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Don't Accept Racist Behavior

September 25, 2013
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The scandal in Coatesville over the exchange of racist texts between the former school superintendent and the city’s high school athletic director is generating headlines — and disgust — across the nation.

The raw racism displayed in those texts — including repeated use of the N-word to describe black students, along with other ethnic slurs, reportedly also against Jews — is enough to turn any stomach. Coatesville and Chester County officials are pursuing the issue, even launching an investigation into the texts on school phones between Richard Como, the superintendent, and Jim Donato, the athletic director, who submitted their resignations when they learned of the school board’s intent to fire them.

But we need to do more than shake our heads in dismay.

What’s happening in Coatesville might be an extreme example but it’s also a reflection of a major blight in our society. That such high level officials who should be role models could employ such disgraceful language in such a cavalier and even ebullient manner illustrates the pervasiveness of this problem in our society.

It is found among our kids’ seemingly innocent bantering on social media, at school athletic events and in the private conversations — and public rants — of adults who certainly should know better. Over the summer, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper garnered headlines with his racist rant caught on camera at a concert.

Most people who use denigrating slurs against blacks, gays, Jews and women likely would deny they are racist or prejudiced. Most probably harbor no ill-intent, yet the use of such language has become so commonplace that it is too frequently laughed off rather than condemned.

As Jews, we know that language and stereotypes can lead to dangerous places. “If you don’t challenge language and behaviors that are inappropriate, that allows for further misbehavior that can escalate to a higher level of severity, like discrimination and physical harm,” said Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, which provides programming on tolerance for students and sensitivity training to professionals.

As a society, we need to reinforce at home that such language is not acceptable. We need to support educational programs in our schools that promote tolerance. We need to push Pennsylvania to follow the example of New Jersey, which has implemented strict new guidelines that ban school athletes from taunting opposing teams with derogatory racial, ethnic, religious or sexual slurs.

It’s easy to say we discourage such behavior but do we do enough? Our actions must make clear that it is so unacceptable that headlines like those emanating from Coatesville will disappear.

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