Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Education not expulsion

I was perusing one of my favorite blogs, Angry Asian Man, when I came across a post that really saddened me, "Threats against Obama, race crimes increase."

(big sigh)

And the first item in a long list of hate crimes piqued my interest because I have friends who teach at NC State--ones who teach issues of race & African American literature.

To recap, for those who have not been following the rash of hate that, unfortunately, followed President-elect Obama's election, four NC State students (I believe all men, but I could be mistaken about this--the "lead" person who actually wrote the graffiti is a man) spray painted crude, racist, and threatening remarks on NC State's "Free Speech" wall--among which was the phrase "Kill the n*****"--which of course got Secret Service involved. Both Federal and State police officers interrogated the four students (I'm not clear on how they got caught, but they did), and authorities believe that the students don't pose an actual physical threat to Barack Obama or his family, so no criminal charges have been made. But the local NAACP and campus leaders/students have been crying out for the students to be punished, even expelled.

[Click here for ABC video of the story. Click here for NAACP's call for the expulsion.]

And my instant reaction on hearing that there are calls for their expulsion?

Don't do it.

Listen, it's not that I don't think that these four students committed a hateful act--in fact, what they did do was to commit an act of hate speech--to perpetuate racist language and opinions, and harmful ones, that don't simply denigrate or castigate an individual (Barack Obama) but get to the core of America's long, violent, oppressive history with marginalizing groups of people based on "race"--and African Americans have been subject to A LOT of racial hatred and violence over the last 3 centuries--slavery, Jim Crow laws, deprivation of basic rights like voting for centuries--I could go on and on.

So here's the thing. These kids are still salvagable. If NC State expels them, they learn nothing--in fact, they get to be on some weird high horse and talk about the P.C. police, but really, they learn nothing. If NC State insists on a course of education--requiring them to take a year's worth of African American studies courses and other classes on racism/anti-racism; if Chancellor Oblinger requires them to do 100 hours of community service in an African American non-profit agency or black church or organization that serves African American youth; and if these students are required to reflect on what they have learned after their crash-course year of African American studies education, then that seems, to me, a more fitting act of rehabilitation and restitution--especially if they are able, at the end of this year, to truly understand how dangerous their comments are; how embedded in a history of violence, and if they come to a true understanding of how racism operates and why hate speech is not free speech.

So after I wrote all that, I did more digging and found out that the four students had issued an apology for their actions: click here for the apology by the students in NC State's student newspaper. And I also found this most recent official statement issued by NC State's chancellor James Oblinger.

I wish that Oblinger and the campus community had made more stringent requirements about the students' education and rehabilitation. But I have to hope and believe that they are going to change. Isn't that what Obama's election has, in part, taught us? That we want, we NEED, change.

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