman who has an adopted Latina daughter) also spoke to him and received the same line: he wasn’t responsible and it was freedom of speech. She quoted him California Ed Code that prohibits racist acts sponsored by a school. His response, according to her, was that freedom of speech takes precedence over Ed Code.
As the girls told their story, I was very proud of their courage and determination to bring the incident to light and to try and make the school understand their truth. I called in to thank them and to encourage people to write to the board and superintendent.
I wasn’t aware of it, but the girls and their moms also appeared on the radio show that followed, which was mostly in English. The Mexican mother who spoke in Spanish nearly brought me to tears. She said “…parents shouldn’t be intimidated… Day after day we get up and go to work, no one gifts us anything. We are proudly in this country, producing with our work…We shouldn’t permit our children and raza to continue to be humiliated in this way. We are human beings…”
Here’s a short video of the skit. It’s hard to glean much from the short clip, if you don’t know the background story.
As the one mother alluded, there are sections in the California Ed Code which address schools and racism.
- Education Code section 51500 prohibits teachers and school districts from instructing or sponsoring any activity which reflects adversely upon persons because of their race, sex, color, creed, heredity, national origin, or ancestry.
- Education Code sections 51501 and 60044 prohibit the State Board of Education and local school boards from adopting any instructional material for use in schools which contains any matter reflecting adversely upon persons because of their race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, handicap, or occupation.
- Education Code section 56000et seq. mandates the provision of free appropriate public education, including special education facilities and classes, to persons with exceptional needs.
- Education Code 66252 California’s postsecondary educational institutions have an affirmative obligation to combat racism, sexism, harassment and other forms of bias, and a responsibility to provide equal educational opportunity.
To reduce Mexicans to stereotypes of undocumented workers and maids is highly offensive. To let this skit go forward was a bad move by the teacher and the administration. Listening to students cheer it on (in the video) was maddening and heartbreaking. To know that Latino students participated or supported the play was also heartbreaking. Not only do we need to educate our youth (and adults) about what’s racist and not acceptable, we need to educate our students of color how this struggle is theirs, and the power they have to work against prejudice and racism.
Which is why I stand in awe of the girls who pursued this because they knew it was wrong. I want to thank them for the courage and commitment to being heard, and to call out what offended them.
For those, including our own Latino youth, who view the skit as “no big deal,” prejudice, stereotypes and racism exist because we let them. Our silence gives our consent. If you can’t stand up for human beings when they are denigrated and humiliated because of their ethnicity, if you turn your head and and dismiss it out of hand, you are part of the problem.
And guess what? If you engage in racist behavior, or behavior that promotes and condones negative stereotypes, that makes you a racist. PERIOD.
This is the official statement from Santa Rosa City Schools:
Name: Jason Lea
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources
We are deeply concerned by the recent student performance at Maria Carrillo High School and are actively examining the situation to determine appropriate action. Reported to portray messages of intolerance and disrespectful racial themes, the activity, and all student activities, must comply with the District’s expectations of respectful behavior in school related activities.
The Santa Rosa City School District does not condone intolerance or bias of any type. The circumstances surrounding the skit in question are being investigated, including the approval process and impact. District personnel are working with school personnel to identify the teachable messages and to strengthen our approval process for all student-led activities.